It is a visit to friends of a good friend, which means a lot to me and brings me closer to the locals. The contact was made by Christian Stadali, a former editor of Antenne Thüringen. In the 1990s, Christian studied in Trier and unexpectedly came into contact with people who had fled to Germany from the civil war in the former Yugoslavia. He became involved in helping the refugees and became a friend to many. This was also the case for Edina and Edita from Dubica in northern Bosnia, who came to Germany in 1993 and returned to their homeland six years later.
When I meet Edina and Edita in downtown Dubica, I am still under the impressions of Srebrenica. Editha immediately takes this as an opportunity to “complain” that we are not looking enough at the positive developments in the country. And so she tells me that the Bosniak son of a friend has recently opened a music school in Srebrenica, where children from all parts of the population come to play music together and go on trips abroad.
During our walk through the town, both of them tell many such stories, and they laugh very often. They do, too, because it’s contagious. And it is probably this optimism that it takes to return here and leave behind the martyrdom they both had to experience. After all, their stories of escape (like so many others) are about the initial disbelief that war could come to them – until the local bridge toward Croatia was blown up. They are about the struggle to leave their homeland and the fear on packed buses where soldiers steal people’s jewelry. And they are about a long odyssey that brought them to Germany, where they met more than just people who wanted to help.
In 1996, three years before returning home, Edina and Edita, together with Christian and other family members, traveled to Bosnia again for the first time, where they visited, among other places, the completely destroyed Sarajevo. They documented their walk through the city on video. It can be viewed online(https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=Hbh_lYOOLOg). At the time, Editha and Christian did not want to miss a detour to Dubica, which is protected by Blue Helmet soldiers – against all warnings from fellow travelers. They made it past the barriers into town to the house of their neighbor – a Serbo-Croatian teacher. Her own house was inhabited by Serbs and was not accessible. Shortly before they finally returned home in 1999, they tore everything of value out of the building and destroyed even more. Today there is nothing left of it. It is a beautiful house, where I meet the parents, as well as with a garden and terrace, where we have lunch together.
When asked if they are happy with the decision to return to their homeland, they both answer firmly in the affirmative. Life as Bosniaks in Dubica is certainly not easy. The three rebuilt mosques are constantly the target of attacks, everywhere they can show us signs of nationalists on house walls, and there are also insults here and there. But all this is worth to be accepted in order to live in the homeland. In any case, as Edita assures us several times, most people here are friendly to all population groups. People celebrate together, Orthodox marry Muslims and hardly anyone is an enemy to others. This was also true before the war, and even during the war, contacts with Serbian friends did not break off. Today Edita is godmother of one of her Serbian friend’s children, just as she is godmother of one of hers. “Totally normal!” She says once again laughing loudly. Her look becomes serious only on the subject of politics, when she talks about the contrasts in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska, and the attempts to suppress the Bosnian identity by teaching children in the Serbian language alone at school. The desire of both sisters is for their country to be united and for all segments of the population to have equal rights and opportunities. At the moment, they seem to be far from that.
After a very nice afternoon, we say goodbye to each other warmly. And we arrange to meet again – possibly at the Jena Future Center, which is also intended to be a meeting place for people like Editha and Edina. After all, their history is closely interwoven with the German and European transformation after 1990 – while both came to Germany as refugees, German blue-helmet soldiers went to Bosnia, where they were each part of the processes.
PS: Unfortunately, Čima, whom we also wanted to meet in Dubica, had to cancel at short notice. She is active in the association Friedenswege (putevi mira), supports Bosniaks in their return to their homeland and organizes joint reconciliation projects – especially for young and very old people. The work is bearing fruit and is worth supporting! More information can be found on the website: https://tinyurl.com/7bxmrvnb
Text & Photos: Christian Faludi