- Edin Suljic
Book Launch of Resistance: Voices of Exiled Writers
Updated: Dec 19, 2020
When I was invited to take part in a project Writing Home, involving writers from the former Yugoslavia/now Bosnia and Herzegovina, who have been living in England since the Yugoslavian war in the early nineties of the last century; my heart was with that project right from the start.
I am an escapee from that war. Refugee is a word that no longer carries the weight of its original meaning. Eroded and overused it has almost turned into its opposite. Whilst once peoples’ response to refugees was kindness, today it is coldness and even hostility. Refugees are enemies of comfortable, modern Western societies sliding towards nationalism and isolation.
But a refugee or an escapee from a war keeps their old country deep in their heart, despite their traumatic experiences.
The Yugoslavian war came from the old religious and national divisions of that country and, at the end, resulted in its disappearance. New countries were formed based on those religious and national differences. One of those newly formed countries retained its religious/national mix, becoming a smaller Yugoslavia, in all but name. That is Bosnia and Herzegovina. The war has stopped, but the divisions have stayed.
How does one Write Home if one has abandoned it years ago, running away from a war, ending up in London? Equally, how does one Write Home if that home was damaged, and one was forced out it?
And so, to start with, two writers, escapees living in London, Amna, originally from Mostar, and myself from Tuzla would go together to their old towns to team up with writers who stayed there, surviving the Yugoslavian/Bosnia and Herzegovina war in the towns of Mostar and Tuzla, to create a performance based on their writings about the war as each of them experienced it.
All under the umbrella of Exiled Writers Ink, supported by Jennifer and Stanley, children of escapees from a different war, and with help from Sophia.
Mostar is a town now known around the world for its (in)famous bridge. The Old Bridge, as it is called in Mostar. Bridges are symbols of connections and integration. Correct?
They are also actual embodiments of togetherness. Except when they themselves become obstacles for separatists and nationalistic forces. And so, The Old Bridge connected Bosnia/Herzegovina Croats who are Catholics, and Bosnia/Herzegovina Muslims for centuries, until it was blown up in the war, then re-built after the war in the hope that new/old connections will be forged and restored.
Tuzla is yet another war-torn town in Bosnia and Herzegovina, an old ethnically and religiously mixed, industrial town whose citizens coexisted throughout prolonged periods of peace and various conflicts.
Our project turned out to be about resistance to nationalisms, paradoxically in the midst of old divisions and still present wounds from the war.
We had our problems and disagreements from the beginning: on whom we could rely on as our contacts in those towns, as well as where we would be physically staging our performances. The whole project could have collapsed several times, but it didn’t. We had our own experiences of the consequences of divisions and intolerance and we managed to resist those dark forces.
The divisions in any society run deep, even when they don’t turn into violent conflict, they are always visible. At the same time there are people everywhere who reach across divides and who seek reconciliation after the conflicts.
I was able to reach out to, and to rely on my old friends from the times when we were all living in our old country of Yugoslavia. Sejo in Mostar and Vlado in Tuzla. They remained internationalists, even when the borders around them were redrawn and new divisions created. They are the people who still carry the brunt of the sectarian divide left after the war. We were able to return to the comfort of the Western world, they will need to stay within the divisions, where tribal loyalties are still so strong.
On the other hand they might have a stronger sense of belonging, being closer to the idea of having a home.
Eventually, we created a performance, in each of those towns that would span across the centuries of Yugoslavian/Bosnia and Herzegovina complexities, culminating in the last war. But also we told our own individual stories, about our pain and loss, our own stand towards national and religious divisions. We made new friends: Sonja, Adnan and Elvedin from Mostar, and Jasmin from Tuzla.
We resisted tendencies to forget each other, to blame each other for the war, to lay claims on who has more rights on victories and defeats. We were Writing Home for each other. And then we parted. Those who stayed would have to resist nationalisms and separatism. We who came back would have to resist the complacency of the Western World, keeping bridges suspended through our writing.
We had help from Ernst Fisher, who directed our performances, implementing theatrical devises into our stories and writing. Our stories had their physical manifestation and symbolism on stage. The whole project was a big act of resistance to the events of the past thirty years: exploiting of old Yugoslavian differences, amplifying divisions, resorting to war as a means to rearrange the geo-political set-up of that part of the world, continuation of supporting national and religious sectarianism and promoting further separations and intolerance.
Writing Home was an antidote to all of this.
Copyright Edin Suljic 2020.