Since the Bosnian war, I became a photojournalist with a new life in the US, yet I still found myself flying back and forth between the two places, wanting to tell a story about my homeland. But what was the story about my motherland?
I was on a balcony with my friend, drinking coffee, enjoying the view of Gorazde, the only Bosnian-Herzegovinian city that managed to defend itself during the aggression in 1992-1995. Pigeons were flying by, and I waited for the one that would symbolize peace and freedom of this city and the country as a whole. Then, my coffee shook. I jumped to the sound of a siren—sound that resembles a tornado warning in the US, only louder and never-ending. This same siren used to send us off to the nearest basements during the war, to hide from shootings and bombs. Only this day at the balcony, was twenty-four years after the war..
“Don’t worry. Every first of the month, sounds are being tested, for no reason, really. But they sure scare us every time,” my friend Amela said.
Is this Bosnia? A country in peace where even in peace people were disturbed?
When I photographed people digging graves to find their family members, I saw how the pain haunts them two decades later. I leaned of the bureaucracy, or rather, the games played in order to find the already found mass graves, and this taught me the difference between the truth and the truth for the public. I learned of the corruption that brought the country to an economic collapse. I learned of a peace agreement designed to divide us, and of war stories we cannot forget and stories not found on the news. I watched people still trapped in a circle where everything is based on ethnicity, religion and political views. Yet, this was still not Bosnia I knew or wanted to know.
Bosnia was my neighborhood and my grandma, Catholic by faith, who, during the war shared food with our Muslim neighbors across the street, and they too, shared food with us. Bosnia is our Orthodox friends, whose basement was my home during the war. Bosnia were my friends labeled by politicians and taken to different schools because of their names, but when we’d see each other, they’d hug me and never wanted to let go. Bosnia was not the pits or mass graves I entered to look for bones, Bosnia was rather the mountains I walked on, and rivers with green colors only found here. Bosnia is the beauty I yet haven’t seen anywhere in the world, and I have travelled it.
Bosnia is the reporters and correspondents who covered the Bosnian war, who give us a gift of friendship every time they revisit or when they speak of the country deeply rooted in their hearts to their family members.
To me, Bosnia is even that annoying moment, when every time you give a bill larger than five, you’re asked if you have the change. Bosnia is when at the store you’re a dollar short, but the cashier says ‘it’s okay’. Bosnia is when you enter the bus and a younger person offers their seat to the elderly, even if there are many other empty seats available. Bosnia is when the flood destroyed towns and villages, but not one person died because everyone reacted instantly. Bosnia is when my people sensed the landslides coming that in a matter of seconds covered their houses twenty feet under the ground, but they managed to escape.
Bosnia is home I could never let go off.
But in the last three years, more than 350,000 people left, calling Germany and other European countries, their home. This is twice the size of my hometown, and that is two whole cities that left!
I, on the other hand, have settled here again. But I no longer dig the past. I remember it, of course. But nowadays, I feel the urge to show the other side of my homeland. So I climb its mountains with a camera on my shoulder, and hundred of other people walk with me. And you know what? This is where tolerance is learned. This is where the land inspires us to keep it clean, and people that stride on its soil, reaching the top, inspire us that those of different faiths or no religion at all, are equally respected, for up on a mountain, shall it suddenly storm, we are all in this journey together. We learn not to divide ourselves or the country because we are all the children of our motherland that we yet have to discover.
And sometimes we stumble upon mine signs, and even if they are far from us, I hate the thought that I am even one step shorter of full freedom. So my friend jokes not to be angry or sad, that those areas will remain untouched by humans, forever.
And that’s Bosnia. Beautiful, yearning its prosperous years. Those who stay, they learn to enjoy the view and watch birds flying by, and they don’t let the turbulence disturb them much. For they are the root of those same people who defended a city under the siege. They are the same people who survived the flood, and they are hope that a positive change will arrive. So they endure, and persist. And it is them who will one day tell a story about the people who believed in this land.