In his time, Franz Kafka has left an account: My grandfather used to say: Life is astoundingly short. To me, looking back over it, life seems so foreshortened that I scarcely understand, for instance, how a young man can decide to ride over to the next village without being afraid that – not to mention accidents – even the span of a normal happy life may fall far short of the time needed for such a journey. If Kafka is at least partially right, then it presumably makes sense to collect, times and times again, the dispersed fragments of memory, to try to sort them out into somewhat different and new figures. The following writing has been modeled based on one of the previously mentioned memories – which aims to try to recall the war and post-war Banjaluka during the 90s.
The first multi-party elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, held on November 18, in 1990, resulted in a convincing victory of ethno-national political parties. As for Banjaluka, the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) obtained 41% of the vote, while the Democratic Action Party (SDA) and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) together won 33% of the vote in these elections. The rest of the parties gained trust of 26% of the voters. Almost the same results were scored in other larger places in BiH. It was known, natrually, that this situation would consequentially lead to deeper ethno-national classification in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In other words, the winner parties each have requested and obtained their right to ”their own” ethnically clean territory where only that particular nationality’s people should live. Those territories began to form not even a full year after the November elections. Consequentially, the Autonomous Region of Krajina was formed in Banjaluka, while the so-called Serb Autonomous Regions were formed in other locations where the majority of the residents were Serbs. The same processes were initiated and realized within the Croatian and Bosniak ethnic corps.
I remember when the president of SAO Romanija, when asked by a journalist ”What’s the main goal of this formation?”, brilliantly replied ”our main goal is to reach our past.”
Reaching the aforementioned goal was a slow and difficult process and for some even painful. Only when the goal was reached, it was apparent that a project was actually in place here. The project consisted of the following phases:
- a) dropping the communist ideology or any such system of functioning of society and state;
- b) commencement of the first revisions of the past of the local peoples, with the focus on the needs and interests of peoples that belonged to one of the three ethnic groups, with the annulment of the former system of values;
- c) gradual change of the structure of the residents (rural-urban);
- d) allowing religion to define peoples’ status and placing it as a condition of survival
- e) creating propaganda dedicated to spreading the idea that the ethno-national differences are dangerous, especially for ”their” people;
- f) developing a sense of fear from all those who are different – the fear of the Other;
- g) constant increase of distance among ethnicities;
- h) physical conflict, war.
It’s interesting that the first six phases of ”reaching of out past” happened within a very short time. As for the war, that, of course, lasted way longer. In the same fashion, the names of streets, local communities, public institutions, and schools got changed in Banjaluka. For instance, the well-known outing spot Šehitluci got a new name – Banj Hill, while the Upper Šeher was named Serbian Spa. Some parts of our city got named after the people who had never even lived here – Obilićevo, Lazarevo, etc. The busts of the national heroes of Banjaluka from World War II were damaged and then transferred to other sites. Antifascism, one of the highest moral values in this territory, was simply forgotten and even proclaimed the remnant of the dark communist past. The list goes on. It was as if history never existed, or it became just a myth.
All that has been mentioned so far, suggested, a long time before the war even began, that an almost absolute reduction in the breadth of life and the production of a closed social consciousness had begun – which would have far-reaching consequences to this day. Perhaps it doesn’t hurt to repeat a saying I once took note of in the time of the war, in 1992: Our experience is one of a palanka. This is the first sentence of a classic work of our heritage, ”The Philosophy of Palanka” by Radomir Konstantinović. According to the book, palanka represents the reduction of life in all aspects, diminishing our collectiveness to what is here and now. Palanka simply means – narrow-mindedness. Of course, it’s the positive narrow-mindedness: on the outside, we are all close, we know each other well, we are together, and in an appropriate sense, we laugh and cry together… The spirit of palanka is the spirit of the known. As for what is far, what is beyond touchable, there is no place or understanding in the palanka community. Strangely, reading the book again, it occurred to me, that here, in my city, this spirit of palanka is strongly found anew. As if we were, by some much powerful and to many unfathomable force, pinned to this kind of surrounding. It’s not that we in Banjaluka live in some sort of shadow of the war and all its atrocities. As far as I’m concerned, it’s something much deeper and more tragic. I will simply say: We lost our souls. The cities are just like people, they have souls. The West has superficially and inadequately named it ”image”. However, now we are in the position where not only our cities are physically destroyed (the buildings are demolished), but also (technically put) all our social ties of the inhabitants of a whole called urb, urbis. The soul of our settlements has been ravaged. Nowadays, I rarely meet people in my city. Mostly, I greet professional Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats, even some that don’t belong to any of the three ”categories”. In friendly conversations or when in bars, they don’t talk about people without emphasizing their belonging to one of the three ethnic groups. My life has just narrowed to a palanka. The government stated that the demography of Banjaluka has changed significantly – the ones who once made up, so to speak, the core of the city, have left, and the others, who didn’t, came. A scientific institute of ours is analyzing these changes. We will see the results, but deep down, most of us already know what is going on. We are returning to the past, we are putting ourselves into the matrix of a palanka. Minor cultural and scientific values, postulated with ethnic tension, are becoming something significant and essential for the epoch we are in. In everyday life, promotions are made of only those creators who are ”on the line” of their nations. The literary or other gatherings of those who work in culture are turning into panegyrics to the ‘people’, or apologetics of the ”endangerment” of that same people. Everything that is outside the walls of Palanka is proclaimed hostile and alien. Anyone who dares to challenge the Other is deemed unfit. That is how my city more and more becomes spiritually closed. Unfortunately, the classification to a Serb, Bosniak, and Croat ethnic groups already exists. That way we will lose everything and gain nothing.
All those who were different and belonged to the Other were banished from Palanka with the dedication of those in power who committed their work to building walls between the people from this area, and finally between fellow citizens and people in general…In the beginning, the communication between the residents slowly went away, and later the communication at or after work, as well as mutual visits. The heartfelt feelings between these three people were replaced with coldness. At that time, my city seemed more and more like a settlement on the edge of a polar circle, and it’s well-known that it’s impossible to live in such a climate. People had the need to go anywhere, just to get away from their hometown. Respectable Banjalukans, Muslims and Croats were getting fired from their jobs or were hired to do the so-called ”work obligation”. They cleaned the streets, known markets of Banjaluka and so on. Of course, those Serbs who confronted such pogroms, the annulment of everything human, and everything related to the city didn’t do well. We were at the verge of war which entered our lives in the most brutal of ways.
When it comes to Banjaluka, in the second half of 1991 began mobilization (for the Yugoslav People’s Army -JNA) for the war in Croatia, and later on for the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As the state was falling apart at the time – proclaiming the state of war was not possible, so in all of the service cards of the JNA conscripts was written that they were enrolled to be on a ”military exercise”. This was also the case with the Banjaluka’s Fifth Corps of the JNA, whose units were located in the area of Western Slavonia. Hundreds of people, among which several Banjalukans, died there, performing the so-called ”military exercises”. The atrocities of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina followed. However, what happened behind the front seems to be of great significance to me, both for the past and for the future. I must mention at least some of the examples, especially those which seem unrealistic. For instance, the Staff Committee of Banjaluka’s SDS came to the conclusions of almost incredible content. In fact this committee started a process of the so-called ”personnel changes”, in which it envisaged the loss of the status of employees for all those whose sons did not respond to military service or were outside of the territory of the Republic of Srpska. This committee also concluded that fathers – and in all likelihood, mothers – from the aforementioned instance, would lose the status of a citizen. A few days later, the committee called the directors of companies and facilities of Banjaluka and stated that these were the enemies of the state (for instance, the enemies were students who studied abroad and did not respond to military service, as well as their parents who sent them there). Of course, such enemies should be openly confronted. However, as the committee put it, one should be humane – in case there were two military fit sons in a family, one of which responded to military service while the other studied abroad – only one parent should be left without work!? The exclamation and question mark are not accidentally put at the end of the sentence. For, it seems that – apart from being humane – SDS Staff Committee took over a heavy task. First, it had to enforce, contrary to the regulations in force that an individual himself was responsible for his actions, a directive under which that responsibility is transferred from the individual to parents (thus, to the tribe). Secondly, the staff committee of a political party certainly had no competence to deprive anyone of their status as a citizen. And third, the transfer of responsibility from the individual to the tribe meant an official return to the tribal order of society, therefore, into not-so-recent past.
Speaking of the aforementioned return, there were acts on ”rationalization of housing” that were generally applicable to non-Serbs or to ”unfit” Serbs. Thus, my city was filled with new, to me unknown, people who brought new vocabulary with them. Of course, I’m not opposed to such social changes as they can, in normal circumstances, contribute to the enrichment of our social value – but at that time, these processes were chaotic and carried strong signs of urbicide, and indubitably, destruction of almost everything existing at the time that belonged to the spirit of Banjaluka.
Reaching one’s past was especially visible in an insidious use of religion for political purposes. In fact it was about religion and faith becoming a status issue. The then SDS government in Banjaluka enhanced its ideological basis by incorporating into it a whole set of contents that were, in essence, irrational. There were myths, like the myth of the centuries-old threat to the Serb nation, then the Kosovo myth, or the myth of our historical, centuries-old allies, and there was the myth of celestial people. In fact, the slogan ”Serbs above all” sums up the terrestrial reach of this mythological consciousness. Certainly – to increase this reach and make the brutality of everyday life look better – church representatives directly participated in political decision-making (for example, they attended meetings of the National Assembly of the Republic of Srpska or of municipalities, also, bishops decided who would be the minister of religion in the government, etc). Local communities commissioners, together with priests, proposed and carried out consecrations. Many people – regardless of their age – started getting themselves baptized. People, who had been married for more than twenty years, started marrying in churches. Consequently, the birth certificate was ranked as an official state document, and the religious education, that was just introduced in elementary schools, became the ”highest knowledge” of everything. In this respect, just as a side note: after some twenty years, religious education was also introduced in high schools.
The leaders of the local religious communities, especially of the Orthodox Church, forgot the famous maxim – There is only one God! He was merely named differently…or, they thought the above-mentioned maxim to be untrue. It may also be that they made some discoveries, thanks to the SDS party, that God was also a Serb. All Muslim worship places, including the mosque of Ferhadija, were torn down. Afterward, Ferhadija was rebuilt again, and today there are more mosques in Banjaluka then before the war. Except that there are no faithful, no Muslims… Of course, most Orthodox buildings across BiH were demolished and restored under the same scenario – still, there are no believers. The same goes for the Catholics.
At the beginning of the 90s in Banjaluka, the so-called ”mixed marriages”, that is marriages between people that belong to different nations or religions, were on the target of the government. These marriages were treated as cancer in the otherwise ‘healthy’ ethnic tissue of our city. Being under pressure, people changed religions, names, and in the most brutal of ways became hostages of a groundbreaking social construction, or in better words – a newly construed lifestyle. At the time, I made a record that was supposed to be a love fairy tale but instead became a construed saga. Namely, a great love story happened in one of our cities in the years of war. Two young people fell in love with each other. I was told by the inhabitants that the greatest love story had never been seen by then. Not before long, the two of them got married. He was a Muslim, and she was Orthodox, although at that time she was incorrectly referred to as Serb. However, during the ceremony the man decided to change his religion and convert to Ortodox, thus becoming a Serb. But their fairy tale did not last for long. After a year or so, the man fell in love with another woman who was Muslim. He got divorced from his first wife and married the new lover. However, he was Orthodox. What happened? Shortly after they got married the spouses got into a fierce feud in which he killed her. There was a trial, and he received a well-deserved sentence. I read a record from that trial where it was stated that the main reason for the murder was that the woman had hurt his Serb national sentiments during the quarrel.
Well, that is how tragedy became nothing more than construction. This was how I came up with the question I often ask as much to myself as the others: aren’t all of our tragedies something unnatural and just a construction? Perhaps reaching of one’s past that was mentioned here, the profiling and cultivation of a hermetic, closed consciousness of a palanka – together with everything that that sort of consciousness produces – is just a construction as well? In effect, something that is inherently malicious and sinister. The many cases and ways of reaching one’s past also cover, as surreal as it may be, the treatment of the language and writing system in the Republic of Srpska. Shortly after the war was over, in August of 1996, I made a record about it. It was titled ”Stalin among the Serbs for the Second Time”. So, here it is: For years I’ve been saying that the authorities of the Republic of Srpska are primarily working against the Serbs. I became bored with myself already. Recently, I’ve decided not to attack the authorities anymore. Neither do they deserve it, nor has my criticism turned out to be of use. They cannot be helped. A few of their moves went without my objections, when surprisingly: the law on the official use of language and writing style appeared. I read the paragraphs once, and then the second time when I realized the text seemed familiar to me, both in the content and style. But I couldn’t remember where I had read it already. Then I read it for the third time. At the outset, the legislator said what was meant by the official use of the language and writing style. All right. Then, there was an array of regulations that provoked astonishment and confusion. For instance, according to regulation, teachers in elementary schools were to conduct classes in Ekavian pronunciation. Ijekavian pronunciation was also an option in high schools and at universities. In the second, third and fourth grade, besides the Cyrillic, the students were to learn Latin script once a week. The Cyrillic script was mandatory everywhere, while the Ekavian pronunciation was obligatory in the media and everything of a public character. Although, the legislator stated that it could be done differently in case of an author’s text – if the author himself required it. Practically, there was no Ijekavian pronunciation or the Latin script. The one who claimed differently or did not obey the regulation was to be inspected by the language police (Ministry) and fined. All of it was done to preserve the Serbian language. So, what to think about it? First of all, through language and in it, we all put ourselves in an unnatural situation. The living substance of the Serbian language, the natural Ijekavian pronunciation – with all its richness and beauty – was eliminated by the regulation of an officeholder. Now, we were supposed to speak and write the way we never did. Even worse, we had to teach them to children in kindergartens and primary schools. Vuk Karadžić II, embodied by an all-knowing MP and the President of the Republic of Srpska, appeared in Pale and signed this law on the official use of language and writing system. Secondly, by applying this law we would obviously have generations of children that wouldn’t write Latin. How would they learn foreign languages, or become contemporaries of technological revolutions? How would they communicate with the rest of the world, or use modern achievements and vice versa? How would we spread out knowledge, culture, and overall values of our lives to the world? How would we tell the truth about who we were in our books, textbooks if all our words were exclusively Cyrillic? Perhaps consequently, there would appear a law for all Americans, British, French or Germans to learn the Cyrillic script. Third, observed as a whole, the law in question represented one more step in our return to the past and self-isolation. It was known that such measures would only be taken by those who were the enemies of their own nation. In all likelihood, the government did all of this in a planned and organized manner. They created an artificial lifestyle that was quite apart from the real one; a construction that controlled all of us. Once again I browsed through this monstrous law and recalled – Exactly sixty years ago, when the Constitution of USSR was adopted, Joseph Stalin, declaring that document, proclaimed such a decree: there was no more capitalism, all power belongs to the working class, socialism was fully realized. The extent to which that matched with the lifestyle itself is known. But the truth lies in the decree, not in the lifestyle. The same went for the law on the official use of language and writing system. That was how Stalin happened to be among the Serbs for the second time. What were we to do then? Either call people on civil disobedience to reject the enforcement of a morbid law that was against the life, the future, and the people – or we wait for the re-holding of the Twentieth Congress of the C.P.S.U. when Soviet policy officially terminated Stalin and Stalinism. On a side note: three years before this congress, Stalin, fortunately, died.
At the end of 1996 and the beginning of the following year, within the meetings of the National Assembly of the Republic of Srpska, proposals for making Banjaluka the capital of the Republic of Srpska emerged. Such a proposal was rejected several times adding that: Banjaluka can only be the capital of the Croatian Canton. It’s as if this comment, on the very first sight, belongs to the paths and sideways of memories. This was at the time when companies from Banjaluka and the region of Banjaluka moved their headquarters east of Brčko, while the government also shifted the headquarters of the institutions to the East or Pale. At that time, the urgent need to build an airport in Sokolac was made official, so that all of us would be closer to the headquarters of a private state called the Republic of Srpska. Various financial institutions were placed within their proximity, as well as logistic support services necessary for the functioning of the aforementioned state.
These trends had several visible consequences: their continued urbicide, the destruction of education primarily, the narrowing and withdrawing to self-isolation. It is therefore not surprising that just then, there were more than 20 000 requests from whole families for expatriation from the Republic of Srpska at the Yugoslav embassies. And today? The history repeats itself – sometimes in the way of a comedy, but most often as a tragedy, as philosophers put it.
Here, I will show just a few examples of how the sphere of politics talks about the tightness of something that should be a concern for the polis, and about the autism of the politicians themselves. In mid-1997, the political leadership of the country did major deeds against the Serbs, and even against the Republic of Srpska. For instance, the MPs of the Republic of Srpska did not attent BiH Parliament session, Serb ministers failed to appear at BiH Council of Ministers, the entity leaders boycotted the Donor Conference, the head of SDS stated that the capital of the Republic of Srpska should be Belgrade, and the feudal lords from Pale hid from people what had been agreed at the Ministerial Conference in Portugal…
It was almost like a daily manipulation, a game of hide and seek.
These cases show us a lot of issues, but most of all they prove the manipulation to be the component of the politics here. The manipulation itself caused the war and suffering of millions of people, and a humiliating life at the time of peace. Material-wise, we live at the level of simple reproduction (and perhaps below that level), which means, we barely cope. It’s like scavanging for food. As for the economic system, it is at the level of the original accumulation of capital. Certainly, this tribal material foundation is accompanied by tribal social relations: one tribe, one chief – of course, a sinless one. The subjects were the sinful ones. To reminisce: the chief and his wizards made decisions of the most incredible kind about the ways of life – and death, of course. Those who belonged to other tribes but lived on our territory did not have any human rights, and in radical cases, they did not have the right to live. The rigor of the chief was also related to nature – in Banjaluka, for example, individuals from the tribal peak thought about turning naturally green Vrbas river into blue, so it could be seen that it belonged to Serbs. Fortunately, this plan failed because the river had its own rules, just like forests, meadows and other forms of essentially green nature. The manipulators realized this after an unsuccessful excursion into nature, they returned to settle the tribal relations unnaturally. Thus, the subjects were instructed to teach education content from other tribal communities, especially when it came to the so-called national subject topics. That is how our people learned that they belonged to a small place Požarevac, or that the heroes from Bosnian-Herzegovian history were Emperor Lazar and his wife Milica, various people of Obilić surname and other people who have never fought or lived in this area. This unnatural situation was added an unnatural language which was never spoken around here. And the natural thing that had made and will always make the beauty of our culture was put aside or simply surrendered to oblivion.
I don’t only refer to the language, but also to all those spiritual, societal, and moral values that once were part of our life and its open-mindedness. All of that was pushed into the past, and the past was violently pulled to the present. We experienced an epochal inversion: the past became the present and vice versa. Naturally, we are not able to communicate with the rest of the world in such circumstances for the sole reason that we live in a different time. That is why were can’t understand the world, nor the world can understand us. We are sentenced to isolation, and that isolation means everything that is anti-civilized and inhuman.
We can speak about the isolation infinitely. Infinite is this attempt to convey something about all of that to contribute to the creation of an authentic mosaic of Banjaluka.