When mentioning Bosnia and Herzegovina, we normally believe that the first impression worldwide is the one of corruption and crime – institutional crime, of poor economic and security situation, and that the entire world sees the local judiciaries as mainly dealing with petty social problems while the ‘big fish’ continues to swim freely.
By: Branislav Mihajlović
Also, if it is general knowledge – which it is, that the warnings of individual embassies concerning their citizen’s travel to BiH include the following: danger of terrorism, instability, ethnic tensions, bad roads, poor hygiene, limited accommodation availability, lack of knowledge of foreign languages amongst the local population, and if it is general knowledge – which it is, that the citizens of certain countries cannot even locate this unfortunate country, then, to put it mildly, it becomes completely uncertain that anyone from anywhere in the world would wish to travel to BiH, or at least to travel through this country. That kind of citizen of the world could not imagine staying, or God forbid, living in this kind of country, even in their worst nightmare. To avoid any confusion, there are examples that the perception of BiH has been changing, unfortunately thanks to small, individual events which are more or less accidental. Besides, we are aware that a positive image is a process ensuring the perception of a state is not superficial, negative and based on past events, but brought in line with reality of presence and directed towards the future. At the same time, we are well aware that the image of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the world is far worse than the actual situation in the country. If one knows that this is the opinion of many international officials working here, who believe this is one of the major obstacles for the overall development of the country, then it is of utmost importance to do anything possible to change the perception of BiH as a country of war, ethnic conflicts and powerful influence of foreign factors.
Therefore, we must treasure those who think differently from our so dark, grey, gloomy and negative impressions of other’s views of us and of the life here. Those are exactly our interlocutors with the topic of what it is like to live, in this case in Republika Srpska. Giacomo Fanizza is 37. He is from Syracuze in Sicily, he came to Banjaluka at the end of 2010 and moved here in January 2012.
Before coming to Banjaluka I had a totally different impression of this country, mostly related to the media problems and unfortunate events this country had been through. And coming from Sicily, I am aware of how difficult it is to alter a bad image, says Giacomo three years later. Anyhow, when I first went through Banjaluka, it was 3 AM. At that time I saw a girl going home alone, on foot, probably from some night club. It was an unimaginably huge surprise to me. There are not many cities of this size in the world where it is as safe as in this town. After that time, I was occasionally visiting Banjaluka over a period of one year, staying for a few weeks or an entire month, getting to know the town, its people and your culture and was drawn to this town. During this period I developed an idea that I might make my humble contribution to change the image of this country beyond its borders. As I have been a fencer for many years and a member of the Italian Fencing Association, with the help of enthusiasts from Banjaluka we established the Fencing Club Banjaluka, the first fencing club in the history of BiH. I have been spending most of the year in this town on Vrbas since then, training the members of the club, but also managing the club and promoting it within the country and abroad. Now, after two years of local experience, I can say that the people are very kind, sweet and hospitable. They opened their doors to me as a guest and helped me in getting around, which is certainly another reason why I have been returning to Banjaluka and why I am staying here.
Up to now I have met many people and developed some sincere friendships which makes my life here even more comfortable. Living and working in Banjaluka has many advantages, according to Giacomo. However, it is a bit more difficult to travel outside of town if you do not have your own means of transportation, but I manage. Speaking as someone involved in sports in Banjaluka I can say that the difficult economic situation reflects on the sports as well. Although the local people are talented for many sports the conditions are not so great. For me this is a big motivation and challenge to do my best, in order to create conditions for children and the youth of Banjaluka to engage in a kind of sport which is not so popular but certainly has a lot of elegance and is appreciated throughout the world and is one of the oldest Olympic disciplines. I am well accepted here, people have positive reactions to what I do, but everything happens very slowly here. Actually, sometimes I feel that the culture here is that people wish to reach average (mediocre) results overnight, as if they do not have the patience or persistence to invest more effort and achieve the maximum. From this perspective, I plan to stay in Banjaluka and in fencing. My wish is for a talented athlete, fencer from Banjaluka to take part in the Olympic games or at the World Championship. Support is needed in order to realize this plan, both from individual citizens of Banjaluka and from the local community and institutions, says the Sicilian in Banjaluka.
A Serb from Serbia or a Croat from Croatia in Banjaluka would say that their first thought of BiH would be burek (local meat pie) or cevapi (local minced meat and dough dish), as symbols of specific Bosnian gastronomy.
A very emphasized association of BiH citizens is war. The second place in response frequency is sense of humor and stress-free live, according to a research of how we are seen by population of neighboring countries. The following links are political tensions, multiculturality and then the famous two entities and three ethnicities. A summary of opinions of interviewees in Croatia and Serbia shows they mostly like the natural diversities and the rich cultural and historical heritage. Also, BiH is considered a country of diversities connecting east and west, christianity and islam. Maybe we could have an impression that this is the opinion of those who know us well, but this is also the opinion of an Amerincan in Banjaluka, Anita Mari Selec. ‘I came to Banjaluka a year ago. I work as a lector at the Faculty of Philology of the Banjaluka University. My colleagues are very nice and I am happy with my job’ spelled Professor Selec in a mixture of languages spoken by the peoples here. She is using ekavian form of language (pronunciation of Serbian language used in Serbia), probably because of her husband Vladimir Selec, son of legendary physics professor in Banjalukalycee (Gimnazija) and ever more legendary handball player of the Banjaluka ‘Borac’ handball club, Dobrivoje Selec. Vladimir met Anita in USA. Now they are in Banjaluka where people, according to Anita, are like anywhere in the world: there are good ones are bed ones. ‘All things considered, I have met more good people here’. Banjaluka is a pretty, little town where it is easier for people to keep company then in a big town. The difference between USA and here, according to professor Selec, is that it is ‘safer for the children here. My daugthers go to school and their sports practice on foot and I do not worry. This never happens in America’. I like this location – it is a beautiful combination of Balkans, east and west. As it is known that the deserts come in the end, in the story of lives of strangers in this area, our intercolocutor who does not need a special introduction, offers a short English language course. This is presented in five short, but most clear thesis about his, just as many, favorite things in Republika Srpska.
Thesis no. 1 – You can find the best beer I have ever tasted!
Thesis no. 2 – Spectacular mountain walks, such as Maglić in July.
Thesis no. 3- Really hot summers and really cold winters.
Thesis no. 4 – Hospitality without end, wherever you go.
Thesis no. 5 – Each region has its own specific character.
For those who failed to recognize, the thesis of life in Republika Srpska are offered by Nicholas Penny, a Britt who planned to be here temporarily but has been working in Republika Srpska for a decade now.
Mr. Penny has been managing one of the most famous companies from this area for years. He is the Director of Banjaluka brewery. It seems that our other intercolocutors have been learning or have already learned all five thesis by Nick Penny. What is left is for us to start adopting these too. Even if we do it in English.