The International Relations Coordinator writes from Sarajevo, a city in which Medicus Mundi has been collaborating for 2 years with the Foundation for the local democracy in maintaining the only shelter for women victims of violence of the city. Here, I give them the freedom of explaining the story of this city that has been so close to them for more than twenty years in their own way.
“Kad brat bratu okrene brata
i kad brat izda brata
kad brat ubije brata”
“When a brother turns his back to his brother
, and when a brother betrays his own brother
when a brother kills his brother”
Ko Kain i Abel – Zoster
In one of the last summer nights going up Ulica Čekaluša, in the heart of the Austro-Hungarian quarter, I have noticed that in the last two days I have walked the streets of Sarajevo looking for stories to tell. When I have perceived it, I have felt a little bit of shame. First of all, because if there is a city in this old continent that is full of history, it is definitely this one. Secondly, and it is not my intention to sound arrogant, because my friends are history.
Words, sentences, and memories hovered over my thoughts but I could not find a common idea for this sixth notebook. In all the other notebooks I’ve worked with all my passion. And in this one, as I have done in all the others, I was pushing myself irrationally, and condensing in a couple of pages everything that goes through my mind. Not for nothing, as Gardel’s tango says “Siempre se vuelve al primer amor…” (In English: We always return to the first love). And that is how I felt, in the narrow streets of Višnjik, feeling thousands of miles in the last weeks in each one of my bones and remembering when I arrived at this city for the first time.
“History is the unifying thread of this notebook“: the sixth global notebook, and the third Balkan. I told myself “Stories that are forgotten, stories that are not told, stories that seem from another era and do not even have the age of human life, stories that we have to give relevance to“. I have been here for more than 20 years and I always have the feeling that we are losing an important opportunity to learn in so many ways. Bosnia is a land that can teach so many things. It wants to educate you, to talk with you and we (especially Europeans) are the students willing to hear its lessons like we were waiting for the school break’s bell.
University of Sarajevo
Počitelj is a small town located in Hercegovina, close to the Neretva River. Its foundation dates back to the fourteenth century. It was an Ottoman bastion for many centuries. In the last war, the Croatians and the Muslims fought for power, and we can still see some of the wounds of that battle nowadays. Either way, its beauty is indescribable. It is surrounded by vineyards. The emerald green of the Neretva River is everywhere. Mosques and fortresses fight (metaphorically speaking) to become the closest constructions to the impressive blue sky of the Bosnian Mediterranean.
Počitelj – Hercegovina
I was in a place under the shade of weeping willows a couple of days ago. I sat to rest a little and protect myself from the 89.6 degrees Fahrenheit (ca. 32 °C) outside. Two couples spoke Spanish next to me. They were from Valencia, and they came (as tourists) from Montenegro. We exchanged opinions, and they told me that, in a couple of days, they would be in Sarajevo. Was Sarajevo very affected by the war? One of them asked me. I froze. At that moment I became aware of the great emptiness of history and information that we suffer. I wondered what my daughter learned in her school How is it possible that one of the longest sieges of all human contemporaneous history has already rotten in oblivion?
I have never been a fan of so-called war tourism. When I started working in 1998 destruction was common: we lived in it. We visited friends who had divided floors, a part that you didn’t enter because it was burned, with a shell embedded in the wall. We took care of the population that would literally kill for a pair of glasses. Young adults and teenagers were toothlessly lacking money to fix their damaged teeth for years of poor nutrition, malnutrition, lack of medical care and thousands of cigarettes in the darkness waiting for a new day to come. The city took out its strength and, once again, in only eight or ten years the majority of its wounds were healed. Over twenty years I have seen the transformation and how tourists have been getting closer and closer to this “East Jerusalem”. Sarajevo deserves this and much more. But, I wonder how we can go forward without leaving in the oblivion the city’s recent history. Who has to tell this story?
Barcelona has 10 districts. Once the Balkan war ended, Sarajevo was renamed (symbolically) the eleventh district. To manage all the projects, the Embassy for Local Democracy (ADL) was created. As time went by, it became a local Bosnian organization called Foundation for Local Democracy (FDL). The core of its team has been working unstoppably for the last twenty-three years.
Jasmina Mujezinović, Director of the Foundation for Local Democracy
The illusion to do justice with the thousands of women who suffer violence in a post-war country is powerful.
Jasmina Mujezinović is the leader of the foundation, and she is now specialized in helping thousands of women that suffer gender-based violence. Hand in hand, keep working (among other things) the only refuge for women that suffer violence. Obtaining a project in Sarajevo is getting more and more hard, and after two decades fighting, Jasmina tells me that she is thinking about retirement. I can not picture Sarajevo without Jasmina managing projects. She’s the living history of this city. Yes, the market and the post-war capitalism have created businesses (and a lot of inequality), but there are thousands of people that have escaped both the war and the post-war. But, they still need the social support that this divided and excluded country of Europe can give (even if it is scarce). Non-governmental organizations have a role to play. Being aware of the differences that exist in relation of other crisis (for example the refugees’ crisis that we have nowadays), I wonder if the brotherhood between Barcelona and Sarajevo could be a role model to show the world and if this relationship could help break the ultraconservationism that we are apparently doomed to. Who has to tell this story?
I had a pending stroll for years. Visiting the Old Jewish Cemetery in Sarajevo. It is considered the second most important in the world, after the one in Prague. The history, our history, emanates from the beautiful stone tombs that crown the hill. Hundreds of tombs have their inscriptions written in old Spanish, last names like “Pinto” and “Alcalá” (for example) give name to the bones we can find buried there. Sephardic Jews that were expelled from Spain by the so-called Catholic Kings arrived in this city, which, as always, awaited visitors with open arms. More than five hundred years of history join these two peninsulas, the Balkan and the Iberian. Hitler and his Croatian allies, more than four hundred years later, were responsible for making almost 100% of the Jewish population of Sarajevo disappear. The vast majority were qualified professionals (doctors, architects, etc.). Many graves date back to the Second Great War. Subsequently, the cemetery was a line of fire between the Bosnian and Serbian troops, and the Armija that defended the city. Now there are few Jews left, although they keep the centre “La Benevolencia” alive and some still speak some Spanish. I sat there in the company of my friend Jasmin, with whom I share a friendship of over twenty years. The city at our feet. Jasmin was a refugee in Spain for more than five years, running from the war with his sister and grandparents. His grandfather died in a refugee camp in Macedonia before he could reach Spain. His parents were locked up in Sarajevo after putting their children safe. All the war, all the siege. We read the inscriptions on the graves, some of them are beautiful and strangely timeless:
“Under this tombstone lies Asta, the daughter of Bogèin Zlusić, and I don’t want to be here. I would like to walk with you at night in the meadow and I would give you that kiss that I did not give you when you asked me to. Even if Heaven falls. I would not feel regretful … or ashamed. […] Only now I know that the soul suffers the torment of unsatisfied desires. 1422, when others were happy but I died. ”
The history of medicusmundi also begins to merge into this magma of centuries. History of fight to defend the most precious things that we can have, our life, and our health. Lessons and mistakes from other continents will permeate our friends of the Foundation and vice versa, our projects, our wishes. The illusion to do justice with the thousands of women who suffer violence in a post-war country is powerful. Sarajevo already has a new ally and comes from the hand of a friend who was always by her side, Barcelona. The “Innocent City”, the Sarajevo already hardened, needs fighters. But above all, in this era when everything is accelerating, and we are more and more dissatisfied with what is to come, it needs testimonies that do not make it rot into oblivion.
Ivan Zahínos Ruiz
International Relations Coordinator
*Tranlated from Spanish into English by Susanna Pujol Clivillé