What would Kosta say now ?

For years I have been obsessed with this graffiti on the facade of the ruins of Abrašević : « Šta bi sad Kosta rekao ? », « What would Kosta say now ? ».

I am not sure what he would say, but I’m sure he would be quite pleased if he had spent the 3rd day of the Anniversary of the Center that wears his name since 90 years with us.
Under the name « Od nas prema gradu » (« From us for the city »), an audio walk in the Abrašević neighborhood was organized. You have to download 7 short stories on your phone, you are given instructions of where to go and where to stand to listen to the stories, headphones, and off you go in a neighborhood that you think you know.

Instructions for the audio walk.

The 3 fisrt locations are inside Abrašević itself, looking at the ancient wardrobe of the theater group, in the corridor that links the Bulevar to the courtyard of Abrašević (and ultimately to Šantićeva Street) and in the middle of the courtyard itself, around the foundations of what was suppose to become the ballet hall.

Our friend, Ronald Panza, an oldtimer in Abrašević before the war, has written truly beautiful texts, in an elegant and poetic language, describing the atmosphere of the Center but also, other locations of our Street.

It was indeed very surprising to realize that for more than at least 6 years, I hadn’t been further in the street than the crossroad with Carinski Bridge, 300 m away from the Center, either turning right to cross Neretva and go to the bus station, either turning left to go to Splitska Market or to visit friends in the Rondo or Stadium area.

More surprising on the last part of the walk was coming back to a group of buildings recently rebuilt and realize while I had had the curiosity to go inside when they were in ruins and empty, I hadn’t had the same curiosity once they were rebuilt and inhabited.

After a short pause in front of the former Kino Partizan (cinema hall Partizan), we came back to Abrašević and listened to the last text, back in our corridor.

Our corridor.

 Titled, « Goodbye Utopia », the text reminisces about the last days of Abrašević and how changes come without a warning. Before we closed the corridor, mostly for security reasons, I had spent a lot of time hanging around in our ruins, taking pictures of our walls, our ground. I picked up a numerous amount of items : account papers, notebooks, member cards. I always thought we would organize to pick up everything we could and take care of it as archives. We didn’t really.
Yesterday, at the begining and end of the walk, we came back to the corridor. Miran opened the wooden door that closes the building and I had a look inside for the first time in almost ten years.
Looking at the floor ground, what is left of the ceiling, the walls, the red doors of the classrooms, hesitating to get in.

Classroom Red Doors.

In my headphones, I was listening to the voice of Ronald, telling how he came to Abrašević for the last time before the war. Opened doors, empty building, no light in the corridor and how a note was left to say that there would be no music class until further notice.

Since yesterday, I look at our building in a different way, again. I fell asleep last night asking myself who were the first soldiers who entered the building ? Were they from Mostar ? Did they know about RKUD Abrašević ? Did they find the note cancelling the classes ? Who stole the bust of Kosta Abrašević ? Where is it now ?

Kosta.

I remembered my first time in the ruins, the silence, traces of war and music lessons. I fell like I was violating a secret place, a source of great memories for so many, of hell for others.
Finally, I fell asleep with a strong desire of hugging the whole building, not to keep it for me, just to make sure I would forever remember every detail of it.
When a day starts, you never know how it is going to end. Yesterday, I’d have never bet I was going to fall in love with this place.

Again.



90 years of Abrašević !

[A MOSTAR RADIOGRAPHY] will follow and report the 90th Anniversary of Abrašević through short chronicles and photos.

You will find below the concept behind these celebrations as well as the program of those 4 important days in the life of Mostar. (translation in English : OKC Abrašević)

90 Years of Abrašević.

90 years have passed since the establishment of RKUD Abrašević. Since then, the organization has offered workers and citizens supplementary education, entertainment, and a place to explore their cultural curiosity. This month, we will be showcasing some of our valuable archives and the rich history of our presence in the community for the past 90 years.

We want to celebrate this Anniversary by examining the forgotten ideas of the working class and the right to free time before and after work. The time when a worker could become an actor, a jazz musician, a dancer, or singer in the choir, the time where he could explore, be aware, and experience some other individual or collective identity. A time where he could be regenerated through culture. Did people have to share culture collectively because it was the social rule or was it genuinely how they wanted it to be? We intend to analyze this relationship between free time and culture through articles, lectures, informative manifestos, sound, and performances to discuss how these ideas apply in a contemporary world where work increasingly predominates one’s life.

Members of RKUD Abrašević on Musala Square, Mostar, 1st of May 1949

This anniversary is an opportunity for our young members and visitors to learn more about the significance, meaning, and history of Abrašević. The program will contrast historical information with contemporary presentations and productions put on by Mostar youth. We hope this will facilitate the passage of information about Abrašević’s legacy from the old members to a new generation.

In addition to the normal monthly program celebrating 90 years, December 20-23 OKC Abrašević is putting on a series of events dedicated to the idea of “The Under Class.”

Here are a few events, of many, that will be taking place this week.

From Us To The City: Sound Walk At Abrašević And Šantić Street

Every Day, December 20-23

17:00-19:00

From Us To The City is a documentary audio story about the architecture of OKC Abrašević, where the former RKUD Abrašević was located. On the walk, the listener will move through a series of locations and will have the chance to hear the story of places, that now seem like only ruins, as well as the concepts behind places that were never completed. This is how we want to remind you that the culture of Mostar, after the world wars and before restoration of institutions, was first taken care of by Abrašević, and later spread around the city. This process that started was never actually finished, and in this way can be viewed as utopian. The story ends on Šantić Street to show the direction that this spreading of culture is going and the connection between these spaces which have long been merely yards for dreamers.

The walk begins at Kafe Kosta in OKC Abrašević.

Unfinished Story: Sound, Concert, and Stories

Every Day, December 20-23

19: 30

Unfinished Story is a collage of performances that follow the story of how RKUD Abrašević and OKC Abrašević have evolved over the years. We will be moving through a series of free associations with a focus on important places, the development, and realization of ideas from the day we were established 90 years ago until today. This story will be told through the connecting elements of storytelling, performances, and concerts by performers and authors who in some way have marked this institution since its reestablishment. After each performance, a guest musician will continue the evening.

Every Evening, December 20-23

The Workers’ Canteen 

December 23rd

19:00

The Workers Canteen is a reminder to us all of the power workers have when they stand in solidarity. Abrašević staff will be preparing food to serve to the public in this spirit.

After The Worker’s Canteen and socializing, an event called Innovation A will follow, which is the presentation of entrepreneurial and artistic initiatives in Mostar such as BrainFart Merchandise, Cycloscopia, Hub 22, and Pyromania.

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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.

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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.

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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.

popovopolje

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…).

montagnes

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