Thursday, 30 October 2008

Cevapcici, Shopska & Sarajevsko Pivo

My first three days in Republica Srbska where not filled with culinary highlights, so today I thought it was high time to sample some authentic Bosnian cuisine.

For Sarajevo's best Cevapcici my Bosnian friend Belma told me to check out Zeljo right in the centre of the Bascarsija bazaar. You basically just have to follow your nose.

It's just past 12pm and the place is quickly filling up. I grab a stool at one of the low wooden tables.

The choice is not difficult: 5, 10 or 15 Cevapcici, the divine lepinja bread is complimentary, you only have to choose if you want a side of onions or not. As the three middle aged ladies sitting next to me have gone for onion breath, I follow suit - bugger my next interview partner, it's only the EU anyway...

A peak around the room, and the thing to do seems to be to order a glass of yoghurt too. Delicious.

I'm really not a big meat eater, but these Cevapcici's are very very yummy. Not even 20 minutes later, the place is jam packed. An older guy with disproportionately big glasses takes a seat across from me without asking, or even looking at me. Strange. I guess I have TOURIST written all over my face and he probably doesn't speak English, so why bother?

This place is all about a quick eat anyway. The guy behind the cashier yells "idimo, idimo, idimo!" - which, as far as I know, means "come on, come on, come on!" The three ladies next to me have long time gone.

I scoff down my meal, surprised how good meat can taste. And it's time to move on.

I still have my onion breath... and I'm already back to onions... a friend on Facebook last night recommended checking out Inat Kuca. It's not difficult to find, just across the bridge from the old Austrian Hungarian library currently in the process of being renovated.

It's a gorgeous wooden house, full of beautiful exotic lamps, Bosnian carpets, and other Ottoman knick knacks. The story goes that the restaurant was once on the other side of the river but when the authorities wanted to demolish it during the construction of the town hall, the owner insisted to rebuild it on the other side of the bank - piece by piece. Hence the name, Spite House.

I'm going for Shopska salad and Sarajevo Pivo. Uzdravlje!

The mute Bosnian muezzin

No matter where you look here in Sarajevo, you can spot a minaret and its mosque. In front of my hotel window there's the first one, heading down to the Bascarsija bazaar, just a two minute walk, there're at least another four or five, and when you're down in the city center and turn 360 degrees looking up to the surrounding hills, they're everywhere. Amazing. Only the muezzins seem to be less vocal than in other Muslim countries -- maybe out of respect for the other religions?

What role do history classes play in Bosnia's reconciliation?

More than a decade after the end of the war in Bosnia the divisions are still running deep between Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims. Whether it’s drafting a common constitution, working together in the police or effectively cooperating in state institutions – the list of contentious issues seems endless. Education is another example. Bosnia Herzegovina does not have one common ministry of education, but rather 12 education ministers. And has just as many school curriculums and text books. So what can be done to bridge these divisions in Bosnia’s schools and what role do history books and history teachers play in reconciliation? I visited two schools on both sides of the ethnic divide.

This feature was broadcast on Inside Europe. The German version was part of an online special for the UN year of reconciliation 2009.


Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Heading East - deep into a difficult past

Today we left Banja Luka, the capital of Republica Srpska to head east. A young Serbian girl has promised to tell me her impossible story with a young Muslim man - provided I don't disclose her identity and don't say where I'll meet her.

Transport in this part of Bosnia is somewhat sketchy. We thought about taking the bus, but there's only one a day, and it takes ages. Fortunately Renko who normally drives a van delivering dairy products, decided to take the day off. He barely earns 300 euros a month, so with two little kids and an unemployed wife, he offered to take me east - provided I didn't mind his old car.

I didn't mind the cracked front window, the recurring strange noises form the engine, the lack of seat belts, but unfortunately the police did. We had just left town when two police officers pulled over Ranko's rusty old Ford. "You have to get this car checked" they told him. NOW! But we were lucky, Dejan my translator was quick on his feet, and pointed to the German journalist sitting in the car. One little sentence did the trick: "She interviewed Dodik yesterday". And off we were again.

Past beautiful rolling hills, all shiny in the warm autumn light. Actually very much like back home, if it wasn't for the tiny white minarets dotting the landscape and reminding the traveller that Republica Srpska is not all orthodox...

Heading East, also means heading into the heartland of Serbian nationalism, the part of Bosnia which witnessed some of the worst battles and most notorious war crimes of the 1990's. Tuzla, Zvornik, Bratunac, Srebrenica, all resonate with massacres, refugees, and scores of burned homes and villages.

Even the beautiful river Drina, which forms most of the border between Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia, has been the backdrop of a bloody battle - though this one a bit earlier, Dejan tells me. The Serbs fought the Austrian-Hungarians here at the outbreak of Wold War I.

Now it's all quiet and peaceful here.

We ended the day visiting the Srebrenica Memorial, outside Potocari. About 2000 Bosniaks are buried here. The endless rows of white tomb stones are a stark reminder of the atrocities committed by Bosnian Serbs and their leader General Ratko Mladic. More than 7500 Muslim men and boys were massacred here in July 1995. The majority of the bodies remain unidentified in giant warehouses in Tuzla, awaiting analysis by the International Committee for Missing Persons.

My Serbian driver didn't want to get out of the car, I didn't ask him why.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Dinars, Marks & Euros

Stopover in Belgrade. The airport has changed so much since the mid 1990ies when I regularly flew to Belgrade to protest on the streets of the Serbian capital against Milosevic - and visit my family who lived here at that time.

Shiny duty free shops, modern coffee shops. I'm contemplating to have a beer, but I don't have the local currency, the Dinar, and they don't accept Euros here. How backward, I think, spoiled by our common currency.

And in two hours time I will have to get used to the Bosnian convertible Mark. I can't help but smile because yesterday when I was on the phone to Hotel Bosna where I'm staying in Banja Luka, the guy gave me the room price in Marks... and I told him "Can you give me the price in Euros?" thinking "God, doesn't he know that we gave up the Mark ages ago?"

Traziem Bosnia

Now, Bosnia is a country I've always wanted to visit. I don't really know why, but somehow Sarajevo resonates with me, maybe it's the stories I've heard from my Serb, Croat and Bosnian friends, maybe the history surrounding this city which was once called the Jerusalem of Europe, where mosques and churches - both Catholic and Orthodox - stood peacefully side by side for so many centuries, where traditional Turkish cafes sit today right next to the continent's hippest bars. I'm curious to discover this country I've studied in so many diplomacy and conflict resolution courses during my Masters degree. Are the consequences of bloody wars of the 1990ies still visible today? Have Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs been able to move on? Is there something like a "Bosnian" identity, or do Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks still very much think and feel along ethnic lines? Has the international community managed to build bridges? What does the future hold for Bosnia Herzegovina?

Only four days ago US ex-diplomat Richard Holbrooke, who was the chief architect if the Dayton peace accords and Britain's Lord Paddy Ashdown, who was the international envoy in Bosnia between 2002-2006, have warned that the country is in real danger of collapse and called on the world "to pay attention to Bosnia again."

"As in 1995, resolve and transatlantic unity are needed if we are not to sleepwalk into another crisis", both former peace envoys wrote in an open letter published in a daily Bosnian newspaper last Wednesday.

The long-term policy of the Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik is clear, "to bring his Serb entity - the Republic of Srpska (RS) - into a position to break away as soon as the opportunity presents itself."

Tomorrow I'm meeting the Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik. I'm really curious to see what he has to say.

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