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Having visited Srebrenica, I really want to see another side of the Republika Srpska (RS). The next day I rent a car and drive to Višegrad.

Part 4: The Bridge on the Drina – Visegrad, Republika Srpska

The town in the south of the RS is only a few kilometres off the Serbian border. Like Srebrenica, it had a Muslim/Bosniak majority before the war and is nowadays mainly inhabited by Orthodox/Bosnian Serbs. There are stories about expulsion and rape camps in the town and mass killings of Muslims on the Drina Bridge. But despite this Višegrad is still a kind of a magical place for me because Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andrić’s novel on the town's history, The Bridge on the Drina, was what made me fall in love with Bosnia and Herzegovina before even travelling here.

The actual bridge on the Drina was, like her little sister in Mostar, built by the Ottoman occupants and has always been a symbol for the connection between East and West, Orient and Occident. I reach my destination right after a thunderstorm. When the sun breaks out of the clouds the bridge over the green water is strikingly beautiful.

However, the town offers the same deserted pictures as Srebrenica: due to the heat the streets are empty. The tourist office closed

No_1_P_III_-_Visegrad_Orthodox
Photo: Julia Schulte
Orthodox Chruch in Višegrad.

at 4 pm. Only up the hill, some people are standing around in front of the Orthodox church. The priest, a friendly man who came here from Serbia after the war, asks his teenage son, who speaks a little English, to show me around. Before we go, I am allowed to visit the church - and the cemetery. Again, most graves date from the early nineties, but this time the black, rectangular tombstones also show photos of the deceased. It is hard to look at the young men, portrayed posing in uniform and sunglasses on an army tank, or with weapons in their hands.

Downtown I am shown a seemingly more promising project: hidden behind a hoarding, a couple of medieval looking houses are under construction. On a land tongue between the Drina and the Rzav river a new town centre is being built - and it is called Andrićgrad (Andrićtown) in honour of the great writer.

Published in Imagine Europe
Thursday, 29 March 2012 07:45

Nomadic reverie - Romanies in cinema

Who are today's nomads? Tourists, artists, gypsies, students, seasonal workers, or immigrants? The many conflicts that still arise in today's Europe between states and nomads like the Romanies should incline us to take a look at what nomadism really is, how the European community perceives it, and what our national borders and policies do to it.

Tony Gatlif, an Algerian-born French director of Romani ethnicity dedicated his artistic life to portraying Europe's biggest and oldest nomadic community. The Romani people (otherwise called gypsies, tsigans, gitan, halab, bohemians) are said to have left India in the direction of Europe around two thousand years ago. In "Latcho Drom" ("Safe Journey," 1993) Gatlif begins a journey retracing the paths of those nomads who later became Romanies. Wandering through the lands of India, Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, France and Spain, the silent camera participates in the journey and the musical traditions of today's nomads.

Devoid of any dialogue or articulated comments, the film's strong images nevertheless carry an explicit political message. The story starts in the deserts of Rajastan in northern India, where certain communities still live a traditional nomadic life in the wilderness. One cannot help but see these images as an artistic celebration of the idea of nomadic freedom. These young, graceful and beautiful nomads travelling through a timeless space, practising mystic rituals, are presented as the semi-mythological prototypes of the Romanies. Gradually moving towards Europe, the images lose their abstract and idealistic sense. On their way to Europe, the travellers encounter hunger, accommodation problems and prejudice. The film shows the nomads' journey out of India as a road towards poverty, eternal exile and struggle with western urbanisation. The film ends in Spain where a Romani community is just being evicted. As the scene takes place, the famous flamenco artist La Caita sings: "Why does you wicked mouth spit on me? / Sometimes I find myself envying the respect you give to your dog."

Published in Cafe Cinema
Wednesday, 15 February 2012 07:37

No Romani, Poles, Romanians or Bulgarians allowed

A few days ago I finally finished reading The Native Realm. A great book by Czesław Miłosz that is highly-recommended for anyone who claims to be European. "The native Europe" (which seems to be a more accurate translation) is a fascinating memoir and an intellectual walk along the meandering European paths of the 20th century. But this is not going to be a glorifying review of a brilliant book - although I do encourage you to read it. I'm referring to Miłosz for a rather less optimistic reason.

Last week European public opinion was once again bewildered by Geert Wilders (we all know this flamboyant platinum blond "statesman"). This time his Party for Freedom (PVV) launched a website where Dutch people can file complaints against immigrants from "Middle and Eastern European countries." The complaints are going to be presented to the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment.

Once you've entered the site and recovered your eyesight after being dazzled by Wilders's shining mane, you'll see giant headlines from Dutch newspapers: "Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians – increasingly criminal," "Eastern European gangs in villages" or "Problems with Poles" and a story about some supermarket with  misspelled Polish names (of course). The text underneath is even better. "The massive labour migration leads to many problems, nuisances, pollution [sic!], displacements and housing problems (…) Have you ever lost a job to a Pole, Bulgarian, Romanian or other Eastern European? Do you have problems with Eastern Europeans? We'd like to hear."

Published in Under Eastern Eyes
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