The Journey Never Ends, part 1.

The UNHCR has published my column “The Journey Never Ends, part 1″ a couple days ago”. The link is here.


I was a refugee once. From today’s perspective, as the father of two daughters, I am grateful that I was only a seventeen-year-old boy in that time of turmoil, uncertainty and doubts. What I learned back then was that nobody understands a refugee and his situation unless they, too, are one. You can have a deep sympathy and compassion for a person who had to leave his country, but if you have not experienced what it is like to leave your home, your family and dear friends, you can never truly understand what it means to be a refugee, homeless in a foreign land, completely cut off from the rest of the society, at least in those first months of living in exile. And if that person also has children and a wife by their side, you can only imagine but never completely understand what is going on in that person’s mind, what fears for his children’s future a parent is carrying.

When I was asked to write this column and tell my refugee story I was filled with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I was mildly reluctant to the idea of writing about my past experience because I knew I had to dig deep into my memory and consciousness. I believe that is a normal human reaction – usually we tend to ignore and avoid remembering unpleasant events from the past. On the other hand, I wanted to give my refugee story as a tonic to all current refugees who might find in it a crumb of peace of mind, or even be inspired to look more positively upon their situation.

So let us start from the beginning.

I was born into a turbulent world, politically destructive between East and West, the sympathetic freedom-loving psychedelia was on its last legs. The Vietnam War had just entered the dark annals of the twentieth century, American spacecraft Viking 1 landed on Mars, and Czechoslovakia won 5-3 against West Germany in the finals of EURO ‘76. I was born in the small town of Bosanski Šamac in northern Bosnia, which was then part of Yugoslavia. I had a happy childhood, went to kindergarten and primary school, and I had a lot of friends I played with around the apartment complex. The town lies at the point where two great rivers, the Sava and the Bosna (which gave the country its name) meet. In the summer I used to spend a lot of time there with my family and friends. Once a year my parents would take my brother and I to the Adriatic Sea, and we would stay in some of the picturesque small towns of the Makarska Riviera. Yes, life was beautiful.

I almost finished first year of high school when the war scene moved from Croatia and entered my country and hometown in April 1992. One night Serbian forces swiftly occupied Bosanski Šamac and soon I had to flee the town with my parents and brother because the new authorities began imprisoning and mistreating the town’s Croats and Muslims (Bosniaks). Non-Serbs became second class citizens, many of whom were either sent to a nearby labor camp in Zasavica or sent to dig trenches. The only thing missing was a yellow band around their arms; just like the one Jews had to wear in Nazi Germany. And so we fled to the neighboring free town of Gradačac, where we had some relatives who gave us shelter.

Although my hometown was occupied by Serbian forces it was possible to enter and leave the town for a few days at the beginning of the occupation. Since my mother was a store manager she believed naively that she should hand over the keys of the store. The same day that she went to our hometown the new authorities closed down all the roads to and from the town. Therefore my mother could not get out and return to us: her husband and two children – and we were not going to see her or know anything about her situation for the next 7 months.

A few weeks later, Serbian forces began attacking and shelling Gradačac. Those days were probably some of the worst of my life. The small town was bombed to pieces from all possible directions, from earth and air. It was the middle of September when my father was fed up worrying about the lack of security for his boys, that he decided we should try to leave Bosnia. We had to travel south down the entire Bosnia-Herzegovina on an improvised route to Dalmatia and then to Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, where my father’s aunt lived. We traveled through war-torn cities and towns, through forests and mountains and improvised roads and even places where it seemed the war had taken place just minutes ago. I remember at one point driving through a small town where there were many houses on fire, a few crying people in the streets. It felt as if there had been a fight only a few hours before we arrived. We traveled some 1,400 km through the whole country of Bosnia and a large part of Croatia. To illustrate how difficult and dangerous the trip was it usually takes only 230 kilometers to go from Bosanski Šamac to Zagreb!

In December 1992 my father, brother and I were finally reunited with my mother – at the Prague train station. Her journey from our war-stricken hometown to Serbia and on to the Czech Republic deserves a book of its own. A friendly Serb working at the hospital engineered her exit. She had to pretend to be a Serb nurse in her passage from Bosnia and, as she waited for clearance to cross the Drina river, she was given board for a couple of days at the house of an elderly nationalist Serbian woman who was led to believe my mother was a Serb. I can only imagine how it was for my mom to be there during those days listening to hateful speeches from her host, unconscious of the real identity of her guest.

We left the Czech Republic and arrived in Denmark in late April 1993. The first three days we were stationed in the Gentofte asylum center. We then spent one month on the southern island of Langeland. Our language quickly gained a new word, “muving” (eng. moving). People were constantly being relocated to other centers. Where the Danish Red Cross would send you was a big deal. In late May my family got a “muving” to Hagebro in the middle of the Jutland peninsula. It was a former hotel and its long, yellow-brick structure now accommodated around 110 Bosnian refugees. We called our new home Opticon, after the former hotel’s name. The little Bosnian colony had good times together and with the Danish staff from the Red Cross. There were a number of activities for children and adolescents, perhaps to keep our minds from wandering home. I know that many fellow refugee residents look back at those days with a certain nostalgia, because, despite living in small rooms and the adults being tormented of their war-torn home country, there were good things to look back on; people were kind to each other and children played together. One recalls a sense of solidarity: we were all in the same boat. I cannot forget the tremendous efforts of the staff to offer us various activities, taking us on all sorts of trips. I know now that all they wanted was to give us a little break from worrying about families and friends who still were in Bosnia.

To be continued…

Follow Fahrudin Dino Avdibegović and his journey to Denmark in part II, which will be published 17.2.2012.

On interview with Nihad Hasanović

I’ve just finished reading one of the most intriguing and thought provoking interviews I have read in a really long time. The subject in question is “An Interview with Nihad Hasanović” done by Jasmin Čaušević.

I rarely write about other people’s online writings, and probably never about interviews, but this interview simply brought so much joy and pleasure while reading, and sort of optimism into the future and mankind itself, that I simply had to write at least a word or two about it.

So who’s Nihad Hasanović? According to the interviewer’s website, he’s a “Bosnian writer, one of the most interesting and intriguing young writers in the space of Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian language”.

As the interview progressed, which consists of five parts, I found Nihad Hasanović a very interesting person with strong opinions and vivid thoughts on life, literature, philosophy and society pretty much identical to my own ideas.

“[Danilo] Kiš was very important also because he encouraged me to think of literature not just as belonging to a particular nationality, nation, ethnicity, but as belonging to humankind.”
This is simply joy to my ears, a wonderful, albeit still somewhat utopian, idea, but nevertheless it’s great to see that the idea of cosmopolitanism is still alive even in these turbulent times of globalization and all those nationalistic, local reactions to it.

The writer is really full of “sugar puffs” (guldkorn) as they say it in Danish; Mr. Hasanović has very interesting, progressive and firm thoughts on literature, language, politics, science, moral and religion. He’s a great opponent to religion and its influence in society: “In a very cunning way religion have usurped the moral and empirical experience that humanity has accumulated over the course of history and pre-history.”
In religion he sees evil deed rather than a good one. He mentions the Catholic Church, its Inquisition and all the atrocities and genocide committed in Latin America in its name.

He sees “the suppression of freedom to interpret the Qur’an” and attacks on those who bring humor and satire that involve Islam as a very serious problem along with Muslim slave-traders in history. Furthermore he mentions Serbian Orthodox Church which had a huge role in shaping Serbian nationalism and chauvinism that later started a dissolution of Yugoslavia and all those bloody wars in the 1990’s: “Serbian Church has its hands soaked to an incomparably greater extent with the blood of the last war.”

Anyway, there are many additional interesting themes and areas covered in this lengthy interview such as influence of Latin writers, importance of learning a foreign language, criticism of post-modernism, Bosnian and South Slavic literature, religion, lack of scientific presence in literature, politics and much more.

As I mentioned before, I was overjoyed while reading the interview. I felt almost like reading a good book I didn’t want to end. I will most definitely look forward to read more about and of this very interesting Bosnian writer and thinker, and I can only thank Jasmin Čaušević for this great interview which should be read by anyone interested in literature, Bosnian and the Balkans affairs, religion and the criticism, science, language, philosophy, moral and just plain humanity and common sense.

Links to the interview: part I, part II, part III, part IV and part V.

A free chapter (in Bosnian) of Hasanović’s new book “O roštilju i raznim smetnjama” (Concerning barbeques and various interludes) can be read at publisher’s website – pdf.

Jest’ da mi je stomak pun, ali…

Gledam ovih dana kako se politička scena u domovini Bosni ponovo užaruje i ne mogu a da se ne zapitam dokle će taj bosanski narod uzimati pasivnu ulogu vječitih pijuna.

S obzirom da na Balkanu svako ima svoje tumače stanja i stvari, evo da i ja postavim svoju. Ne mislim nikome nabacivati ko će kako da se zove, niti mislim oduzimati ikome pravo na samoopredjeljenje, ali svi stanovnici u toj divnoj, ali napaćenoj zemlji Bosni moraju konačno shvatiti da su oni, nacionalno gledajući, Bosanci i samo Bosanci, kako god da okreneš. Nikakva srpska, nikakva hrvatska i nikakva bošnjačka nacija ne živi u Bosni i Hercegovini, nego samo bosanska! Svi građani naše domovine su po nacionalnosti Bosanci i nema tu nikakve prikrivene hegemonije niti prisilnog pokrštavanja! Na tom prokletom Balkanu, a pogotovo u našoj domovini, narodu je nametnuto da religijska pripadnost odlučuje nacionalnost jedne osobe, pa je bosanski katolik automatski Hrvat, bosanski pravoslavac Srbin, a musliman Bošnjak, što je ludost i laž, a uostalom i geografska netačnost.

Kao što je svaki građanin Srbije Srbijanac, Hrvatske Hrvat, tako je i svaki građanin Bosne i Hercegovine Bosanac (i Hercegovac), bez obzira na religijsku pripadnost. Tako je u Danskoj stanovnik zemlje Danac, u Francuskoj Francuz. Ispada da samo Bosna nema svojih građana – Bosanaca! Etnička ili religijska pripadnost nema nikakve veze sa nacionalnošću. To je nešto što nam je nametnuto od vremena kada je Srbija dobila nezavisnost od Osmanlijskog Carstva, a Hrvatska dobila veću autonomiju u sklopu Austrougarske, a pojačano nakon Berlinskog kongresa 1878. godina.

Evo, uzeću sebe za primjer. Zovem se Fahrudin. Potičem iz muslimanske, begovske porodice, koja je stoljećima živjela u Bosni. Ta ista porodica je najvjerovatnije prije prelaska na islam pripadala katoličkoj ili Bosanskoj crkvi, no to i nije tako više bitno. Zbog imena bi me danas svaki Balkanac najvjerovatnije nazvao Bošnjakom ili muslimanom, ali šta da radimo ukoliko se ja tako ne osjećam? Iako sam muslimanskog porijekla, to mi i samo prezime govori, ne osjećam se muslimanom, niti sam uopšte religiozan. Po logici balkanskih nacionalista ja sam ateista ili “nešto tamo neodređeno”. U njihovim glavama možeš samo biti Srbin, Hrvat ili Bošnjak. Nego, da im otkrijem jednu tajnu.

Bosna postoji hiljadu godina i kao takva je davno stekla pravo na svoju državnost, kulturu i jezik. Tu državnost je uspostavio i stvorio bosanski narod, onaj isti što danas tamo živi, ali koji nacionalisti iz susjednih zemalja već 150 godina pokušavaju etnički kolonizirati i dati mu srpski i hrvatski predikat. Najbolnije je to što veliki dio tog istog ispaćenog naroda danas više brani druge (susjedne) države i bori se za one koji su im nabacili ime tuđih naroda.
U ovoj našoj zemlji niti su pravoslavci Srbi, niti su katolici Hrvati, niti su (samo) muslimani Bošnjaci. Svi smo mi Bosanci, a etnički smo, zbog političko-nacionalističkog djelovanja raznih sila zadnjih 150 godina, podijeljeni na Bošnjake, Srbe, Hrvate itd. Neko je katolik, neko pravoslavac, Jevrej, a neko ateista ili budista, ali smo svi u duši i po koži Bosanci – po državnosti.
Ali ni to neće biti važno ili relevantno.

I u našoj zemlji će, nadam se, svjež vjetar globalizacije zapuhati i donijeti nove ljude i nacije, pa ćemo i mi imati bosanske Arape, bosanske Irance, dok Kineze već imamo. I svako ko od njih odluči da ostane u Bosni i integriše se u bosansko društvo, biće ravnopravan građanin te zemlje – biće Bosanac. Kinez koji se nastani u Doboju će prvenstveno biti Bosanac. Za Rusa iz Moskve koji se nastani u Bihaću isto važi. Ne razumijem zašto bi taj isti Rus trebao automatski biti Srbin samo zato što je pravoslavac. Dosta je ovaj naš narod plaćao cijenu nacionalističke ograničenosti, neobrazovanja i neznanja! Vrijeme je da se bosanski narod ujedini, okrene zemlji u kojoj živi, afirmiše u svakom pogledu i da se konačno pripoji narodima svijeta koji su davno shvatili da samo otvorenost, obrazovanje i znanje otvara vrata budućnosti i prosperiteta.

Meni je drag svaki dobronamjeran čovjek ove planete, ali posebno dobri Ante iz Mostara, dobri Vladimir iz Trebinja, dobri Elvedin iz Zenice, dobri Samuel iz Sarajeva.

Ja sam Bosanac po nacionalnim kriterijima (Bošnjak po etničkom) i neka me niko nikada drugačije ne zove i ne svojata! Ja pripadam svim Bosancima, cijeloj Bosni i Hercegovini i čitavom svijetu, a sve Bosance (i Hercegovce, da se razumijemo) bilo kojeg imena i bilo koje boje krvi (!) shvatam kao moje.

You are a Bosnian when…

I found this list somewhere on the Internet (I don’t know where, sorry)

You are a Bosnian when:

  • you begin most sentences with “jebi ga” (fuck it).
  • you can not explain what “bolan” means, but you use it all the time.
  • your mother insists that “promaha” (draught) will kill you.
  • older people call you “sine” (son!) although you are a girl.
  • your mother tells you to wear “podkosulja” (undershirt), no matter what the temperature outside.
  • you tuck your “podkosulja” into your underwear.
  • your father refers to all politicians with “djubrad”, “lopovi” (thieves) and “kriminalci” (criminals).
  • your mother threatens you with “samo cekaj dok ti caca dodje kuci” (just wait till your dad gets home).
  • you are 6 and your father sends you out to buy him “Drina” and “Sarajevsko” (brands of cigarettes and beer).
  • you start your day with a cup of coffee and a cigarette
  • your mother won’t accept the fact that you are not hungry
  • you have “pita” (Bosnian food that is like a pastry puff filled with salty fillings like cheese, meat or potatoes) for dinner at least 4 days a week.
  • you have “sarma” (stuffed cabbage) for dinner the remaining 3 days
  • a loaf of bread is eaten for lunch every day
  • your neighbor comes over every day uninvited, for coffee
  • you have 17 consonants and 2 vowels in your last name
  • your mother tells you not to sit close to TV, and not to use cell phones, because you will get brain tumor
  • your mother tells you that you will get sick from drinking cold water
  • your parents have “goblene” on their walls, and “heklanje” (fine handmade lace) on every piece of their furniture, including the TV.
  • the time is divided into “before” and “after” the war