Friday, 07 September 2012 05:00

Bosnian summer – A European travel journal Pt. 2

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My trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina has taught me so far, that I have come to a country where people are strictly separated by religion and ethnicity – so much so that a small river can mark a frontier so powerful that even 17 years after the end of the war the citizens of Mostar wouldn't dare to overcome it. But I also had to learn that things can change if people are willing to give up prejudices. I want to find more of those people and therefore travel on to the capital - Sarajevo.

Part 2: Fighting Division – Franciscan monks in Sarajevo

Photo: Julia Schulte
Train station in Mostar / Mocтap.

I leave Mostar the next day by train. The station's sign reads "MOSTAR" - and "MOCTAP". The scripture is divided, too, as are schools and universities. "Three different truths are taught in our history classes" is a statement I frequently hear. Even the former Serbo-Croatian language is split into three: Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian. Though the differences are marginal, compared for example to regional dialects in Germany, each group insists on its own language. At this point it seems hard to imagine the country being part of the EU where currently 27 nations try to live together.


"The problem is this," says Mile Babić: "We have Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks here - but no human beings!" The Franciscan monk and professor at the theological faculty in Sarajevo welcomes me in plaid shirt and jeans. Having studied in Innsbruck he speaks fluent German. His voice is loud and he uses his hands all the time to underline what he says. He is as much here and now as he would like his church to be.

The Dayton Agreement and the Bosnian Constitution

The "General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina" or Dayton Agreement was signed on the 14th of December 1995 by then Yugoslavian president Milošević, Croatian president Tuđjman and Bosnian president Izetbegović to end the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Bosnian Constitution is an annex to the Dayton Agreement and is said to have hardened the country's divisions: Bosnia and Herzegovina has three presidents at a time, one each for the Serbian/Orthodox, the Croatian/Catholic and the Bosniak/Muslim population. In parliament a proportional representation of all constituent peoples is required. The European Court of Human Rights held this part of the constitution to be discriminatory in 2009 when a Jew and a Roma sued Bosnia because they can't take part in political processes, not belonging to any of the three groups. Up to today, there has been no implementation of this ruling.

"True belief can only develop when everyone is free and equal. Here, we never had democracy and collectivism still reigns: no one thinks in this country - everybody just follows the leaders," he states - he has to admit though that there are nationalist and fundamentalist tendencies in the Catholic Church as well. I mention the enormous white cross that presides over Mostar from a mountain. "Religious symbols are turned into idols here," he complains. "They should connect people, and instead are used to stoke hatred."

The monks in Sarajevo are known to seek dialogue with everybody. They cooperate with summer schools to promote reconciliation and created an interreligious choir called "Pontanima" right after the war whose members and repertoire are drawn from all religious communities.


Mile Babić is highly dissatisfied with the political situation in his homeland: "The media here isn't independent. Young people emigrate because not laws, but nepotism rules the job market. There is corruption at every level. In court, evidence gets stolen or cases are protracted." Europe, it seems, has been a disappointment so far: "We need international help to solve these problems!" he emphasises. "But the Europeans are watching instead of acting. Europe today is formed by fear of the other: fear of Muslims, of poor people, of death."

"Europe today is formed by fear of the other."

As a Christian, Mile Babić promotes the ideas of faith in others and fights egotism, fear and the borders in people's heads that prevent them from being free. He dreams of a "union of diversity" that could bring the much needed freedom to his homeland. But it seems that even his voice isn’t loud enough to drown out the prejudices spread all over the country. The process of reconciliation works slowly here. There is hope that Bosnia and Herzegovina doesn't have to stay stuck forever between war and peace, divided by invisible lines. But I might have come too early to see those who care, succeed.

The author will discuss questions of European identity with other young Europeans and with Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulić at Europe@Debate on September 13. You will be able to follow the debate via live stream here. The event is organised in cooperation with Körber FoundationEurozine - Europe's leading cultural magazine and Europa neuer Ideen e.V.

Last modified on Saturday, 08 September 2012 15:37

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