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.
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.
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