I am writing another lighthearted blog post. I am currently processing my week last week for articulation in my next post regarding the Peace March, or Mars Mira, from Nezuk, a village near Tuzla, to Potocari, a three-day hike that followed the reverse route through which Bosniak men and boys fled the Serbian genocide in 1995, with countless tragedies along the way. I am experiencing difficulty in writing about something that is life changing and humbling, and for which I was speechless during most of the trek. I do not have difficulty in describing a few Bosnian contrasts against typical American behaviors that quickly emerged in Bosnia within a few days after arrival. Cultural contrasts are always interesting and fun experiences within travel, however working as an intern opens up a different dynamic for that experience, along with living in a country for several weeks. One prevalent contrast surpasses all other numerous differences for me, and that is the existence of Bosnian dark humor.
Our student group met some friends from Australia on the Peace March, and we have all shared drinks or dinner with them as they toured Sarajevo before their departure. We went to dinner with them last night, and as we all walked through the restaurant after our meal, our waiter noticed that we all glanced at a painting on the wall during our exit. The painting featured the Miljacka River, and the famed Latin Bridge over it, located just steps from the restaurant. The picture was comical as it depicted palm trees along the river and people enjoying various water sports, such as surfing and speedboat racing. The waiter remarked that the picture depicted Sarajevo before the war, and we all laughed. It was truly funny, not only because the river is shallow, or Sarajevo is not in a part of the country which is conducive for palm trees to flourish, or just due to the fact that I am easily amused, we also found the painting and the waiter’s comment humorous because we all felt free to take delight in Bosnian dark humor. I have discovered that Bosnians joke more about the war than any other topic, through art forms, literature, or just in conversation. The war is a significant, complicated, and tragic event in a not-too-distant past. Initially, I was uncertain if Bosnians even discuss the war or the degree to which they discuss their history. I always thought many people preferred to discuss the days of former Yugoslavia or the rich cultural history of antiquity, but in reality I assumed that Bosnians treaded lightly upon dark historical events as many people do in the United States, although many Americans acknowledge historical darkness.
The irony and reality persists that while many Bosnians know their history, the country has multiple historical narratives according to ethnic identity. National agreement is complicated and it is rare. The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina is permanently closed, another symbol of national discord in general and the war’s impact on historical reality. It is a bit garish to see a permanently closed national museum, however it is not surprising here. I am sure there are many jokes among Bosnians about the museum’s closure as well. I find it refreshing and interesting that Bosnians respond to their history with humor. It would be even better to see that humor transferred to further dialogue among all Bosnians, even on the smallest scale.
The National Museum, closed until further notice.