Sarajevo Photography - M1key - Michal Huniewicz
Climbing the surrounding hills, you see slender minarets and shiny turquoise domes embedded in a green, mountainous setting with rivers and trees;
lazy smoke slithering over squat Oriental buildings with nearly flat pitched roofs, transforming somewhat clumsily into sturdy Habsburg-based structures,
occasionally evolving into modern glass-and-metal edifices; an urban landscape peppered with small forests of elegant white tombstones. Western attire appears to dominate,
but here and there you spot women with heads modestly covered with scarves. The wailing of the muezzin seems somewhat out of place as the sun slowly sets over this strange European city,
squeezed into a valley. No, this is not a nightmare of a Swiss right-wing politician - this is Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a home of blonde Muslims, forever caught between the West and the Orient.
Thanks to: Amra Rustanović, Nejra Mulaomerović, Emina Al Ismail.
Uploaded on: 2014-05-04.
I arrived in Sarajevo rather late, as this Balkan city was preparing to go to sleep.
ISO 200, 18mm, f/4.0, 1/640s.
Good morning, Sarajevo
Being a not particularly popular tourist destination, Sarajevo, dubbed the Jerusalem of Europe, is one of the last truly eclectic gems of the continent which happen to be not yet completely spoiled by commercialism - so you should rather promptly visit,
as I suspect it won't stay that way for too long. Cheap and genuine, it's the best of both worlds: it's exotic enough, but doesn't smell like the dirty streets of Morocco, while local merchants just leave you be, as opposed to those tirelessly
harassing you in Turkey (in "brotherly humanity and hopeful salesmanship").
ISO 200, 11mm, f/8.0, 1/320s.
This is probably Sarajevo's most recognised landmark. The structure on the right, known as the Sebilj, is a pseudo-Moorish style wooden fountain built in 1753, in the centre of Baščaršija, the historic market district with narrow alleyways,
being home to countless coppersmiths, stalls with souvenirs, and little coffee shops, as well as a few restaurants. [3
The place is commonly referred to as the pigeon square [2
], and it's easy to see why.
ISO 200, 18mm, f/5.0, 1/500s.
I met with Amra, a genuine Sarajevan, who, much to my delight, offered to show me around. In return, I promised nice pictures of her, and she wasn't particularly happy with a single one.
But I'm not bitter. Maybe a little passive aggressive, but it's fine.
ISO 200, 20mm, f/7.1, 1/125s.
This is called Bosnian coffee. Actually, it's nearly the exact same muddy coffee you will find under such names as Arabic coffee, Turkish coffee, Jordanian coffee, etc.
(and different than the pretty horrific liquid I tasted in Mombasa
, also under the name of coffee, but what the hell was it?), except that the Bosnian manner of making it is just slightly different.
Not that I could tell by the taste. It's pretty strong, but didn't make me j-j-jittery.
Bosnian cuisine, on the other hand, relies heavily on meat, and probably the most typical Bosnian dish is ćevapi, which consists of kebab meat, flatbread, and a small mountain of onions. [5
It's popular in many neighbouring countries, but, in a truly Balkan fashion, Amra warned me that only the Bosnian variant is genuine and tasty.
Well, I had my ćevapi and it was rather filling. It was rather heavy too, and I expect to finish digesting it in the upcoming weeks.
ISO 1250, 50mm, f/2.8, 1/20s.
"Where is my ćevapi, human?"
ISO 1250, 50mm, f/2.8, 1/20s.
Not unlike other Eastern European countries, notably Hungary
, Bosnia too is now merely a shadow of its former glory of rich cultural diversity, with its currently empty synagogues,
having been drained of a sizable portion of its brainpower, a victim of unifying and simplifying nationalism.
In the photo, Aškenaška sinagoga - the only functioning synagogue in Sarajevo, in the Moorish Revival (neo-Moorish) style, a popular choice for synagogues in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. [6
ISO 2000, 18mm, f/10, 1/30s.
But not all diversity is lost - some of it is visibly preserved to this day in the architecture of Sarajevo. Travelling across the city from east to west, you will see the exotic Bosnian and Ottoman houses,
the pseudo-Moorish style, and then the Habsburg buildings, followed by the depressing socialist monuments of concrete ugliness, as well as modern shopping and business centres. [7
Churches, mosques, and synagogues will stand near one another in the old Turkish bazaar of Baščaršija (hence "Jerusalem of Europe"), with Austro-Hungarian Jajce barracks towering above, as seen in the picture.
ISO 200, 62mm, f/5.0, 1/160s.
Also, Bosnia was and remains a country of Muslims, Catholics (who tend to call themselves Croatian, despite usually having a Bosnian passport), and Orthodox Christians
(who tend to call themselves Serbian, despite usually having a Bosnian passport). This has been a somewhat touchy subject, as we will see.
It's also worth noticing that there isn't really such a thing as a typical Bosnian face. Unless you mean - one that doesn't smile... But then, that applies to most of Eastern Europe!
ISO 200, 18mm, f/7.1, 1/100s.
From Hecco Deluxe
Let's have a super-brief look at the history of Bosnia.
- It has been inhabited by humans since the Neolithic age.
- Later, it formed part of the Roman Empire,
- enjoyed some level of independence in the Middle Ages,
- to be part of the (Muslim) Ottoman Empire in the 15th to 19th century,
- and the (Christian) Habsburg Empire in the 19th century,
- to eventually become the poorest part of Yugoslavia in 1918,
- and finally independent again in 1992.
- Unfortunately, the first three years of independence were the years of the Bosnian War,
- and only in 1995 did Bosnia finally taste peace, but prosperity is, generally speaking, yet to come.
Whew, that's a lot of stuff covered. Many gods have come and gone since people inhabited the territory of Bosnia. Let's have a look at some of those historical events in greater detail,
as this will help to understand how they shaped the country as we know it.
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/160s.
15th to 19th century.
It was the the Ottoman Empire that brought Islam to Bosnia, and Islam is its dominant religion to this day.
Generally, there were no forced conversions (this is disputed by some [1, p. 52-53
]), as under the Ottomans being Muslim simply made one's life much easier.
There would be fewer restrictions, less taxes to pay, and more career prospects in the Ottoman state bureaucracy. Importantly, slaves who converted to Islam could apply for freedom.
The Empire brought progress, and inhabitants of Muslim Sarajevo could enjoy safety, prosperity, and comfort. And so, Islamicisation naturally followed. [1, p. 61-68
ISO 200, 20mm, f/5.6, 1/500s.
No guns? In a mosque?
Islam, like all the other religions I can think of, is not monolithic, There are many competing sects, notably Sunni and Shiia, and it was the former than the Ottoman Empire brought to Bosnia. But it also brought what is known as Sufism.
Sufism is a mythical expression of Islam, and it emphasises prayer and ecstatic dance (whirling dervishes), ritual chants, and other rather psychedelic practices. The word "Sufiyya" (Sufism) is probably an Arabisation of the Greek word Sophos,
which means wisdom. Interestingly, gnostikos means "learned" in Greek, and so it's perhaps not a surprise that like the Christian Gnostics, Sufis believe that Allah reveals himself to individuals on a personal level.
Sufism is often perceived as a peaceful and apolitical form of Islam, but it is reviled as heresy throughout much of the Muslim world, and its members and sacred places have often been targets of Islamic terrorism.
ISO 200, 18mm, f/7.1, 1/200s.
To be precise, one can follow the Sufi path while being a Sunni or Shia Muslim, or even not a Muslim at all!
A dervish, on the other hand, is a person treading a Sufi Muslim ascetic path, known for his extreme poverty and austerity, a bit like a Hindu holy man.
In Bosnia, one can still find dervish tekkes (monasteries), and new ones are being built too.
In the photo, the Careva džamija, or the Emperor's Mosque.
ISO 400, 11mm, f/2.8, 1/30s.
Belma & Amina
Belma and Amina, two Bosnian girls I met in front of the Careva Džamija mosque, as they were studying Persian poetry of Rumi (with an impressive brick of a dictionary).
Although the glorious days when I could boast the knowledge of maybe fifty different Farsi words have long been gone, I managed to entertain them with a few mispronounced words or phrases, and they politely laughed.
Both the 13th century poet Rumi and the 20th century Pakistani musician you might be familiar with, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, were Sufis.
ISO 200, 50mm, f/1.4, 1/2500s.
My girlfriend is out of the city
Islamicisation became a fact, but whenever one faith replaces another, the result is usually a strange mix of both.
Bosnia is no exception, and the arrival of Islam in the previously Christian region (with serious pagan elements) produced a curious religious brew.
ISO 200, 60mm, f/4.8, 1/200s.
Cathedral Church of the Nativity of the Theotokos
And so, in order to cure disease, the Christians invited dervishes to read the Quran, while the Muslims had Catholic Masses said for them in Christian churches. Unless they went there to pray personally, which wasn't a rare occurrence.
Neither was Muslims kissing the most venerated Christian icons; and the cult of the Virgin Mary seems to have been particularly popular among the followers of the Prophet. [1, p. 59
Finally, with my own two eyes I have seen photos of Bosnian Muslim kids sitting on the lap of Santa Claus!
ISO 320, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/50s.
Many festivals and holy days were celebrated by members of both faiths, and Christians and Muslims both shared belief in the power of amulets, blessed by the Franciscans.
Some call it practical-magical, I just call it pagan... There is even a Bosnian saying to describe it all: Up to mid-day Ilija [Christian name]; after mid-day Ali [Muslim name]. [1, p. 58
ISO 800, 60mm, f/4.8, 1/50s.
Unsurprisingly then, Bosnian Muslims have never been particularly strict about observing their religion's prohibitions, for instance there exists a 17th century testimony stating: "They drink wine in the month of Fast called Ramazan"...
[1, p. 61
ISO 560, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/5s.
Today as well, the country feels nothing like the stricter Morocco or Jordan or even Turkey I visited earlier. Young Bosnian Muslims rather shamelessly experiment with pork, drugs, and rock and roll.
None of which stopped Amra from saying that it is Bosnia that has preserved the true and pure form of Islam (and not, say, Saudi Arabia). Well, who am I to judge?
ISO 400, 55mm, f/4.8, 1/40s.
For all the good stuff, visiting Sarajevo will likely take a toll on your lungs - in fact, it's hard to imagine a more smoker-friendly country.
Even if you don't smoke, you will: there's enough of other people's toxic fumes to shorten your life expectancy by at least a few years,
and while shisha seems reasonably popular, most people simply smoke regular cigarettes, which price in Bosnia is merely a fraction of their cost in other European countries.
There was only one person who asked us if we minded him smoking, and he proudly announced he was Croatian-Canadian ("It's customary to ask where I come from").
Fun fact: according to my mum, teachers in Poland smoked in the classrooms until late 70s.
In the photo, Nejra, Amra's friend. When she saw my photos of her, she concluded "I hate my face". No, that's fine.
ISO 720, 60mm, f/11, 1/160s.
Rich Taste - Fine Taste
This is a pack of cigarettes you can buy in Bosnia. As you can see, it says the exact same thing ("Smoking is harmful to you and those around you") three times;
twice in the Latin alphabet and one in the Cyrillic alphabet. Why is that? That is Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian respectively. The language people in the Balkans speak is essentially the same,
and the Serbs call it Serbian, the Croats call it Croatian, and Montenegrins call it Montenegrin. But since Bosnia is a multi-ethnic entity, they officially call it Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian.
This sort of political correctness seems to be common now in Bosnia: the director of Sarajevo's museums refused to speak to the FT Weekend Magazine "for fear of saying something that might irritate any ethnic group".
] License plates use only letters T, K, J, O, A - they are the same in the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. [3
ISO 250, 40mm, f/11, 1/50s.
Early 20th century. Once the Austro-Hungarian Empire fell apart, Yugoslavia, the land of Southern Slavs, was born - first as a kingdom, and then a communist country,
consisting of Bosnia, together with Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Slovenia, plus two autonomous provinces: Vojvodina and Kosovo.
Bosnia was the most ethnically diverse of the republics, which would sadly prove disastrous.
ISO 200, 18mm, f/5.0, 1/160s.
And this is where it all started! This is the site which Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in 1914, which sparked WW1, which sparked WW2, which sparked the Cold War.
ISO 200, 42mm, f/7.1, 1/250s.
This man's name is Tahir, which means purity. He told me he was proud to be responsible for the maintenance of the 16th century Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, and that 20 years ago people used to say he looked like Charles Branson.
"You still look like Charles Branson", I said, and took the shot.
ISO 200, 48mm, f/4.5, 1/160s.
Despite being part of the communist bloc, Yugoslavia became more or less independent from the Soviet Union very early - in 1948, but remained an autocracy,
with Josip Broz Tito as the beloved oppressor and ruthless protector, and religious beliefs were generally repressed.
To my utter surprise and amazement, Tito is still revered in Bosnia, where, from what I gathered, Yugoslavia is seen as some sort of lesser paradise on earth,
despite Bosnia and Muslims not being treated exactly equally (for instance in schoolbooks [3
and despite the country gradually eroding and having fallen apart and becoming a victim of ethnic nationalism a few years after Tito finally went belly up in 1980.
The sentiment actually has a name - Yugonostalgia.
ISO 200, 56mm, f/9.0, 1/250s.
Yugoslavia might have been a romantic idea of unity above ethnic differences - but in reality it was a yet another regime (and all that goes with being a regime),
that might have been more appropriately called Greater Serbia, as it was Serbia that seemed to benefit from it the most.
True, it was better off than most or maybe all communist countries at the time, but rather unsustainable, as it was all foreign debt-powered.
ISO 200, 62mm, f/4.8, 1/400s.
Šehidsko mezarje Kovači
It is of no surprise then that when Yugoslavia began to self-dismantle (with the Slovenians and Croats leading the way), the Serbs were the upset ones.
When it was Bosnia's turn to declare independence in 1992, the Serbs said no, and that's how the Bosnian War started. Bosnian ethnic diversity caused serious trouble,
because the Croats and Serbs wanted to keep Bosnia for themselves as part of their respective countries, rather than let it become a separate entity. The Muslims generally
opted for one country - Bosnia - with ethnic diversity.
In the picture, a cemetery where the soldiers of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina are buried, killed in the Bosnian War.
ISO 200, 50mm, f/1.4, 1/50s.
The war was characterised by shelling of cities and town, ethnic cleansing, and systematic mass rape. What became iconic of the Bosnian War was the Siege of Sarajevo -
the longest siege in modern European history, as it lasted over 3 years (including occasional ceasefires). Due to an UN-imposed embargo, the already well-equipped Serbian soldiers faced a poorly equipped
Bosnian army, that nevertheless never gave up the city, while its civilian inhabitants had to hide from sniper and artillery fire, and continued to starve.
The inhabitants like to emphasise how they were all in it together, regardless of whether they were Muslim, Orthodox (Serbian), or Catholic (Croatian), in defiance of
what the commander of besieging forces, Bosnian Serbian psychiatrist and poet Radovan Karadžić, once said - that multi-ethnic Bosnia would never last. Bosnian TV and Radio never referred to the agressors
simply as Serbs, but always Karadžić Serbs or the Chetniks; there were also Serbs fighting on the Bosnian side (such as Jovan Divjak). [13
] As the siege dragged on however, people did become somewhat less tolerant. [3
Later, some foreign Muslim charity organisation even refused to help non-Muslim survivors of the siege. [3
In the photo, a few of the many nondescript Communist era buildings damaged by artillery and sniper fire.
ISO 200, 28mm, f/3.8, 1/80s.
At that time, in the safety of Poland, which had come out of communism with much less of a bang, I was forced by my parents (never forget) to go to church on Sunday,
and I remember praying there with everybody else for peace in the Balkans. In fact, the whole of the West didn't really do much more than that, but prayer at least
made us feel like we were helping, although I worried more about missing another episode of Lucky Luke on TV.
ISO 200, 18mm, f/8.0, 1/125s.
Bosnian soldiers observing the city from a hill.
These slopes made Sarajevo the perfect setting for the 1984 Winter Olympics, but also provided an ideal location for enemy snipers targeting the inhabitants during the Bosnian War.
Many Sarajevans wanted to escape the trap, but it was made difficult not only by the besieging Serb forces and the ever useless UN, but also by the Bosnian government itself - especially young men in
conscription age were not allowed to leave. [3
ISO 400, 120mm, f/5.3, 1/50s.
Finally, after more than 3 years, NATO rather swiftly bombed the Serbs into submission, and the siege was lifted.
In the picture, the "Sniper Alley", and the famous Holiday Inn hotel (lovely yellow, on the left), where foreign journalists stayed during the war. I jokingly said to Nejra
"Well, I wish we in Poland had a war too, at least it would demolish some of the nasty Communist-era buildings", but it turns out that in Sarajevo many of those ugly buildings have been rebuilt after
the war to look just like they used to. [3
ISO 200, 18mm, f/8.0, 1/250s.
When I went to Sarajevo, I somehow expected the war to be completely forgotten and entirely in the past, but I was wrong.
More, I promised myself not to be obsessed by it like everybody else coming to the city. Unfortunately, nearly 20 years later,
one still has the feeling the wound has never healed - as you could see, there are still holes from bullets and large calibre shells in the buildings, notably blocks of flats, as if people didn't want to forget.
In the picture, the old Jewish cemetery, from which the first sniper shots against civilians were fired. After the war, more than 60 land mines and about 100 pieces
of unexploded ordinance were removed from this cemetery. [9
ISO 320, 18mm, f/9.0, 1/200s.
But it isn't merely physical evidence, like this hole in the asphalt from mortar fire (it's one of many, sometimes referred to as Sarajevo Roses by foreigners,
and pawprints by the inhabitants; painted over red to signify this particular shot took someone's life, right there on this spot).
How present the war is, becomes evident when you talk to the inhabitants of the city who still remember the siege. It doesn't help that the main perpetrators,
the Serbs, have never really expressed remorse as a nation, and while the masterminds behind the Bosnian War, Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić, and Ratko Mladić
eventually deigned to honour the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia with their presence (sometimes thanks to Serbian authorities), most ordinary murderers who took part in ethnic cleansing have never been brought to justice.
It's worth mentioning the Warschauer Kniefall moment of Boris Tadić, the President of Serbia, who kneeled before the Srebrenica massacre memorial in 2010. [3
ISO 320, 18mm, f/9.0, 1/200s.
King Fahd Mosque
But as the Serbs besieged the city, its inhabitants as well as Bosnians in general were not entirely on their own. From abroad, the Mujahideen came,
that is Sunni Muslim volunteers from mainly Arab countries, who arrived to fight in the cause of Islam. Both their military impact and possible atrocities committed are discussed to this day. [10
Nevertheless, after the war, they were kindly asked to leave, but some stayed, and it is estimated that about 30 of those represent hard-core group with direct on indirect links to Islamic terrorism.
In the picture, King Fahd Bin Abdul Aziz Alsaud Mosque, financed by Saudi Arabia.
ISO 200, 32mm, f/4.0, 1/125s.
Inside the mosque
After the end of the war, religion could once again flourish, since Yugoslavia was no longer there to repress it, and Bosnia was an independent country.
Sufism returned, but what the aforementioned Mujahideen brought to Bosnia was Wahhabism, and although both of those are variants of Islam, they are rather incompatible.
(While some Sunnis accept Sufism as a legitimate part of Islam, fundamentalist sects such as Wahhabism don't. But then Wahhabism, a sub-sect of Sunni that demands a literal interpretation of the Koran, is also considered heretical by some other Sunnis.)
Wahhabism, with its conservative ethics and Arabisation-tendencies, attracts Bosnians who oppose modernity and believe we've got our priorities all wrong,
and, unlike more peaceful Sufism, leaves no space for tolerance or acceptance of any other religion other than itself. [11
I'm sure it will prove interesting how those Islamic sects struggle now for the minds of the people of Bosnia, and whether Bosnia becomes a secular European country, or a theocracy,
as some would have it.
ISO 2000, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/50s.
Bosnian women who wear scarves likely have gone to an Islamic school called medresa. Medresas were reopened in the process of the fall of Yugoslavia. Initially all under the auspices of the Islamic Community, some are now under the supervision of the Ministry of Education.
Like Catholic schools, they receive financial support from the state. Most graduates serve as religious teachers, and among them women are not an exception, having in fact been involved in providing education for a long time,
which contrasts with the Wahhabi approach. [12
ISO 200, 40mm, f/4.5, 1/200s.
And that was the history of Bosnia in a nutshell. The time of peace and new challenges has come. Let's have a look at contemporary Bosnian matters.
ISO 250, 18mm, f/10, 1/100s.
While as a result of the war Sarajevo is no longer as multicultural as it used to be, there are still some non-Muslims left. Amra complains that today's inhabitants of Sarajevo
are not "genuine" - that they are peasants who recently migrated into an urban setting (the same thing that people say about post-WW2 Warsaw). Hopefully diverse Sarajevo will one day recover, but Barbara Demick in her book Besieged says
that ethnic group in Bosnia tend to stick to themselves rather than intermingle.
ISO 320, 65mm, f/9.0, 1/400s.
The peace agreement reached after the war, called Dayton Agreement, has been very successful in terms of keeping Bosnia from plunging back into war, but it has divided this already
small country into ten cantons, which resulted in 14 different governments [sic] and incredible bureaucracy, as a result of which unemployment is incredibly high - over 40%. [3
More than 50% of jobs are government jobs (see also Greece, see also financial disaster).
ISO 200, 44mm, f/7.1, 1/640s.
Mirjana & Amra
Let us hope the young generation will put Bosnia on its feet - no pressure.
Amra with her friend, Mirjana, who used to be a professional model, and it shows.
ISO 400, 50mm, f/4.8, 1/20s.
On a tram
Whenever I take a photo in a public transport vehicle, someone gives me a weird look. Why?
ISO 3200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/50s.
... Stephansplatz? Isn't that in Vienna? Yes - due to a fire alarm I missed my connecting flight, and accepted the generous offer of €12 compensation from the airline, and went to central Vienna from the airport (return train ticket cost €19).
ISO 560, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/50s.
St. Stephen's Cathedral
The iconic St. Stephen's Cathedral is in the process of being cleaned - I think I liked it more when it was black.
ISO 200, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/160s.
Very Mordor-like. One can easily imagine the screams of children coming from the inside of this grim-looking Catholic cathedral.
ISO 640, 44mm, f/4.5, 1/80s.
The boy with the x-ray eyes
Here's the cathedral from the inside.
ISO 800, 18mm, f/3.5, 1/60s.
Loneliness in Vienna
And a girl in front of the cathedral.
ISO 200, 11mm, f/2.8, 1/400s.
OK, seriously - final photo from Sarajevo. Nejra, Yoko, and Amra looking at the city.
ISO 200, 18mm, f/9.0, 1/200s.