Lecture Hopping: Balkanized edition
Written by Bwog Staff
One more President, one more speech. Justin Vlasits reports.
According to President Zeljko Komsic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, his country is famous for three things, two bad and one good.
- The assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand was a Serbian anarchist in Sarajevo (bad).
- One of the region’s bloodiest wars was waged in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the mid-1990’s (bad!).
- The extremely successful 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, which failed to incite any Orwellian nightmares (good?).
Komsic, a veteran of the siege of Sarajevo (the longest in modern world history), felt that this was an oversimplified view of modern Bosnian history, so he decided to give the “simplified” version. He tracked the area’s progress from a 12th century kingdom through Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian rule to post-World War II Yugoslavia, citing unity between the two areas in an attempt to justify the current ethnic-based voting system. He lamented his country’s “deep wounds,” but maintained that Bosniaks, Serbs, Croats and Jews have all lived peacefully with each other and that the nation’s problems have come from outsiders trying to divide his people along ethnic and religious lines.
When someone asked what language he spoke, Komsic used the question to expand his point about national unity. “I speak Bosnian, though I am Croatian,” he said. “But I also speak Croatian and Serbian.” Since the languages vary significantly only in their alphabets–they all use Gaj’s Latin variant, but Serbian can also be written in a Cyrillic variation–Komsic was trying to articulate a more metaphorical message: that he still speaks to Bosnians and Serbs even though he represents the Croats as president. He said that he was proud to learn both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets in school and that he does not care what people call the language–to him, it’s just his “native tongue.”
Komsic’s ambitious vision for his country peaked out of an otherwise safe discussion when asked about the future of ethnic-based voting–in which the three different ethnic groups each vote for a president of their own ethnic group, collectively making up a rotating presidency–in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While he said that he could not predict what will happen, he stressed that he was fighting to take care of everyone within the area, regardless of ethnicity and regardless of whether they voted for him –he won his seat in 2006 with 41% of the vote, as the Croatian Democratic Union split their votes among two candidates.
Despite one woman who was clearly off her kiester, demanding that Komsic hand delivered a letter to Bush detailing specific human rights abuses that she has experienced, the Q & A gave a much clearer view of present day Bosnia and Herzegovina than Komsic’s opening remarks. Maybe, I thought, he’ll actually be able to help lead his nation in rebuilding culturally and economically after the tragedy of the Bosnian War.