Republika Srpska has the ability to enchant its visitors. Natural beauties including lush, green plains, snow-covered mountains and adventurously fast rivers, are only a small portion of the charms this region possesses. Local houses exude the scents of traditional food; the houses of chatty, lively folk who, exuberantly, await the knock of a visitor.
By: Maja Garača
Yes, this is also the place where hope was once lost, where hatred burned indignantly. Despite this, quite ironically, this is now a region filled with hope: a ‘virtue’ that pulled the citizens of Srpska through those tough times, allowing them to remain resilient in the face of past upheaval.
Srpska is part of a country that can be metaphorically compared to a drunk attempting to function as a whole, unable to do so as the country’s collection of numerous goals, beliefs and directions are all differing, just like a set of uncooperative limbs.
Yet, since its disaster years, Srpska has found itself on lists of ‘must see’ tourist destinations – and rightfully so.
Not only are travelers skiing on its slopes, rafting down its emerald rivers, and indulging in its delicious culinary traditions, but they are slowly shifting their lives to this region of Europe. They’re beginning to call Srpska home.
Today Srpska is filled with foreigners, both young and old, who have been warmly welcomed by the people living here. These are foreigners who have assimilated into the culture to the point where we no longer think of them as foreigners. In their eyes, the negative aspects of life here, such as nepotism and corruption, are mundane problems, to be faced and eventually eliminated.
One such individual, Dana McKelvey, a young American, has always been interested in European history, especially that of post-conflict countries where people are slowly releasing themselves from the grips of apathy and hopelessness. With a wish to help these people, Dana came to the capital of Srpska, Banjaluka, through the ‘Teaching Assistantship’ program, financed by the US State Department. Even though, prior to her visit, Dana was a stranger to this part of the world, only a few months later she admits she is in love with Banjaluka and is seriously considering making a full time commitment to this part of the Balkans.
“At first I thought that the people here are very closed off. In the United States strangers greet strangers on the street. Then I realized that once you meet somebody, they are willing to do everything for you. People have welcomed me into their homes, even though a few weeks ago we were complete strangers. What I really like here is that people live in the moment. When I hear from friends and family I feel like I no longer belong with them. Competitiveness is deeply rooted in the American way of thinking, so they often lose sight of what really matters. Here, family comes before all else, people are very devoted to their loved ones”, says Dana in her comparisons of the two cultures.
It can be said that the people of Srpska are perhaps too nice for their own good. It could also be said that they spend too much time fulfilling their desires and too little dedicated to earning the money necessary for those very desires to be met. As an observing outsider, Dana explained this ‘phenomenon’ as a need to taste the fruits of life, which stems from the reminder of days when they weren’t sure they’d see tomorrow. She may be right.
Nico Stubbe, a German citizen who also calls Banjaluka his second home, finds this carefree attitude quite irritable. Currently a volunteer at the Helsinki Parliament of the Citizens of Banjaluka, Nico works with the youth of Srpska on various projects aimed at improving their situation. He claims that from his experience there are a lot of young people who longingly wait for the day when they will leave Srpska, something he finds absurd.
“It’s hard for me because every day I meet people my age who want to go abroad. They ask me about life in Germany and tell me how they would like to live there. This especially bothers me because my work here is aimed at awakening the consciousness of young people and their participation in decisions that affect them”, explained Nico.
This lack of will on behalf of the youth is once again a remnant of the tough times. This is not to say that all are troubled and view fleeing from the grips of this region as the only solution. There are many distinct individuals who, through various forms of artistic expression, are fighting for the creation of a better tomorrow, unwilling to surrender to the nostalgia of the old, ignoring that grey horizon envisioned by some.
Joe Coyle, a musician from Scotland, first came to Banjaluka in 1996 with the wish to spread peace using the strings of his guitar. Initially he planned on a short visit but ended up staying in Former Yugoslavia until 2007. After travelling the world, collecting various experiences, Joe returned to the capital of Srpska to once again encourage change through his music. Like Nico, he believes that the fate of this region rests in the hands of the youth.
“I feel like I walked these streets only yesterday. I feel very comfortable here. Banjaluka was once the city of rock music; it is filled with talented people who will help it return to its roots. Life is not easy here, but I believe that running away from problems doesn’t accomplish anything. The wheels are always turning and the period of wrong priorities will pass as it came. Young people need to stay here. The future is in their hands. It is up to them to bring about changes. I try to encourage change through my music, but I can’t do much, my time has passed”, Joe reminisced.
Sharing Joe’s views, Mario Serrao wishes to lift the heavy burden suppressing the youth, but not as someone who is viewing their situation through the eyes of a stranger, but as someone who calls Srpska home.
Mario is an Italian with a Banjaluka address, who came to this city in 2005 after marrying a local. He works in the non-governmental sector and part of his work is focused on raising the awareness of young people in Srpska.
“The ruling class must change its priorities and invest in young people in Republika Srpska. Their attitude of ignoring the voices of the young is the reason why young people have developed a feeling of entrapment, which they naturally want to get rid of by leaving this region. Young people are lost; this desolation gives birth to a struggle with identity, which inevitably turns them towards bad influences. Here a different vision is often not welcome, because there is a possibility that it will lead to a break in tradition, which is the base for the policies of the ruling class, and it is well known that if you criticize you get named the enemy”, stated Mario.
He added, with empathy, that Srpska is clearly not cultivating its vast potential, which gives no reason for young people to stay and fight for the future of their country.
Without cooperation between young people and the government, Republika Srpska will achieve very little in combating the consequences of the war; all spheres of life will stagnate and the essential progress needed simply will not occur, explained Mario. His potential solution is that the government focus on a long-term policy that will give everyone an active role in the region’s present and future.
This region has been criticized for actions that its politicians committed in the past, but now foreigners are beginning to accept these wrongs, sometimes even without holding grudges. They are looking to establish themselves in Srpska and, at the same time, seeking to help it breathe deeply into the promise of the future. They can all see the great potentials of its land, culture, and people. It is time for locals to learn something from their vision.