The director of international relations of medicusmundi mediterrània is on a service mission in the Balkans that will take him from North Macedonia to Bosnia. Documentary cinema to raise awareness, the right to health, the fight against gender violence: all these elements are combined and come to life in an already complicated region. These are some of the thoughts and experiences that arise from such a mission.
“Everything is a transition, a bridge, ” wrote Ivo Andrić. And all our hope is on the other side.
“We don’t have stars here, there are no paparazzi, nobody cares what they do off stage… they just sing. I think that’s why they love Sarajevo, they are one more, they live as they have always lived, they go down to the Kafana to have a drink, they walk through Ferhadija when the sun goes down… We all know who they are, but we don’t treat them differently, and they don’t treat us differently either. They are part of the people, they are the people”.
This is how Jasmin Adilović, a friend and brother for more than two decades, explained to us the brilliant encounter we had with Božo Vrećo. Just five hundred metres from the notorious Markale market, where sixty-eight of the city’s inhabitants were killed by Serbian bombing in 1994, Božo’s and my gaze crossed for about five long seconds. This meeting in Sarajevo fortuitously happened after I got in touch with his manager to propose to work together in a campaign to prevent gender violence in the city. “This is destiny, Ivan” Božo said smiling.
Božo Vrećo and Ivan Zahinos in Sarajevo
From virtual reality to real life there is always an important change. Božo is much taller than he appears on stage. His aesthetic is powerful. Yesterday they were dreadlocks, bar codes tattooed everywhere and beautiful Arabic calligraphy, bushy beard and sunglasses. Another day it may be skirts, straight hair, a beard and a bare chest.
In a society in which the Balkan male is educated from birth, Božo Vrećo has broken all schemes. And he has done it while using the most lethal and yet fragile weapon they have in Bosnia: the heart. And how do you reach the heart in Bosnia? Singing.
If the streets of Sarajevo are a living melting pot of the history of Europe, the Sedvah is the fusion of centuries of art, poetry, music and passion, a lot of passion. Ottoman melodies, Sephardic and Austro-Hungarian influences, Slavic phonemes… the Balkan soul. Božo Vrećo, arrived from Foća to embrace the Sedvah, to shatter the pre-established concepts that placed this art in the heart of the tradition, away from the youth that is closer to Hip Hop and reggaeton. And with a brave attitude, typical of those who defended this city during almost four years of encirclement, he has revolutionized the Bosnian society by singing Sevdah from his soul and free spirit.
I understand that many will ask why to write about him, about sevdahlinkas in a blog of an organization dedicated to public health. After more than twenty years working on the so-called development cooperation, I feel that we have failed by building a technical, elitist language and, sometimes, perhaps even somewhat snob that distances us from the population “to contribute to the integrality of the gender approach in the field of women’s rights….”; “To implement advocacy and public awareness actions for the equality and defence of LGTBQ groups”; or the one I love the most, “to strengthen the capacity of civil society to implement endogenous development strategies and fight for the rights of feminist movements and ….”. How many reports, evaluations and diagnoses will we have to banish to the drawers and archives of the organizations to learn how to speak as “the people speak”?
For me, Božo symbolizes the essence of naturalness, of communication through art. Božo says that he was born both male and female, and so he proves it: as simple as that. With his art, with his attitude, with his “he and she”, he manages to reach millions of people and make them vibrate, and of what I am convinced, make them question the role of the Balkan male and the submissive woman. And in doing so he succeeds and will succeed at the speed of light, while organizations will be inventing terms and discussing whether they are integrative enough to be part of our jargon.
The Balkans are full of bridges. Some are made of stone and have symbolized the passage from east to west, the boundaries between Christianity and Islam, the border between empires. Many differences are spoken of here, much has been written about the inability of their people to live together. But from a viewpoint of Bistrik, watching the “innocent city” when the sun goes down and while the Mujezin calls to prayer, I am aware that on this earth there are always and will be bridges, no matter how many times wars want to destroy them. They are true open doors to understanding and togetherness.
The bridge over the Drina River – Višegrad
I tell myself that it is time for us to build the bridges between public health and culture, between the right to health and music, between life and art. Isn’t that what we want when we do public health? Get our message to as many people as possible. Božo has opened a path in Sarajevo and the Balkans for respect for differences, for the struggle for equality and non-violence. Even so, when I talk to Jasmina, the wise director of our counterpart in Sarajevo, Fondacije Lokalne Demokratije, about the idea of asking Božo if he would like to collaborate with us, she tells me that she has some doubt, because his is such an evolved proposal that she wonders whether society would be prepared to understand our campaign. We’ll see… our hope is always on the other side of the bridge.
Sarajevo at sunset
Here, with the height that this city gives, soaked in centuries, I strive to retain all this beauty in my retina. Have you ever felt the embrace of a city? As if it were a living organism, vertebrate in avenues, rivers, hills, walls and reconstructed libraries, a city that shows its wounds with pride, as all of us who have suffered should do. Here I feel that in my mind old barriers between science and art, stupid and sterile prejudices have been erased. “Insha-Allah” the Balkans have introduced us to a new ally in our fight for health and non-violence.
Ivan Zahinos Ruiz
International Relations Coordinator
*Translated from Spanish into English by Susanna Pujol Clivillé