By Igor Stipic
It has already been more than 20 years since some parts of the multi-ethnic socialist republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) took a violent historical turn. Such political projects – embodied in the creation of Republika Srpska (RS) – are reminiscent of dominant present day politics of progressive entitization and segregation of BiH imagined community. Based upon the ethno-nationalist narrative of belonging, such political vision desires national homogeneity, identifying the “ethnic other” as unwanted weeds found inside one’s own garden. Furthermore, it proposes its physical removal as the solution that inevitably leads towards the increase in “our” prosperity and well-being. Thus, and according to the ethno-national perspective, the problems overdeteriming the space of BiH during the nineties (but likewise nowadays) were (are) bound to disappear from the historical scene as soon as the old country with its fairytales of multi and inter-ethnicity would enter its clinical death.
However, perspective taken from the historical distance allows us to assert how the time passed has not brought any kind of betterment (economic, social, etc.) to these ethnically cleansed areas. Rather, as the movie director fast-forwards and places us in 2018 detriments seem more prominent than improvements. In the meantime, I, as the main character of this reflection, find myself on the way from Mostar to Prijedor (Kevljani). As bus trip seems reminiscent of the path taken during the dark 90ies, images flipping inside of my mind bring some impressions. While contemplating the destiny of those navigating on the boat called Dayton BiH, I start wondering where has the ethno-national historical turning taken us to? Did these “ethnically pure areas,” after all the pain they have caused, result in more beautiful and more fruitful gardens than those mixed ones inside of which we used to live?
Looking around the bus I notice some faces of my fellow country(wo)men, faces that hint some answers with regards to the state BiH finds itself in. The bus driver, a tall and skinny man in his early thirties, discusses the employment problems with his colleague. Rather unhappy to be ordered by his boss to take this ride moments after finishing a long tour towards Belgrade and back, he starts the infamous RS topic of moving for work to Slovenia. Despite much better pay, the idea of migrating doesn’t particularly delight him and two men agree that leaving ones country is not an easy thing. Unfortunately, during the nineties many people were not kindly asked whether or not they would like to leave places their families called homes for centuries. Still, ethno-national perspective instructed that there was no place for them inside of such politico-identitarian invention. And even if not presented as the future to arrive by propaganda material of the 1990s, current reality of Republika Srpska is not material abundance but massive exodus. Thus, as pure ethnic “republics” fail to bring promised well-being, emigration today is purely socio-economic and political as it is not anymore necessary to expel population by force. In this sense, even if I lack any kind of concrete answers to clarify my doubts and wonders, it seems that the (bus) ride didn’t bring the expected pleasure and even the path may be wrong.
In the meantime, a young blonde disrupts the talk complaining to the driver how the bus is running very late and how she will not be able to arrive on time for the baptism ceremony of her godson. Considering the state of things, I wonder what kind of future awaits this child in BiH? Turning my look to the right I notice an older woman with melancholic expression stamped in her eyes. Possibly considering memories of a life gone by and of her grandsons living in Scandinavia or Germany, the lady stares into the distance and remains in silence while, with eyes filled with tears, she seems to be at that fragile point of a breakdown. Being late for the seminar and still remaining quiet, I think about yet another summer spent in the country I was born in, and which, once again, I have to leave for work. At once, I start wondering how close we are to the notorious wartime camp of Omarska, an embodiment of a place which during the nineties dealt with the unwanted element of ethno-national project. As there are no signs or any information regarding this tragic part of our history, for an outsider visiting RS it remains rather difficult to know its location. Still, I feel how the souls of the lost and tortured there keep wandering around and, as if blocked in a limbo, demand justice of remembrance. Regardless of the official politics of denial perpetrated by a fact of inexistent justice and humanism in this socio-political space, the destiny of the lost seems to be part of our destiny too. Then and suddenly, I join the melancholic lady on my right and get eyes filled with tears. It is a rather strange feeling affecting the sensitive stomach and causing the throat to tighten. The ride is rather chaotic and unpleasant, curves sharp and the path taken seems definitely wrong.
Tears seem to win the contest very often in this new BiH. Here, our everyday lives, just like the never ending bus ride itself, offer troubling experience with unknown destination and unforeseen consequences. Hopefully, we can still turn around, realize our wrongs and chose some different path, one filled with more humanity, love and respect for our neighbors, a type of love that arises from human values any one of us possesses and which are not predetermined by ethno-national belonging of Bosnians and Herzegovinians. Otherwise, I dare to think that we are likely to continue living in a state of clinic death that was induced in the 90s, a death inside of which our “leaders” keep getting rich, our people keep migrating to various parts of Europe, and our godsons keep being born without any prospects of a decent future.