A Journey to the Balkans

Maribor is far away from Hamburg but in the evening I arrived by train to Maribor. Most of the other participants have been there as well. I was lodged in Slovenska Bistrica some kilometres away from Maribor. Probably we started our journey in the richest part of the former Yugoslavia. Houses where in good condition, big German cars were driving everywhere and the whole country reminded me very much on Austria, the country I passed in order to go there. Everything was well organized, even by a comparatively small team, and I was always comparing it with the expectations we had about the following states. After a long party we left Maribor with our Slovenian bus in order to go to Zagreb, Croatia. Changing the country always means: Passport controls, new currencies, new phone cards and in the case of Croatia and Macedonia even new languages. Fortunately a travel agency in Maribor was able to provide us with visas for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. For some participants even in other countries visa became necessary, for instance Georgios, the Greek participant, needed a visa for Macedonia and to our surprise visa for Bosnia became necessary for the participants from Czechia and Slovakia.

In Maribor we also developed questionnaires. We used them in order to ask young people all over the region about their present and about their future perspectives.

Zagreb was not new for me, since I visited the Summer University of AEGEE-Zagreb in 1994. This time I was lodged in Novi Zagreb, the new part of the City on the other side of the river Sava. Each morning we crossed the Sava and we passed the new Croatian library. The city has slightly developed, now they even have Mc Donald's restaurants - maybe not important but striking.

We had a sightseeing tour by Marijana including the upper town with its cathedral and the glagolitic script inside. We heard some lectures about Croatia. A lady from the foreign ministry explained us the view of her government. I was impressed by her language skills, obviously she spent some time in the United States. Time was short, we were supposed to do our questionnaires and I didn't find enough time for shopping. I should come back. I even forgot my glasses in Zagreb, that became a problem later in Novi Sad because of irritations with my contact lenses. Tanja, the girl form AEGEE-Zagreb who was in charge of organizing our stay, sometimes lost a bit of "contenance" but certainly it was not easy to coordinate everything with almost no time.

The next city was Sarajevo, Bosnia Hercegovina.

Our worries for those who didn't have visa for Bosnia Hercegovina brought us to "Herceg Bosna" in the north of Bosnia at the river Sava. "Herceg Bosna" is the Croatian part of the muslim-croat federation, so on both sides of the border you will find officers who consider themselves being Croatian. As a matter of fact it was possible for all of us to enter Bosnia Hercegovina. Difficult and time-consuming was only the crossing of the Sava near to the Croatian city Zupanja. The bridge was destroyed and we had to take a ferry. Unfortunately the bus was too long to enter accurately. It was stuck and we where worried to lose the exhaust tube.

After crossing successfully we passed the federation and then the "Republika Srpska" and afterwards we where in the Muslim part of the federation. The "Republika Srpska" is the Serbian part but it looked - besides the Cyrillic alphabet - very American since the American IFOR troops where deployed there ("Trznica Arizona", a marked place and a pub called "Neschwille" (Nashville)). The road was not so good, our Slovene driver who spoke Slovene, Serbo-Croat, German and some Italian, told us that he hasn't been there for 20 years. Late in the night we arrived in Sarajevo and we had to hurry because of the curfew at 11:00 p.m. Due to this hurry I left my camera in the bus and I hadn't access to it until the end of the stay in Sarajevo. The next day we met at the "Narodni Pozoriste, the National Theatre. It took some time there since our registration in Sarajevo took too much time. We went through the city and now with daylight we could see the massive destruction. We visited an "Euroclub" run by a Spanish organization. There they had computers, books and magazines. It was raining the whole day. We went for a coffee, prices where paid in Deutsch Marks. There where also some Bosnian Dinars in circulation (100 Dirnars = 1 DM) and sometimes you receive them back as small change. Since they are legal tender only in Bosnia one had to try to get rid of them immediately. I gave away most of my German small change. Some participants had some 5 Deutsch Mark bills, you hardly see them in Germany.

The licence plates of the cars look very German. The plates are white and instead of the blue symbol in Germany for Europe they have their blue Bosnian symbol. "Herceg Bosna" uses licence plate similar to the Croatian ones including the Croatian coat of arms (checker-board) instead.

We also saw the old city and some university faculties. Than AEGEE-Sarajevo said goodbye to us already and the next day we left Sarajevo in order to go to Tuzla.

Along the road almost all houses where destroyed. It looked terrible.

We came late in the evening. The city appeared quite Islamic, I saw veiled women (but only the time when we arrived) and many mosques where people where gathering.

We where on the marked place where young people where killed when they gathered there during the war time by a bomb attack. The place is now a memorial and there we met some members of the German parliament from the green party. I had the chance to speak to Joschka Fischer and Krista Sager. They wanted to continue their journey to Banja Luka. We saw the salt factory and a student's dormitory. We were lodged a bit southwards of Tuzla at a long lake. It must have been a tourism resort before the war.

The way to Novi Sad was a complicated one. The driver didn't want to pass the straight way through the Republika Srpska. That's why we went back to "Herceg Bosna" and to Croatia. Again we could spend our Kuna - the currency of Croatia. Then we turned eastwards to the Croatian-Serbian border. We passed the minefields of Eastern Slavonia (the road had fences in order to prevent people from leaving to road). The Croats found it obviously strange that we wanted to leave Croatia in order to go to Yugoslavia (in the new sense). They checked us very intensively (and one German participant in particular) but finally we could leave to Yugoslavia. It was relatively uncomplicated on the Serbian side, after some waiting and the stamping of our visa we could enter. The visit of the toilet on the Serbian side was 1 Deutsch Mark each. The motorway was very good again and as always along that motorway from Zagreb to Skopje we had to pay toll. It's remarkable how similar the toll houses look everywhere along the motorway. The whole country (Serbia) reminded me on the former East Germany, especially the restaurant at the road between the motorway and Novi Sad that we visited. Finally we arrived in Novi Sad. It was much later than AEGEE-Novi Sad expected, since they arranged for us a reception in the town hall of the city - but we were too late. The stay in Novi Sad was very good. People (I mean not only AEGEE people) were very nice to us and I experienced no reservations or even hostilities against Germans. Actually I was a little afraid of that, but even if you told them where you are from, the atmosphere was very convenient. I'm very grateful for that. They have certainly a strong desire for normality after all the time of sanctions and isolation. I also visited the office of ELSA. Novi Sad is situated very nicely at the Danube. I liked especially the fortress on a hill at the river. Unfortunately there was no possibility to see Belgrade, that's why we went straight from Novi Sad to Skopje. AEGEE-Skopje welcomed us in their well equipped office. They showed us the old city and they organized lectures about the minorities (especially the Albanian one of 24 %) in Macedonia. I the end they invited us to a dinner in a former monastery on a hill with a view down on the city.

We had our last meeting at the last day where we presented the first results of our research. Then we went back to Maribor. We had to pass Serbia again. Since we had to pass (and to pay for) a disinfection before entering Macedonia the same procedure had to be done when we entered Serbia. During the trip it was good to see the participants from the former Yugoslavia (Ljubljana, Maribor and Skopje). They where singing old Yugoslav songs, they where talking Serbo-Croat to each other and they gave as an idea how Yugoslavia might look if it hadn't split.

In all countries we (except a few vegetarians) ate a lot of meat - the menu looked always the same, they shared the same electricity sockets, they are driving the same cars..., but...

In our questionnaires we also about people's "View towards Europe".

A working group consisting of Georgios Giannopoulos, Solange Grondin, Heino van Houwelingen, Damijan Lasic and me developed some questions. We wanted to find out how people see Europe, what they think about a possible unification of Europe.

Whenever we asked people told us that they feel part of Europe and they want their country to become member of the European Union (EU). There was a little difference when Damijan (the only one who did not come from a member state of the European Union and who was able to speak the language of the region) asked. People expressed some scepticism but nevertheless people had a positive attitude. That's why we concluded that the concept of Europe is not so much alive for the people of that region, they don't have a clear picture how it will be. In Tuzla, Bosnia Hercegovina, I heard the statement: "first we have to unite Bosnia Hercegovina". Other European Institutions beside the EU where not so much known. Some people knew the OSCE but probably some people had problems in naming them in English. In Slovenia people favoured the accession for economic reasons, also in Croatia. In Bosnia Hercegovina and in Serbia Europe was a way to be out of isolation, in Serbia a perspective to get rid of a bad image. For Macedonia also economic reasons where important and the wish to be recognized as "Macedonia". The role of the EU during the conflict was seen mostly negative but that didn't trouble future perspectives. The questions concerning a good cooperation and good relations brought up mostly member states of the EU but even the EU itself. Solange received an interesting statement: "Europe is sleeping beauty!".

That is probably the best quotation to finish the report. In Maribor the participants said goodbye to each other. I went to Vienna afterwards.

Jan Vlamynck


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