Monday, 29 November 2010

Danas je Dan Republike

'Danas je Dan Republike'. So went the chorus of one of the songs we played on Saturday. Today it's actually true: today is the Day of the Republic. It was much like any other day in Jajce when we wandered to the supermarket in the early afternoon. Saturday, however, was a different prospect altogether. Hundreds of people had gathered from across the former-Yugoslav republics to remember Tito and Yugoslavia. As if they had arrived through some rift in time, proud communists and uniformed Partizans gathered in the areas close the the AVNOJ Museum. AVNOJ stands for Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia and the Museum is housed in the building that played host to the meetings that led to the forming on Yugoslavia.

Like in much of post-communist Eastern Europe it is not hard to find people nostalgic for how things were. For these people Saturday's events are a reminder of the togetherness and sense of identity that gave them a place on the world stage. And a memorial for the man who orchestrated that. Tito clearly still has a profound influence.

I confess I felt a bit of an imposter, climbing on stage to play as part of the official programme outside the Museum. A friend who was singing with us had bought a 'Born in YU' T-shirt from Jajce's main tourist shop. It looked cool but was a reminder that we weren't...although I did visit Yugoslavia for maybe eight hours one October in the mid-eighties! So why did we agree to get involved? I think there are two main reasons.

The first is that in the sort of work we are doing I believe it's important to identify with the things that are important to the community you are in. For the people we are working with, and for many people in Jajce, this is an important event. The willingness to get involved helps our differences become less important. In all our conversations with those from the Museum responsible for the event we never picked up any sense that they were concerned we weren't local.

The second reason is while it is unlikely that this region will ever see something exactly like Yugoslavia again there are positives that remembering the past bring. The Balkans would certainly see a brighter future if it found more time for focusing on its similarities - like the old concept of brotherhood - and less for the divisiveness of nationalistic political posturing. There's also something to be said for anti-fascism. Europe is facing the rise of the right-wing, and, perhaps alarmingly, in some unexpected places. France hit the headlines with its stance on Romanian Roma but I was surprised by a recent article I read about the plight of Sweden's of immigrant communities. Whoever the victims, it's important that we remember the reason why Tito was bringing together anti-fascists in the first place. It would be nice to think Europe has learnt its lessons. I certainly don't want to be one who makes the same mistakes.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Professional Rockers!

It's wrong to blow your own trumpet, so to speak, but after viewing this particular incident perhaps you'll forgive us this once. We were playing at the AVNOJ event outside the museum in Jajce today when disaster struck in the form of a falling PA speaker. As reactions go we're pretty proud of our apparent unflappability!

(The whole events deserves a proper post which it will get some time in the next day or two.)

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Hard Rocking!

Before you ask, no, of course Jajce doesn't have a real Hard Rock Cafe. Unlike Mostar, it doesn't even have a place pretending to be one. As someone who has visited Hard Rock Cafes in London, New York and LA – yes, the original one is in London – I know it takes more than a few guitars and a Jimi Hendrix poster on the walls to qualify as rock'n'roll's finest eatery.

Nevertheless I share the photo because it makes me smile. Who wouldn't want a bright orange (fake) Hard Rock T-shirt was a birthday present! That not the real reason though. As we head into the week that should see our first public rock'n'roll performance in our new town I thought is was a great way to get back in the live music mood. Moving has meant we've gone a few months without practising altogether. We're either in for a pleasant surprise or a horrible shock when we crank it up for rehearsals over the next couple of days!

Friday, 19 November 2010

That's not quitting!

Only yesterday I was wondering what the latest was with Angelina Jolie's film project. So it was with a certain serendipity I noticed The Telegraph screaming 'Angelina Jolie quits Bosnia' before I logged off for the evening. I paused long enough to decide I should share my findings today.

What we learn from this article is a truth, probably universal, but eminently applicable to this part of the world: don't believe the big statement. Why? While it may not be a lie entirely such generalisations are generally misleading. In this case the details of the article are all but completely misrepresented by an emotive headline.

By most common definitions quit is to give up, leave or walk out on. I expected to hear that Jolie was no longer going to film at all in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, and this is a direct quote, the article says: only three days of filming will now be done in Bosnia and Jolie will only visit the set briefly. The number of Bosnian locations used in the film has been cut from seventeen to five.

To clarify, far from quitting the country Jolie's film will still have scenes shot in Bosnia and she will still be visiting to be part of that process. Like Hollywood's movies these days, things are rarely black and white. I guess 'Angelina Jolie scales back filming in Bosnia' just isn't as compelling a headline. Unfortunately it's not just stories in the arts section that get treated this way.

Thursday, 18 November 2010


The end of next week will see the anniversary of the founding of Yugoslavia. We were in Jajce for it last year, as much by accident as by design. Our blog post back then, with its picture and video, give a sense of how we found things that day. This year we are Jajce residents so it only seemed right to do a little homework before the day rolled around.

Zabranjeno Pušenje, described on Wikipedia as a Yugoslavian garage rock band from Sarajevo, seemed a good place to start. Despite their name meaning 'No Smoking' - still quite an unpopular notion in this part of the world - their four albums recorded in the eighties have seen then remain popular in the Balkans to this day. It was for the song 'Dan Republike' that I turned, it being about the upcoming Day of the Republic (as was). This version has a nice historic slide show to enjoy while you listen!

Monday, 15 November 2010


This morning my Facebook status announced I was 'very tempted by the clear blue sky and sunshine outside.' Having worked all weekend today was a day off; it's never a bad thing when a day off coincides with good weather. Knowing we should really be in the grips of winter already I decided to give in to temptation, get my bike out and go hunting for the trails a tourist magazine I read promised run around the lakes. I probably found them. It's hard to be sure as the map in the magazine was not particularly detailed. Few maps for Bosnia and Herzegovina are. I have one good one but despite being sold as a drivers map it's basically too big to open inside a vehicle.

Today I navigated by Google Earth. Again, the satellite imagery for this country is not their best (drift into neighbouring Croatia and you'll notice an appreciable improvement) but it was good enough to guide me around the lake on the local equivalent of the Great British bridleway. The terrain was much more familiar than anything I encountered in Mostar. There was mud, for example, and it was green and smelt damp. It was also flat which made the twenty-five of thirty kilometre round trip a pleasant rather than a painful experience. The views over the lake towards the sunlit mountains on the far side were, at times, nothing short of spectacular. It won't be the last time I hit those trails.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Photographing People

I'm aware that over the past few weeks I've posted a number of photographs of the beautiful scenery here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I'm also aware that we're here to work with people not to sit back and soak up the surroundings. And so today I offer this picture as some small way of redressing the balance.

This is Budo (the other Novi Most team member with Rowan and me in Jajce) on Banja Luka's main shopping street. He's pointing a camera at me, Dina (who runs the uni hockey team I help out with in Jajce) and eleven young people who we'd taken to play against a club in Banja Luka this morning. Our team lost: 21-16 was the final score. They have previously done well in competitions so are unused to being on the wrong end of what, while not exactly a hammering, was certainly one of life's learning experiences.

Other than the scoreline, though, it was a great day out.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Almost The View

This afternoon did not go quite as I'd planned it. As I say in this video I was supposed to be planning but I bumped into friends while on my thought-gathering wander around town. I ended up joining their sight-seeing trip and taking some nice photos, but having already shot (most of) this video I'm going to share with you instead!