[Bosnia] The čardak defter — Olovo

In this moment, when I decided to write the čardak defter, I am in Olovo. I am sitting on a bank next to the river Stupčanica, whose riverbed is subdued by man-made rocky walls. I see the hotel Akvaterm next to me. The bank is built around a small česma (fountain), pouring warm thermal water from its sub-terrestrial source to the community of Olovo. A few meters downstream, to my left, the Stupčanica will coalesce with the river Bioštica. The confluence of both is the birthplace of the river Krivaja, henceforth meandering between the Zvijezda and Konjuh mountains towards her next confluent, river Bosna, near the town of Zavidovići. Krivaja leaves Olovo through the town’s narrowest door — a breath-taking gorge that the river shares with a dangerous, single-lane road with few merciful turnouts, and a surprisingly thick layer of plants and trees, growing on the perpendicular wall of white Karst rocks. The Krivaja’s familiar murmur will be the noise in my background during the forthcoming days that I will spend in an unnamed village, sleeping in a čardak room, some kilometers downriver.

One of the numerous česmas in rural Bosnia. This one has a religious and commemorative connotation (Hajr or Hajrat Voda, refering to the Islamic cult around water; it was  built to remember a soldier killed in the first year of the war in Bosnia). Otherwise, there are česmas found in every garden of traditional houses.

Olovo literally means plumb, drawing to the town’s previous importance as a center of plumb mining in the Middle Ages. On a personal level, Olovo is where Mehmed, Šahina, Emina and her siblings were always from. Olovo is, in many regards, a place I feel connected with, and one could even say that it is the place where everything began. At least for me, my twin-sister — and river Krivaja. My Germany born father went to Olovo many times before I was born, and even before he met my Bosnia born mother. Mehmet and father were work colleagues, knowing each other from the factory. Mehmet’s daughter Emina was known for her extraordinary beauty, and she still is a very beautiful woman. I know that for sure, because I visited her last year. I had to cross the Atlantic Ocean to visit her, because now, she is always from America. When we were kids, she was often, and not often enough, visiting us in Germany, and we always wanted her to stay with us. There are so many things more that I could — and probably will — elaborate about Olovo and river Krivaja. But, before I continue with this first chapter of the čardak defter, I can already assess that there is an entangled personal history between me and those places alongside the Krivaja, as shall be described and told from the perspective of the čardak.

River Krivaja

Entangled history and histoire croisée have become „biggies“ in the past years, as one of our professors at the graduate school loves to call academic fashions and eminent notions. Reading entangled history books can be relieving, especially for those who are fed up with national frames — and ever new constructions of frames. And yet, still so many people write their history books as histories of their Germans, their Serbs, their Turks, their Bosniaks; they shed their lights and their new lights, on their Germanies, their Serbias, their Turkeys, their Bosnias — and so forth. And they are then theirs, appropriated with archival rigor, offering lucid new insights of sometimes even fascinating, groundbreaking achievements. But polemics apart: even in anachronistic, undead national grand narratives, entanglement was always there, since most often, it could not be ignored completely. But when it was taken into account, it was often rather seen and treated as external addenda to the core. The main narrative at the center of history writing was, ever since nations were invented, the „old trinity“ of the nation, the people, and the territory. Entangled historiography, to the contrary, claims that life stories of people from even very distant places are inseparably entangled, whether they are aware of their entanglement or not, as in the prominent example of Sidney Wilfred Mintz’ seminal book on the place of sugar in modern history. Another interesting feature about Mintz’ book is that it doesn’t primarily write the history of great men. It places ordinary people there at the center.

But back to what I would describe as entanglement on a personal level. I am sometimes surprised how detailed I can remember our visits to Yugoslavia in my childhood, as opposed to the often squishy and somewhat neglected memories from the Franconian village, where I grew up and spent most of the time. Even back then, in the 1980s, and increasingly in the 1990s, I found the Franconian village life offensively boring, which is probably why my memory doesn’t see a necessity in remembering there equally well. Generally speaking, memories from childhood are, of course, not very reliable, at least not if we want to use them as a source of history, and of what actually happened. For instance, my twin-sister and me happen to discuss particular peaces of memory that we basically share, as we have experienced them simultaneously, but we remember them differently, and sometimes fundamentally disagree over the course of  events, roles of actors, and exact dates. And still, we do remember and have those memories.

Yesterday, sitting on the balcony with a view on the opposite rocky mountain wall, the house with the čardak, and river Krivaja, I talked to my older cousin about this phenomenon. Simultaneously, we were examining her seven year old daughter’s utterances and astonishing reflections. My cousin, who knew me as a child when she was a teenager, said her daughter reminded her of me. Reportedly, I was that kind of kid that would not throw a stone straight into the river, but first inspect the stone carefully from above and from below. Then, I would throw it. I told her about my selective memory, and that I didn’t have a clear picture of my mini-me. Some years ago, I re-read all school reports from the first four years, and in every single one, I was depicted a „dreamer“ by my two teachers, of whom I am still convinced that they were all but good educators. However. I guess my point is that I will try to conflate my „unreliable“, thus biased personal memories, with other texts that may be more revisable and transparent for readers from an outside perspective.

In Germany and elsewhere, writing entangled histories is increasingly popular, and unsurprisingly, it often has to do with migration, as in the present case: the reason why I can write the čardak defter is the correlation of diverse migrations of different people, whether Mehmet, who had migrated from Yugoslavia to Germany; my father, who had been travelling from Germany to Yugoslavia, where he would meet my mother; my mother, who met my father in Yugoslavia, from where she would migrate to Germany and marry him; or — omitting for a while all the migrations during the war years — my own mirations and travels between Germany and Yugoslavia, with the only problem that Yugoslavia ceased to exist, which is why I shall speak of Bosnia. But when we speak of entanglements between Germany and Yugoslavia then, is it actually possible to speak of distant places, as in the case of the Caribbean, Europe, North America and Africa, like in Mintz’ history of sugar? I would argue: yes. Compared to today, then Yugoslavia was a country far away from Germany, and the car drive was long and exhausting. My father was a convinced Renault driver (and would never buy another brand, until his dead), and I have vivid memories of the Renaults 18 and 21 with their leaking ceilings. I also remember that our German aunt (die Tante) joined us with her Fiat Panda, several times. Today, nobody would travel with such small cars, and the idea to spend more time than a few hours in a Fiat Panda will probably seem absurd to most people in Germany today. Nowadays, everybody seems to be in the absolute need of possessing a large scale car, preferably an all-terrain, off-road, cross-country vehicle, without lacking a perfect urban polish, including all kind of comfort, like heated seats and air conditioner. Above all, cars must look new and be strong. Back then, not everybody would have a car, especially none of our Yugoslav relatives, and there weren’t even concrete roads to their villages. For them, traveling meant traveling by bus or by train. Traveling by airplane was not even considered.

But not only the means of transportation led Yugoslavia appear more distant from Germany than present day Bosnia, and however all the other lands are called (at the moment). Contradictorily enough, there were more and less border controls between Germany and Bosnia than today: the first national border, including all sort of border controls, had to be taken soon after Munich. The Austrian border controls were known to be very strict sometimes, and once, we had to open the trunk and show all our holiday bags. My father, allergic to this kind of hierarchies, would make one of his boyish jokes, as soon as the border guards wouldn’t hear it: Why is the Austrian flag red-white-red, from top to bottom? — Because otherwise, the Austrian border guards would raise their flag the wrong way round. Until the early 1990s, we didn’t have any relatives in Austria, and so, Austria was regarded to be a small transit country with mean border controls, high mountains, and long tunnels. (-To be continued-)


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