Rafting Connected Bosnians and Herzegovinians
Sport rafters in BiH overcome all the hurdles nature and ethnic divisions put before them. They unite to compete but also to work to protect the environment and fight dams.
Rafters compete, but also have fun together, organize eco regattas and care for the environment. (Photo: CIN)
By The Center for Investigative Reporting
While flailing down the rushing river, the life of a sport rafter depends not only on the vagaries of nature, but on the members of his team. They must be relied on to reach into whitewater for drowning teammates — without thinking twice about their ethnicity.
“I would like to take our politicians into a canyon to make them feel small,” says Aleksandar Pastir, president of the Banja Luka Rafting club Canyon. “We have only one honor code on the water – help your friend.”
In March, the first year’s race of the rafting league took place in Zenica and with it started the collection of points for participation in great international tournaments. The name of a team that is going to represent Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) at the 2014 World Championship in New Zealand will be known at the end of the year. That year BiH will host the European cup.
From recreational rafters to professionals
Even though the rafting league has existed for sixth seasons, the Kayak, Canoe and Rafting Association of Bosnia andHerzegovina(KKRS BiH), made up of 28 clubs from across the country, was established only in 2011.
BiH has had a tradition in water sports. Kayaking, canoeing and rafting to a lesser extent existed inBanja Luka, Bihać and Mostar, while rafting on theDrinaRiveris renowned the world over.
The leader of the sport is the Banja Luka-based rafting club Canyon which organized on the Vrbas and Tara rivers, the European and World Championship in white-water rafting in 2005 and 2009 respectively.
BiH rafters are not only connected by their participation in competitions, but by joint efforts to clean up rivers and organize eco regattas.
True collaboration among teams from all BiH—which would culminate in establishment of the state-level organization—began at the end of 2006 when Pastir made a guest appearance on the Federation TV show titled the Central Prison.
He invited rafters from across the country to get in touch with him if they wanted to organize competitions because Banja Luka had qualified referees as well as boats to lend other teams.
Seven days after the program, the Zenica-based eco rafting club Žara invited Pastir and his crew for a fun run. The Canyon rafters packed their gear into a van and pulled a trailer with three or four boats for their friends from Visoko and Maglaj. This will go down in history as the first time that a rafting boat was sighted on the Bosna River. Half of Zenica showed up to see what was going on and if someone would drown, said the rafters in jest.
Another reunion was scheduled for the next year at the time of the traditional Čimburijada Festival on the first day of Spring – March 21. Thus Zenica has established a traditional regatta.
“The eco-rafting club Žara became a part of the Zenica Doboj Canton’s emergency unit for rescuing on the water and under the water,” said the club’s secretary Enes Imamović.
Most of the enthusiasts who started rafting clubs in BiH were unaware of the challenges they faced. Some thought that getting boats and equipment would be the toughest problems.
Members of the newly established club Dabar from Donji Vakuf showed up at the Zenica regatta in 2008, on the first day of spring.
Dabar’s president Amer Omeragić said that they came without a real team or equipment. Having received no help from the Federation clubs, Omeragić found allies in a Banja Luka crew.
They got a boat and other equipment. They finished the first race with a boat that was back to front.
“I really did not think that paddling was rocket science,” said Omeragić who is nowadays vice-president of the Kayak, Canoe and Rafting Union of the Federation of BiH.
He wanted to do training to be a skipper and a guide for river rescuing, but Pastir talked him out of it. He was too old.
“Aco looked at me …and he goes: ‘Listen kiddo, you cannot rescue yourself, let alone someone else,” the 46-year-old Omeragić told reporters from the Center for investigative reporting (CIN).
Back in Donji Vakuf, the Dabar representatives went to a gym where they found eight strapping young men for a team. However, two of them did not know how to swim.
Together despite challenges
BiH rafters are proud of their collaboration without regard to name and origin. But, that doesn’t mean that they are not aware of their and other people’s prejudices.
“There was a pecking though at the back of my brain: ‘Hm, he’s a Serb from Republika Srpska, and I’m a Bosniak’,” Omeragić recalls about the beginnings of collaboration with theBanja Lukagroup. Because of such qualms Omeragić even invited two Serbs from Donji Vakuf for the team, so that Pastir would cut them some slack.
At the 2009 world cup inBanja Luka, BiH was represented by a male team of Una-Aquarius from Bihać and a female team fromBanja Luka.
When a Bihać team was performing the audience was cheering for a Serbian team, said Dejan Vinovčić, the president of Zenica’s Sport and Recreational Club Bosna.
“There was the tension, but it’s like that everywhere, in every walk of life here,” said Vinovčić.
Fifty-five teams of male and female competitors from 35 countries took part in the eight-day World Cup. Another 35 international referees were involved, said Uroš Lovrenčič, the referee general and president of the Slovenian Rafting Association.
“The World Cup of 2009 in BiH was one of the most successful, with the biggest number of teams ever,” said Sue Liell-Cock, secretary general of the International Rafting Federation. It was a positive thing, she said, that the regional public broadcasters did live coverage of some of the races and she hoped that the new infrastructure would help develop the sport.
The World Cup cost around 1.6 million KM. This paid for work on the banks of the Vrbas, accommodation for participants and 33 boats
“We are leaving the past behind and looking toward the future,” said Nedžad Islamović from the Kayak & Canoe Club Ključ adding that a number of competitors were children during the war. “There’s no need to delve into past.”
Rafters care about the ecology as well. In the past several years they have conducted several sweeps to clean rubbish from rivers. They’re trying to give young people the right idea by organizing eco-regattas. In Zenica they are a role model for citizens, said Vinovčić.
Rafters from the Vrbas together apply for grants. One successful project was to set up sewerage cleaning filters in an elementary school at Krupa na Vrbasu.
During last year’s eco regatta rafters from the source to the mouth of the Vrbas River, along with their peers from the Federation of BiH met at the start in Donji Vakuf partied together with music in the nine towns where rafters rested.
To organize that, the rafters first had to unite the heads of Gornji Vakuf/Uskoplje, Bugojno, Donji Vakuf, Jajce, Kneževo, Mrkonjić Grad, Banja Luka, Laktaši i Srbac.
“Politicians are smug and if it won’t be how they want it, it won’t happen,“ said Sulejman Džananović from Donji Vakuf, a member of the executive board of the Federation’s Association.
“When it’s election time, everyone’s with us,” said Omeragić, his colleague from Dabar. “This year, there are no elections, but we’ll organize a regatta nevertheless.”
Video: Prvi spust niz rijeku Bosnu!
Published: May 29, 2013.