How Music Woke up Stolac and Ballet Shook up Mostar

Wednesday May 22nd, 2013

The  Stolac City Band and ballet dancers from Mostar are role models for a new ethnic relationship in those cities.

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This April, the Stolac Brass Band was ushered out to applause from Bosnian national team fans in a Zenica stadium. (Photo: CIN)

By The Center for Investigative Reporting

This March, the City Brass Band in Stolac grabbed its five minutes of fame playing the national anthem at the beginning of a soccer match between the national teams of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Greece. The band appeared on TV screens against the backdrop of Bosnian fans chanting.

The applause which ushered them from the Zenica stadium was not just a tribute to good musicianship. It was recognition for the band’s founder’s vision when the group reunited in 2007.

Alen TurkovicAlen Turković said that the band stirs emotions and breaks through the barriers that divide people. (Photo: CIN)

War cut short the band’s 60-year tradition and 20 years later Croats and Bosniacs in Stolac still go out to different cafés, send their children to the same school but in different shifts and divide  up hospital beds.

The band chose May Day for its first performance in its hometown.  On May 1, 2007, Stolac citizens jumped up out of their beds at the sound of the brass band marching up and down the streets performing the traditional May Day wake-up song.

“The band is marching and playing while you’re waiting to see if someone’s going to throw a flower pot from a balcony or call us names,” said Turković, the band’s president and one of its re-founders. “But, women dropped flowers on us, people cried, they stopped musicians to give them juices, ice-cream.”

Like Flute and Saxophone

The youngest members of the orchestra then were sixth-grader Ella Turković and Nives Raguž.  Turković joined the orchestra at her father’s  bidding of her father and saw it as a chance to make acquaintance with her Croat peers.

“We hadn’t had a chance to get to know each other,” Turković said of her friend.

Ella Turkovic i Nives RaguzElla Turković and Nives Raguž say that the brass band is one big family which does not care who belongs to which ethnic group. (Photo: CIN)

Croat and the Bosniak children attend the same schools in Stolac, but go at different shifts divided by an hour gap so they don’t run into each other in the courtyard.

“This is why it was hard to get the children together in one place so that they would start to communicate,” says Alen, Ella Turković’s father.

„The band was founded in 1931. Its old members Džemal Tucaković, Miro Raguž, Arminko Premilovac, Nešo Buluta, Menso Medara, Saša Karabatak and others decided to restart it in 2006. Alen Turković brought with him 15 children from a non-governmental organization Tutti. The band has more than 40 members.

Nowadays, 20-year old Ella Turković and 18-year old Nives Raguž like to say that the only difference between them is that one plays a flute and the other one clarinet.

Alen Turković describes Stolac as “a town and society torn apart.”

„To vam je kao jedna prelijepa slika pocijepana na 5.000 puzzli. Iako svi dijelovi nisu na

“It is like one beautiful picture ripped into 5,000 shreds. Even if not all parts are there, we tried with all our heart to stitch it it together.”

Turković hopes that the orchestra will live on because members respect one another regardless of the conflicts and bad things they’ve lived through.

“We’ve found a common language – music in this case.”

The band had concerts across BiH as well as in other countries.

“What with the past, what with the music, the band leaves no one indifferent. “There are tears as well,” says Alen Turković.

He most fondly remembers a concert on the Trebinje Summer Evenings where they were warmly greeted by the audience. Many Stolac-born and bred Serbs fled to Trebinje at the beginning of the war. They are separated by just 30-some kilometers from their former homes.

“People cannot stand this imposed separation, this imaginary border drawn by someone,” concluded Turković.

The Mostar Swans
Maja Beglerovic i Lana KozulMaja Beglerović and Lana Kožul dream of becoming professional ballerinas. (Photo: CIN)

A Mostar ballet company Arabesque has also tried to straddle the imaginary border in people’s heads.

Mostar-born nine year olds Maja Beglerović and Lana Kužul have been dancing ballet for three years. They live on different banks but the dancers go to the rehearsals together. Unlike their parents, they are too small to pay attention to subtle indicators which reveal to visitors which part of the town they are in: the names of streets; beer advertisements; graffiti and flags on buildings.

Arleta Ćehić started a ballet school Arabesque in 2006. Children of all ages and ethnic groups come to dance and Beglerović and Kužul are the members of the Little Swans section.

Čehić said that children first come to ballet to see if it’s a fairy tale and if it has something to do with a picture book that they have at home or with some cartoon they have watched.

“Then they come across Maja, Lana, Tajra and Marija, the children from all parts of Mostar who have come to learn dancing.“

PlesMostar Ballerinas dance on the Spanish Square located on the former war demarkation line; nowadays it is the part of the informal border between a Croatian and Bosnisak part of Mostar. (Photo: CIN)

Then the real tale begins. “In one car children travel to performances together, parents meet and hang out and this somehow brings out the truth behind our ballet.” Čehić said that this is their way of living and that she’s proud of their “normalcy”.

Maja’s house is in the Bosniak part of Mostar on the east bank of the Neretva, while Lana’s is on the West side. Before a rehearsal Lana’s mother Sanela Kožul picks up Maja and then drives to ballet.

Kožul is a Bosniak married to a Croat and says that they do everything together without those walls that everyone talks about. She says that there are rare positive things going on in Mostar, such as ballet.

“This ballet is perceived as if it represents an interaction between the left and the right bank, but we the parents do not feel it that way. We live that with our children,” said Kožul.

Indira Beglerović, said that she was happy that Maja is the part of this story and will grow up to be healthy, physically and psychologically.

Lana and Maja said that they like to go to competitions and performances where they can hang out longer with their friends Tajra Hadžimahović and Korina Tomičić.  “The most important for me is that my friends from ballet have been to my birthday. We were very happy. We had fun and good times,” said Lana.

Arleta CehicOsnivačica Baletske škole Arabesque Arleta Ćehić sama izrađuje kostime svojim balerinama. (Foto: CIN)

Stolac and Mostar were badly damaged in the 1990s war.. Schools and religious buildings were gravely damaged, and people left their homes. The towns looked gloomy.

Today edifices are being rebuilt and refugees are returning.. But, unlike the destroyed walls and weeded estates, it is much harder to rebuild trust and neighborly relations. The Stolac Brass Band and Mostar Ballerinas are writing new pages in the history of their towns.

Published: May 22, 2013.

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The Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) work is available for free to all organizations that credit CIN as their source and link to www.cin.ba.

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