How about spicing your Sunday lunch with some stories from the Balkans?

Posted on 03. February 2013

by Irma Zulic

8-irma-zulicToday, I offer you several different spices and seasoning. I guarantee that it won’t come heavy to your stomach. It’s not a light salad but a usual Balkan meal: some soup, meat, vegetables and a dessert.

If you are thinking: “Oh, will this be again one of those touristic invitations in order for us, Europeans, to bring some money to these countries whose budgets are constantly drowning in debts?”, please keep reading: it’s not that kind of text :D
These are in fact four short stories about regional collaboration, borders, visas, official letters (therefore about politics and EU integration as well), ECHR Judgment and about a TV singing show.

1. Recently I had the opportunity to be one of the participants of the Regional School for Transitional Justice in Serbia. The School was jointly organized for participants from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo*1. Having in mind the previous history between the nations in the Balkans, to many it would seem almost historical and revolutionary to bring 25 young people in one room to discuss the very facts of the past. As expected every aspect of the School agenda was perfectly planned and executed. One part of the agenda was a visit to Vukovar in Croatia. During the war between Croatia and SFRY, the city suffered heavy damage during the siege and was eventually overrun.  It is estimated that 2,000 defenders of Vukovar and civilians were killed, 800 went missing and 22,000 civilians were forced into exile. You wouldn’t expect anything strange or different to happen during a study visit, but it did. To put aside the fact that our friends and colleagues from Kosovo* were granted a visa with just one entrance to Croatia, the Serbian customs officer even said: „What do these from Kosovo have to do with studying and attending a school in Belgrade“.

Even now while I am writing this article my feelings are mixed: from rage to sadness, from anger to pity and again wondering: wasn’t it enough that 700 000 Albanians were exiled from Kosovo* during the attack of Serbian military forces? Is it possible to simply be a human and respect that everyone has the right to be treated equally and only judged by the fact whether they are good or bad people, whether they make a better society or they are a menace to others?

2. On the 2nd of February in Vukovar there was a protest. According to the 2011 census in Croatia, the population of Serbs in this city is around 33% and they ask that the Constitutional Law on Minorities is respected and that names of streets, names of schools and other names on official boards in town are written on Latin and on Cyrillic. Around 20 000 people protested against this procedure which is evident and expected (unless the Law is changed on which until now there are no initiatives). And here again come the social networks. I read this: Only illiterate people who can’t write in Cyrillic can protest against this letter. Of course, everyone has a right to state his/her opinion and this right actually gives you an opportunity to see how much more there has to be done in order to get to the point of reconciliation and everlasting peace in the Balkans. And then I wondered: Is all of this a charade to cover the fact of how many people are unemployed in the countries of the region? Will it really take the Western Balkan countries more than 50 years to overcome the past? Is the EU the solution of these and other problems? Or are the nations of the region victims of politics in each country and politicians who instead of taking care of the people who elected them and their future, stubbornly follow ideologies and stands which obviously instead of bringing the Western Balkan countries closer to each other do just the opposite? And yet, the EU and the International Community expect the Balkan countries to collaborate and help each other in successfully managing the tasks put in front of them in order to reach the only thing which appears to be common for everyone: EU Integration.

3. I think that even birds on trees know the story that I keep explaining to foreigners and they still can’t get the hang of it. So once again: The Constitution of B&H (Dayton Agreement 1995) provides that only ethnic Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats can be elected as members of Presidency and House of Peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Others (for example Jews, Roma, Jedi and even BOSNIANS) don’t have this right. The ECHR brought a judgment three years ago stating that this is a violation of the European Convention of Human Rights. Several days ago the Local Assembly of Sarajevo acted according to this judgment. Therefore, if someone lives in some other part of the country or wants to run for the State Assembly or even for one of the members of the Presidency, this country simply doesn’t grant him/her this right and discriminates its own citizens. Amusing or too sad I can’t seem to opt.

4.  And now the most interesting part (for which I am sure you are wondering from the very beginning how it fits in the story) :) There is a TV singing show in Serbia. Although the TV network which organizes it is regional, it rarely has contestant which get to very top of the show. This season there is a young man who amazes everyone with his voice and interpretation. He comes from Kakanj (a small city in Bosnia and Herzegovina) and as it looks like for now he has very solid chances to win this competition. In some other part of the world this story wouldn’t be special at all, but after what happened in the Balkans and after even today political and other “earthquakes” hit the area daily believe it or not but this victory of a young man in a TV show might just bring the two nations: Bosnians and Serbs, a bit closer to each other.

All of this was brought to you by a young woman who took a short (or a longer) break from her beloved Balkans. Of course, this doesn’t mean that I don’t monitor the situation daily, more frequently by criticizing and occasionally even praising some events. At the end I leave you with a statement by a friend of mine (a European :D) who said to me: “Irma, you should be proud of yourself. To come from a country as complicated and messy as B&H you turned out quite well. I mean, they still haven’t driven you out of your mind. I would freak out ages ago.” Oh my dear friend, you have no idea…

Footnotes

1. According to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, of 10 June 1999