It is Important to be a Human Once More
In the once war-ravaged villages of Ravno near Kupres and Vitovlje near Travnik, Serbs and Bosniaks are living together again as good neighbors and friends.
Residents of the villages of Vitovlje and Mudrik on the Vlašić mountain: Almira Spahić, Joka and Simo Marić, Simo Kostraš and Suad Smajić (Photo: CIN)
By The Center for Investigative Reporting
Five Serb and Five Bosniak pupils attend the primary school of Father Miroslav Džajain in the village of Ravnonear Kupres. Teacher Fikreta Fadžan says they get along well. To begin with, no one minds that they are studying according to the Croatian curriculum.
“When I ask them about their ethnicity, they answer ‘children,’” the teacher tells the reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN) who visited the village which is located in a Croat-majority canton.
The area saw fighting during the war between Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. In the beginning of 1992, Bosniaks left their homes after the Serb army swept through. Two years later the Serbs left following attacks by the Croatian Defense Council and the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).
Today Bosniaks and Serbs live alongside each other and have left the past behind them.
Fadžan has worked in the primary school in Ravno for the past four years, commuting 60 kilometers full of potholes every day to get to the school. She says she’s not a good enough driver and makes her husband Đemo take the wheel. A Bosniak, she lives in Oplećan, a village that belongs to Tomislavgrad municipality.
In the beginning, she could not find a job closer to home. But last year, she adds, she turned down an offer to be transferred to a Kupres school that would have saved her the commute. She found she could not abandon the children she loves working with and with whom she feels so connected. Sometimes they call her Mom. Often she and her husband bring in fuel or food or, as in the case of Marinko Krstanović, medicine.
The parents of her Serb children have never objected to her or caused any issues, she said. The opposite: “They have such confidence in me, and they have entrusted me with what’s the most valuable to them—their children.“
The reporters encountered Đemo Fadžan in a teacher’s lounge with Krstanović and his son Cvijo. “I would give him my eye,” Krstanović said of the other man.
Their selflessness have helped the Fadžans win many friends – including the school’s caretaker Milan Dragoljević. He has helped the couple numerous times when they had problems on the road to the village.
“This is not co-existence; this is existence. We live here together,“ says Fikreta Fadžan.
Everyone says that Dragoljević is the biggest volunteer in the village. He has a bulldozer so the residents are not afraid of winter and big snows. CIN’s reporters saw this first hand when, en route to Ravno they got stuck in a pothole. Dragoljević showed up 10 minutes after the teacher called him for help.
“I wish those in the parliament were like us here. Everything would be fine,” said Fadil Kmetaš, who has turned to Dragoljević for help on several occasions.
Dragoljević is a quiet man who rarely enters a conversation. After being asked what kind of fighting went on in Ravno during the war he said, “none.” He explained that the Bosniaks left Ravno at the beginning of the war and returned when things quieted down.
“The Serbs were here; the Croats held (Kupres). Later the Serbs fled the village, and the Croats entered,“ said Dragoljević briefly.
The Time of Good Men
It was similar in Vitovlje, a village on the mountain of Vlašić. The Bosniaks withdraw in 1992 when the Republika Srpska army arrived, and the Serbs left in 1995 after the BiH Army’s offensive.
Vitovlje inhabitants talk reluctantly about that time. Though they were expelled from their homes and spent years in exile, they don’t blame each other for their hardships. They say that the army came from other towns – Banja Luka and Bugojno.
CIN reporters found Simo Marić and Suad Smajić in front of a house. They merrily welcomed the surprise guests saying that they sat and drank like this before the war. Today before them were just two empty ashtrays. They joke when they talk about the war and about how they fired at each other.
“He has not shot me, nor have I him, and now we’re hitting each other with barbequed meat and nice stories,” said Marić, in front of whose house they sat. “I visited dozen of countries and nowhere was better than here. Nowhere are better people than here. Central Bosnia is renown for its hospitality,“ he said.
Smajić lives in the village of Mudrik four kilometers away from Vitovlje. He works as a guard in the public company Šumarija near Marić’s house. He comes by to visit all the time.
“Frankly, I like going to work because of him. It’s never boring with him,” Smajić says. He remembers the pre-war times. He said that he could always count on Marić for everything, and so it is today.
Smajić fled to Travnik in early 1992, then came back to his native village four years later. At the end of 1995, Marić left Vitovlje for Kotor-Varoš. Five years later he returned to live on his land. He said that he did not come to live next to the others — but with them.
Marić had a shop and a bar before the war and today he makes his living from agriculture and by constructing wooden tables and benches. For his neighbors he has only words of praise and he believes that they would help him no matter what he needed.
“The times have returned when one is interested in another’s humanity, not his name,” he said.
Almira Spahić lives with her husband and two children across from Marić’s house. She moved to Vitovlje a year ago. She said that she could not have found a better neighbor than Marić.
“If it weren’t for him, I don’t know what we would’ve done,“ she said. CIN reporters noticed bench Spahić sat on was similar to one in front of Marić’s house. He made it for her because he could not watch her sit on rickety chairs.
Marić said Spahić is much younger than he and his wife, but they have found a common language. “We simply love them and respect. People become close in good and bad.“
Marić lost a 21-year old son in the 1990s war. He died as a soldier on the front line. The father does not blame his neighbors. “I cannot hate people of other ethnic groups for this. The damned war choose at random. It just happened,” he said.
His second son lives in Kotor-Varoš, and his youngest son Đorđe works at the firm Lang Komerc in Vitovlje. Halil Langić, the firm’s owner, said he did not discriminate when hiring, but was only concerned with ability. Reporters asked him if he really had so much confidence in Đorđe Marić—as his father Marić claims—when he gave him “keys in hands.”
“It’s all Đorđe’s. I have not set my foot in the warehouse. He’s in charge of everything,” said Langić.
Marić has worked for Langić since last August, and he considered him a friend not a boss. “We’re just like two workers– there’s no bossing here,” said Langić, as they fixed a machine in front of a lumber mill.
Published on June 4, 2013.