A Culture of Inclusion Despite a History of Division

Our first week in BiH has been filled with contrasts.  Some of which have been pleasant surprises and others that have taken some thought and getting used to.  Culturally, Bosnians are in general, a much more open and warm people.  You can find this in the United States of course, but it is not what I would consider to be the norm in our rather individualistic society.  Here in Sarajevo, or even in tiny Lukomir, the people seem to have a sense of community and caring for each other that is refreshing.  You feel like you are welcomed and a part of their community immediately upon meeting them.  They are genuine and take the time to get to know the people around them.  They seem to be very oriented towards their communities, their families, even the stray animals wandering the streets.  Everyone, or every being, is a part of their community and warrants attention and time.  Not once since being here have I seen someone kick, yell at or be mean towards one of the many stray dogs and cats wandering the city’s streets.  Although living outside and ownerless, these animals are greeted with love and affection as well.  In the United States, while strays may not always be outwardly mistreated.  They are ignored, kicked away and left to fend for themselves.  We walk by them on the streets without thinking twice because as a society we are often too wrapped up in our own world to notice or care about those around us.  Be they people or animals.  It is interesting when you consider that Bosnians have just been through a period where us versus them was a part of everyday life and a matter of survival.  But instead of letting the division from the war continue to divide them, the community joins together.  Everyone belongs.  Even Americans who don’t speak the language.

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A contrast that has been interesting to witness has been the ways in which the government agencies operate, or in some cases, don’t operate as well.  Although the weekend brought with it a number of different activities surrounding the 100th anniversary of the assassination, none of the events were well publicized to the general Bosnian population.  Where, what and when the events were actually taking place were all up for debate and it seemed like no one you talked to gave you the same answer.  The film screening was moved from one location to another and the change was not really publicized.  The performance at city hall was at a different time depending on who you asked.  No one really seemed to know what was going to be happening at the bridge.  Just that whatever it was would happen at midnight.  In the US there would have been schedules and brochures explaining every event with the time and place listed.  Should one of the events have been relocated or rescheduled, it would have been on the news, printed in papers, on the radio; there would have been an effort to make sure that people knew what was going on.  Here, it definitely seemed as though the events being held really had nothing to do with the citizens.  Instead, they were being held for “the important people” and therefore it didn’t feel like it really mattered to the government whether or not the citizens wanted or knew what was going on.

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Another contrast related to the events over the weekend was the lack of commercialism and carnival like atmosphere surrounding any of the events.  Ann, Jillian, Jon and I talked about how if this anniversary had been taking place in the US there would have been souvenirs with Franz Ferdinand’s moustaches all over the place.  T-shirts with pictures of him.  Cardboard cutouts that you can put your face through for pictures.  Moustache on a stick. A way to profit from the event.  Instead, the events, once the community could find them to participate, seemed to be taken in with a lot of pride and reverence.  The meaning of the events was not quite as lost as it sometimes is amongst the festival-like atmosphere in the US.

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One thought on “A Culture of Inclusion Despite a History of Division

  1. It’s interesting to me to read your stories. A couple of months ago I moved to BiH and there is a lot you write about I recognize or/and found notable when I got here now I’m getting to know the culture, people, lets just say life here.
    When I just got here, I was a bit surprised by the way the people treat stray animals, so nice, and as well each other and other people. In general I agree that they are genuine and see every being as a part of their community and warrants attention and time. Somehow you don’t have to ask yourself if someone helps you if you are in trouble, you just know they will. That is something I really love about being here. Though I must say, if you speak about ‘ people’ there is something that I find a bit difficult too. But I must add to that that I haven’t noticed anything of that in Sarajevo. In some places there is this kind of, I’m not sure how I should call it, separation and dislike going on towards each other, regarding groups/beliefs/nationalities and such. It is something that I personally, find very difficult to deal with. Have you noticed anything about that?

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