Kertész, Mostar and me.

In June 2003 I traveled to Mostar to visit my friends as I did almost every 4 or 5 months. I was then part time sharing a house in the Cernica neighborhood. I adored this house, I was in love with Cernica, hypnotized by the Fortica hill I spent hours staring at from our terrace.


A terrace with a view.

Every time I was travelling I’d chose a book to go with the trip. Not randomly chosing a book. Never. Where am I going, when, why ? and according to all of this and my mood, then I would chose a book.

This time, a friend had offered me, 4 months earlier, « The Pathseeker » by Imre Kertész. I had already tried to read « Fatelessness » but didn’t quite get into it. There are some books like that, some authors who either intimidate you or are just simply not for you. Today, I am still struggling with Pessoa, one of my biggest litterature frustration. I simply don’t enter his world. Sometimes it makes me feel not cultivated enough to get him. I had this impression with Kertész and so, I never tried again to read him. The friend who had offered me the book knows me very well and told me « this book is for you ». I understood « there is something inside of it for you ». So, I took the book to Mostar and decided to confront Kertész, again, at the risk to be left out, again.

At that time, my relationship to Mostar was not very clear. I mean, I loved the city, in the true meaning of being in love with the city but Mostar and me were not friends just yet. That’s the least I can say. I was always happy to go to Mostar. I couldn’t wait to see my friends. The trip was very long from Lyon to Zagreb by bus and then another bus from Zagreb to Mostar were altogether 24 hours of travelling. There was always a sort of anxiety growing along the approach to the city to finally sometimes enter Mostar with a real stomach cramp, anxious to discover the state of the city, the news, the atmosphere. I still have this anxiety passed Bijelo Polje, my stomach goes nuts and I wait like a kid behind the window of the bus to see the first glimpse of Mostar. Sometimes, I am truely on the verge to applaude when we enter the city.

I was certainly not ready for the heat that hit us in the days after my arrival. The house was offering some shelter although the sun was hitting the terrace and the bedrooms in the morning but the rest of it was quite protected. For days, I had tried to wake up early and to go out before it was not possible anymore to breath outside. A real shock. I knew the mostarian heat from before but that year, it turned out to be complete hell and one day, I decided I would stay inside all day. I was almost in panic at the idea to go out. I had everything I needed for the day, I thought I would read and try to sleep a little. The sofa at that time was close to the huge windows of the lounge and I had a poor view on our gate, shrudded by bullets, in a terrible old orange colour. A strange scenery.

portail cernica 2

Tutina 3.

« The Pathseeker » is a small book of a hundred pages or so. I took it with me in the lounge, sat down for a coffee and stared at the book for quite a long time before starting to read. I was thinking « what will happen if I can ‘t read it, or don’t get it ? » . I call it « the Pessoa syndrom ». I started to read, a bit nervous. I can’t remember exactly how long it took me to finish it. I just remember I didn’t even light a cigarette or left it for a minute. I read it from the beginning to the end, in a row.

It’s the story of Hermann, a man coming back to a place he knows to write a report about this place where something terrible happened. You never get to know who is this man, who is he is working for, where is this place nor what happened. You just know what happened was terrible and presume that Hermann is either a witness, a survivor or a perpetrator. Hermann is looking for traces. The whole book is about a man who looks for traces in the wrong place actually. Pays more attention to walls than to people and fails in his mission to write a report because reality doesn’t fit his expectations. He is not able to face reality, disappearance of material traces and has a total inhability to face people’s trauma.

I was blown away by the book. How in heaven was it possible to write such a complex story in a so small book ? While reading, images from Mostar and its surroundings were coming instantly to my mind. The transposition was so easy, it was scary. Entire descriptions of the city, of hills, of streets, of people were matching Mostar. I was speechless. A scene was particularly amazing to read. Hermann and his wife finally reach the place were « the terrible thing » happened and instead of finding ruins or any kind of traces, they end up facing a huge meadow occupied by groups of tourists, led by a guide, waving signs, directions, seeming to draw in the air how the terrible thing took place.
I knew this scene. I was always amazed by the thirst of tourists for ruins in Mostar. Regularly meeting lost people looking for Šantićeva street or watching at tourists guides in the Old City, crossing on the wooden bridge replacing Stari Most while it was being rebuilt, making this strange choreography showing Hum and the left bank of the river, Hum and the left bank of the river, miming the destruction of the bridge, moving their hands around their ears to figure the noise of the bombs probably. Looking at them from afar you could instantly tell they were talking about the war. These images stayed with me until now and I still think to this day they should be turned into a contemporary danse creation.

Lights in the ruins of Šantićeva, July 2004.

Lights in the ruins of Šantićeva, July 2004.

At that time, my biggest fear in Mostar was its ruins. I was so afraid of them. But there was also this woman that we called « Duh »1. Dressed all in black with an outrageous make up, exagerated around the eyes and the lips. She looked like a character escaped from a sinister cabaret. She didn’t speak, at least, I never heard her speak. She could stare at you a really long time and leave. She was walking around the city, in silence. Whenever I met her my heart stopped beating. Not from fear but from sadness. I heard that she had lost her mind during the war. I saw her as a sign of something I couldn’t translate, a pain I was cut from, a reminder from something I never knew. The hostility from people towards her was very violent to witness and yet very easy to understand. Reminders of tragedies are often rejected when you try to forget them. In « the Pathseeker » there is a woman who could have been our « Duh », a witness of the horror that comes to talk to Hermann and then kills herself.

So here I was with all my love for Mostar, blocked inside by the heat and by my anxiety of the ruins, the possibility of meeting Duh in the streets while trying to look completely at ease with my environment. A complete stranger not fitting anywhere, not knowing why, a part from seeing my friends, I kept coming back in a place that was constantly punching me in the stomach. I spent a lot of time on the sofa with the book in my hands after I finished it. The book had given me something which I didn’t know how to name. Not an answer, not an explanation but a tool to walk out in the streets of Mostar and to feel free to observe, to scrutinize, to record every detail I could. « The Pathseeker » gave me a different compass to read Mostar and rearranged its geography. Suddenly, I fell free to walk in the city, still afraid of the ruins but with the right to be. It activated a fearless curiosity of every corner of this city. Mostar became the place where I love to walk like nowhere else. Like a sort of transe, an adventure whose interest is never lost. Being deprived from walking Mostar, because of the rain or because of the heat is a punishment. I feel like a grounded kid who has been naughty and can’t go out to play with its best friend.

Everytime I pass by Cernica, I give a look at Tutina street where the house is at number 3 and the name of Imre Kertész comes to my mind with a feeling of gratitude and a smile.


Tutina Street, December 2003.

Imre Kertész died on the 31st of March 2016.

1 : Duh = Ghost, Spirit.

….. i Hercegovina.

Bosna ovo, Bosna ono, Bosnia this, Bosnia that, war in Bosnia, I went to Bosnia, I go to Bosnia, he represented the Bosnia I love (Dizdarević), he will sue Bosnia (Hamza), I’m in Bosnia, I love Bosnia…

Herzegovina seems nowhere to be seen or read. I noticed that disappearance very early in my story with the country named Bosnia and Herzegovina.

People, let’s say 99% of the time, are making a short cut and call the country Bosnia. I even recently read an article which was mentioning « Mostar, the biggest city in southern Bosnia ». Herzegovina disappears from the most serious newspapers, from the radio, from blogs, from academic works, from official statements. Even respected photojournalists who have covered the war have been publishing books about their work, among them some are simply called « Bosnia » (while the subject is the war). Is it stressing that for a majority of people obviously, either only what happened in this part of the country is worth mentioning or what happened in Bosnia is at least more important ?

While this disappearance of Herzegovina is driving me completely nuts, I still took time to ask fellow scholars and journalists that I know, why ? Why is Herzegovina constantly dropped out of the picture ? I had many surprising answers first suggesting that I was making a fuss about nothing. Well…how to say ? Herzegovina is not nothing.


Popovo Polje, Aug. 2013

I was also answered that it was for practical reasons which I can understand for example if you are writing a long article and you need to repeat the name of the country many times, but in this case, why not use the acronym « BIH » ?

I was also answered that the name was too complicated for the audience. That one left me super puzzled. Man…too complicated for our audience (in France) ? Yep, you loose them with Bosnia and Herzgovina…you have to put it simpler. Well, I’d rather call it laziness. How is it too complicated to mention the complete name of a country ?

When I was a kid, during geography lessons, I remember the weirdness of the words « Yougoslavie » and « Bosnie-Herzégovine ». First, I had never heard of a Federation before so to understand what it is and remember the Republics was relatively difficult. But most of all, for me, Yugoslavia was a very mysterious country because the word starts with a « y », a rare thing in french spelling. Bosnia and Herzegovina was my queen of weirdness somehow as a part of the mysterious country because, yes, it has «  z » in it which is also rare in french plus it’s a composed name which is even rarer. The combination of Yougoslavia + Bosnia and Herzgovina turned the super mysterious country into an object of curiosity.

Since then, I never ever wrote « Bosnia » or said « Bosnia » to replace the complete name of the country (and I am correcting people as well).

Pod Velež, Aug.2013

Pod Velež, Aug. 2013

I am seriously asking myself since years how come Herzegovina is always dropped out of the picture. I have asked many different people around and while the commodity seems to be the most common answer some other argued that Herzegovina has always been considered as the little sister to Bosnia but never benefitted from the same prestige due to History (I’ll all let you dig into that) and that, you know, it’s then normal that you only mention Bosnia.

I also heard Herzegovina was often mocked in the past for being poor and its inhabitants having a « kamen mentalitet » (« stone mentality », meaning herzegovinians are strong and stubborn, which is  partly why I love them so much). Well, its difficult to understand how you come to make jokes about a poor region but, that’s another story.

More recently with the last war, I realized few people know about what happened in Herzegovina. People know about the destruction of the Old Bridge but don’t have an idea of what the people went through, how the conflict developped there. They mainly know about Sarajevo and Srebrenica, about the camps next to Prijedor but if you mention Herzegovina, they will stay silent and it’s only if you mention Mostar that they will answer, with a concerned expression on their face, « oh, yes, the Bridge… » (that could be worst, we could be talking about Goražde or Žepa…).


Somewhere between Montenegrin border and Trebinje, Aug. 2013

So my friends, don’t participate to this disinformation campaign and do call the country by its full name ! If you don’t know Herzegovina and never took time to drive down to Trebinje, to explore the incredible Popovo Polje, to stare at Mostar from the Fortica hill, to taste the incredible honey figues and loza from the south, move away from Sarajevo for w hile and explore this well kept secret that Herzegovina is.

(Besides, if you have any explanation to offer, I would super curious to read you in the comments).

Alija Bijavica or my tribute to the 14th of February.

We gave our fathers for freedom. Mostar, Sept. 2015

« We gave our fathers for Freedom ».  Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, Sept. 2015

I don’t remember precisely the first time I saw Alija Bijavica.

I think it was in the streets of the Cernica neigborhood but I am not sure. I remember meeting him in all sorts of places in the city. I didn’t know who he was but was very impressed by his stature and the elegant way he had to address people. I met him so often in the city before I was introduced to him, he seemed to be constantly walking the streets of Mostar. I realized he was the President of SABNOR1 in Mostar after I attended the ceremony for the 14th of February in Partizansko Groblje (the Partisans Cemetery) for the first time.

I don’t remember either how I first learn of the 14th of February 1945, the day Mostar was liberated from German and Ustaši occupation. I think it is in Abrašević2 that I heard about it for the first time as we were getting organized to welcome a little gathering for the SABNOR Members in our walls scheduled after the ceremony in the cemetery. It seemed difficult for SABNOR to find where to have this meeting other than in our center.

On 14th of February 2007, I arrived to find a group of elder people slowly walking up the cemetery. They gathered in a corner and laid flowers down to a long disappeared statue or monument. Some people were going to leave flowers to specific graves, exchanging a few words, mentionning their parents or grand parents or uncles or aunts.
Mr Bijavica was talking about Mostar. How brave the city had been under occupation, how many National Heroes it gave to Yugoslavia (14 of them), how much resistance was opposed from the citizens of Mostar. I remember one year, I think it was 2008 when he mocked the similarity of date between the Liberation of Mostar and Valentine’s day just to say how much in love he was with his city no matter what state the city was in not to mention the state of the Cemetery itself which was and is still a total scandal.

Alija Bijavica, 14th Feb. 2007.

Alija Bijavica. Partizansko Groblje, Mostar, 14th Feb. 2007.

He drifted in his speech to explain that it was still time that citizens take the destiny of their city in their hands. That once again Mostar should be freed from fascism. That time was an important factor to changes and that he was sure these changes would come when people are ready. He stressed how impatience is only adding to misery and how people were so exhausted and it was going to take time before anybody would see changes.

That same year, we invited him in Abrašević to come for a small gathering on the occasion of the 25th of November3. A very small number of people turned up.

We were waiting for him on the mezzanine of the Kosta Café.
He showed up with a quite loud « Sretan vam Dan Državnosti ! » (Happy National Day !) and sat down with us. We had a strong feeling of respect for this man and what he represented but I think most of all, because he was the memory of the past and he knew so much about the city. We had many questions about the notion of resistance, the conditions of this resistance.

I can’t remember who asked him what he thought of the present situation of the country and moreover of Mostar. He heard our frustration behind the question. He politely turned to us and said very nicely but very firmly « you young people know nothing about time ».

The talk we had that day stayed very vivid in my mind until today. It triggered a reflection about History in my own country and our disastrous relationship with WWII. I remember him talking very arshly about the epuration after WWII in France and the horror it was so many people were executed without trial, women shaved from their hair in public places for sometimes no other reason than obscure revenge. It was also important for him to stress on the important role of women in the Partisans and moreover during the WWII in Yugoslavia.

After this day, I kept meeting Mr Bijavica in Mostar and we always said hello to each other. I wanted really badly to interview him and record him, being totally obssessed in general with the disappearance of witnesses or actors of past periods. Of course, I never did.

14th of Feb. 2014

The entrance of Partizansko Groblje. Mostar, 14th of Feb. 2014

When in Mostar on 14th of February, I always attend the commemoration of the Liberation of the city. The last time was in 2014 in the midst of the social unrests that shook the country. The entrance of the cemetery had been set on fire very shortly before our arrival. Despite that, we entered and crawled over walls, helping each other to reach the place where flowers are laid down every year. Mr Bijavica had died five years before.

During all the time we spent that day in Partizansko Groblje and after that, everytime I lose confidence or patience with Mostar, I am thinking about his words of patience and do my best to still believe in it.

1 SABNOR : acronym for « Savez antifašista i boraca Narodnooslobodilačkog rata » //Council of antifascists and fighters of the popular liberation war.

2 Abrašević : Independant cultural center.We will have many occasions of talking here about Abrašević

3 25th of November : 25th of November 1943, the Republic of Bosnia &Herzegovina was founded in Mrkonić Grad

A short introduction to [A MOSTAR RADIOGRAPHY]

Fasizam free zona

It’s a long time I wanted to start a blog about Mostar. A really long time.

I didn’t have enough confidence to write to be read by a wider audience than myself. Fortunately enough, some people have encouraged me in this direction.

First, of course, Mr Yougosonic who has been kind enough to publish eight texts I wrote about Mostar a couple of years ago on his blog Yougosonic. Yougosonic has been a long time source of information about many aspects of Yougoslavian culture that I had never heard of before or only superficially. If it hadn’t been for Yougosonic, I am sure I would have never ever thought about having my own blog. I would have never dared writing about Mostar which intimidates me so much.

When I published my texts on his blog, it was the first time I authorized myself to tell anything about Mostar that wasn’t purely informative. It wasn’t an article about whatever aspect that people usually like to talk about when Mostar is in question. It was a personnal statement developped in 8 texts about my private relation with the city.

A city that has never ceased to surprise me, disappoint me and attract me. I always say that Mostar is the place where I can feel the best and the worst.

In the end, I just wrote what I wanted to read.

I must admit here a huge deception about what is generally written about Mostar. Not that I have the pretention to do better than anybody else, far from that but really…How many more articles can be written about Mostar that are just spreading caricatures we all read about millions of times ?

From the ruins to the snipers nests, from Stari Most as a symbol of reconciliation to the usual crap about division, from the fascination for war to the lecture of the city through its remaining conflict traces… how many times can clichés be mutiplied ?

More recently, an article was published comparing the city to a garbage dump with a description of Mostar as invaded with rats. Really ?

Not saying that there are no problems with the collection of garbages in the city. It is a real issue but well, reading some descriptions from this text made me wonder who the author had been talking to and if she had witnessed any part of her descriptions but most of all, are we talking about the same city and ultimately, what was the real goal of this article ?

Mostar is not a garbage dump and I come to ask myself, what does it flatters in some authors that they seem to particularly enjoy ignoring anything positive in Mostar. Anything that goes against the general assumption that Mostar is lost for this world seems erased from the story.

It feels like Mostar has become a journalistic convenience, easy to describe (East-West), easy to name (Grad Slucaj), easy to depict (Old city). I don’t recall I ever read anything consistant about the Austro-Hungarian heritage of the city, or a walk in Centar 2 or an exploration of Balinovac, or Donja Mahala or Brankovac or…anything that is not the Old Town actually.

This article about « the-city-turned-into-a-garbage-dump » was the final trigger to what is now shaping as [A MOSTAR RADIOGRAPHY].

Tired of ranting alone in front of my computer, I thought it was about time I would finally do something concrete to express my own vision of the city along with other persons who would have an interest into widening the general view of Mostar, make it more detailed, subtle. Maybe, realistic could be the proper word.

[A MOSTAR RADIOGRAPHY] is more of a promenade in the space and different times in Mostar and I hope to pick up collaborators along the way who would like to talk about unexplored aspects of the city. It is still striking to me that what is invisible seems to be considered as non existing.
I never saw a rat in Mostar which doesn’t mean there are none. People never see resistance to the current state of Mostar which doesn’t mean there are none either.

The lack of curiosity towards this city has frozen it into a division icon and nothing else. I regret it profoundly. It makes me mad so, here is my tool, my little contribution to Mostar. Anyone who wants to write on this blog is welcome. I would be interested to share this space with others.
Someone told me she thought she didn’t know Mostar well enough to write about it. I think it’s wrong. I think Mostar always leaves you with a strong impression be it positive, negative, intriguing, it’s not important. This blog is not intended to provide analysis, datas and statistics, I leave that to the specialists. This blog is only intended to broaden the perception of the city I love.

There is no strategy behind [A MOSTAR RADIOGRAPHY]. I don’t know yet how many times a week/month I’ll be posting online. I’m currently setting up some collaborations that will develop along the way. I’m in no hurry, I just want to create something that has a sense, addressed to people who are interested, made by people who are interested.

Come along !