Jasmina Tešanović: Sarajevo Mon Amour

Text by Jasmina Tešanović | Photo by Goranka Matic (Link to larger size).

You cannot miss something you didn't have, you cannot
go back
somewhere you've never been.

I've never been in
Sarajevo: not in
the seventies, when it had the best rock scene and
street smarts
culture in Yugoslavia, not in the eighties, when the
winter Olympic
games where held there in 1984. Or in the nineties,
when the Serb-military committed a cruel and prolonged act of

Sarajevo is a meta place and a meta name for Balkan
history: the
first world war was caused when a student from
Sarajevo shot the
Austrian Archduke. Though I never visited Sarajevo,
the city was
part of my life: I listened to the music of Bjelo
Dugme and Goran
Bregovic, I saw the films of Kustirica. When war
came, my women
peace activists made public standing in the Sarajevo
square in
solidarity with the murdered city. I published a book
from the
Sarajevo author Alma Lazervska in the midst of the
war. I have
family and relatives who fled the city or survived its

Now, in 2007, in a car, I finally descend from the
hills into the
city. There is a soccer match in town, wild kids on
swarming among the police.

The famous quince trees are in flower, just like they
say in the old
"sevdalinka" folksongs. During the war, we pacifists
sang mournful
sevdalinkas for years on end, as a hymn of never lost
and solidarity. My driver is a retired policeman,
with a yellow
tie and a black leather jacket. He chain-smokes and
drinks heavy
Bosnian coffee, and yet, due to a war injury, he has
literally had no
stomach for the past eleven years.

We bound along the
road past
cemeteries of all creeds and races: improvised,
extended, continuous
fields of human slaughter.

We leave the car among brand new houses, tall
hills and
mountains under a clear blue sky, the sun and the
moon…with a
muezzin's voice singing loudly all over the
downtown… We walk the
narrow cobblestoned streets, the shops of sweets, the
best barbecue
in the Balkans, oriental slippers and silks… We sit
to drink a
champagne cocktail in a bar called Egypt, then some
homemade red wine which feels hallucinatory… We
all eat and talk constantly: we
women guests form former Yugoslavia, and our hosts,
who are taking us to the local parliament to
celebrate our humanitarian work.

The war is not even mentioned anymore, there is very
little shell or
bullet damage visible…. People at a nearby table
are talking about
a bomb which once exploded in the market, killing
civilians lined up
for food in the besieged city, but they also mention a
big monument
to all the partisans who fought the Nazis in the
second world war.

My cab driver is sensing my Belgrade accent: he points
out a big
imperial scary looking building; that's where Tito's
army was
quartered was when the war broke out… People, he
says, can be
beasts on all sides… The Bosnians wanted to kill a
19 year old
soldier from Belgrade who was doing his regular
military service
here. I took him in my own house for a month until I
managed to
smuggle him back home to Serbia.

As I look at his eager face I suddenly have a feeling
that he might
be my relative… His name is Jasmin, and every third
woman here is
called Jasmina or Jasminka. I even met a couple of
Tesanovic people.

The girls in the streets are dressed in cheap
westernized gear with a
lot of creativity and fuss. They have my height, and
the slender
legs of shepherd girls from the banks of the River
Neretva in
Herzegovina. From my hotel window I see a hospital, a
graveyard, glittering snow-topped mountains… The
moon is silver
and thin and low as in the Thousand and One Nights.

I've never been before in Sarajevo, for, as a Serb, I
didn't have the
guts to face the slaughter my people were doing in my
name. But I
swear I never abandoned it. Dream-cities don't
require your presence
even when they turn into nightmares.

– – – – –

Jasmina Tešanović is an author, filmmaker, and wandering thinker who shares her thoughts with BoingBoing from time to time. Email: politicalidiot at yahoo dot com. Her blog is here.

Previous essays by Jasmina Tešanović on BoingBoing:

Killing Journalists

Jasmina Tešanović: Where Did Our History Go?
Serbia Not Guilty of Genocide

Carnival of Ruritania
"Good Morning, Fascist Serbia!"
Faking Bombings
Dispatch from Amsterdam
Where are your Americans now?

Anna Politkovskaya Silenced
Slaughter in the Monastery

Mermaid's Trail

A Burial in Srebenica
Report from a concert by a Serbian war criminal
To Hague, to Hague

Preachers and Fascists, Out of My Panties

Floods and Bombs

Scorpions Trial, April 13
The Muslim Women 
– Belgrade: New Normality
Serbia: An Underworld Journey
Scorpions Trial, Day Three: March 15, 2006
Scorpions Trial, Day Two: March 14, 2006
Scorpions Trial, Day One: March 13, 2006
The Long Goodbye
Milosevic Arrives in Belgrade
Slobodan Milosevic Died
Milosevic Funeral