Catriona Robertson

journeys at home and abroad


The best laid plans  .  .  .  no wi-fi at the motel, but I have an hour’s free time now in central Sarajevo and have found an internet cafe: Bosnian keyboard (not quite qwerty and lots of extra accents).  Central Sarajevo is buzzy and feels like a petite Paris or Vienna – warm sunshine, lots of cafes and smart shops, stylish young people, a river, cathedrals.  Extras include small, Ottoman-style mosques, powerful one-shot turkish coffee and some mortar and bullet damage on the buildings.  One of our hosts over lunch told me about three families (Serb Orthodox, Bosniak and Croatian Roman Catholic) sharing a small block of flats during the siege who took it in turns to go to the water pump each day (risking sniper fire) to get water for all the families.  The history, particularly C20th, inevitably comes up a lot.  Getting directions to this cafe I was told, “near the assasination point”.  The houses on the outskirts of town are like Swiss chalets – large, detached, not in rows and with balconies and pitched roofs.  Inside: IKEA no, solid wooden unpainted furniture yes.

At the moment we are trying both to get to know one another (we are five Muslims and seven Christians from the UK – although it isn’t obvious at a glance who is what) and also to start meeting Bosnians and learn about what’s happening here.

Over half of Europe is right out of my comfort zone – the iron curtain had a much more profound effect on my understanding than I’d realised.  I’m far better informed about countries with colonial & trading links to the UK, with a bit of western Europe thrown in.

Having visited Andalusia, I was fascinated to meet a Jewish woman from the Sephardic tradition here whose family was thrown out of Spain after the reconquista.  But just like the shocking events in Salonica, the Jews from here were also put on trains to the extermination camps.  There was an island off the Dalmation coast which had a concentration camp.  And it was people from two countries within my comfort zone, Italy and Germany, who were responsible.

We met Serbian Orthodox, Croatian Roman Catholic and Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) religious leaders at the Inter Religious Council this morning.  Building civil society, and how religious groups can support that, is a challenge.  I was interested, with my faith literacy hat on, to hear about the Council’s booklets and activities designed to inform the different communities about the variety of religious customs in Bosnia.  Information certainly helps and I wonder whether the telling of personal stories about our heritage and values, as we do, might add to the experience of understanding one another.  There was some discussion on the merits of confessional and information-only teaching of RE in schools. A very formal meeting.


This entry was posted on 5 October 2009 by in Bosnia and tagged , , , , , , , , , .
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