Friday, 31 August 2012

I'm going on holiday!

Hey everyone.
Vodice, Croatia.

Unfortunately (pfft!), I am going on holiday this evening to Vodice on the Dalmatian Coast.

Although I will attempt to update this blog here and there, don't exactly count on it (come on, can you blame me?).

I am intending to go for between 10 and 20 days, so just keep an eye out on here for any updates.

Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter here, as I may provide further (and less significant) updates on that medium.


My Twitter page (@rustywoodger)

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Clean Up Bosnia-Herzegovina

Finally, action is being taken to clean up
Bosnia's natural environment.
In a nation with more than 10,000 illegal rubbish dumps, an action is finally being taken to rectify the situation, with the organisation of a national clean-up day.

More than 900 people have signed up for the 'Let's do it Bosnia and Herzegovina' project, with many more expected to join on the day.

The action is scheduled for Sunday September 9, with the aim to remove at least 50,000 tonnes of rubbish from more than 110 cities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Participants will comprise of citizens, volunteers, civic associations, utilities as well as local schools.

It is a much-needed move for this country, which, it has to be said, really falls behind when it comes to respecting its own - and beautiful - natural environment.

An advertisement for the project can be seen here:

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Bosnian Politics

For a long time, now, I have been intending to write a piece to tackle the ridiculously complicated topic of Bosnian politics.
However, due to its complex nature, I have struggled to find anywhere to begin.

Nonetheless, a number of days ago I came across a blog entry from an American by the name of Julia Dowling, who herself has also been living in this country for quite some time.

In this entry, 'Bosnian Politics - Possibly Worse than American Politics?', I believe Dowling does a very good job of at least attempting to summarise the nation's political situation to us Westerners.

Here, below, is a copy of the text from her post.
I take absolutely no credit for this entry - all kudos (or opposite, if you disagree) has to go to her.

Anyway, tell us what you think.

I know, I know, it sounds impossible that anything could be worse than the absolute circus going on in Washington DC these days (you know I love you, DC, but get it together).  And sometimes I still think that there still is nothing worse than Congress and the schmucks running for the Republican nomination, especially with this birth control business.  But realistically we all know that there are many places far worse off than the US of A.  Bosnia is by no means in a position similar to Syria, Iran, Zimbabwe or other states in crisis.  But the crisis Bosnia had nearly 20 years ago continues to have major ramifications on life today.
Present Bosnian politics have essentially paralyzed the country and the political rhetoric is, many have claimed, not very different from that heard in the years and months leading up to the war in 1992. 
Here's a map of pre-war Bosnia and post-war Bosnia.
You can see how ethnic groups have moved to stay
within their own entity's borders.
Here’s a quick primer on the post-war political history in Bosnia, which has contributed to the current state of political immobility:
In the fall of 1995, the major warring parties in Bosnia (the Bosnian Serbs and Serbians, the Bosnian Muslims, and the Bosnian Croats and Croatians) were brought together by Richard Holbrooke in Dayton, Ohio for negotiations.  The result of the Dayton Accord was a divided Bosnia – two “entities” that would function completely separately except for the National Government which consisted of representatives from the 3 major ethnic groups.  Now Bosnia has the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Muslim and Croat entity) and the Republika Srpksa (the Serb entity).  The majority of Bosnia’s population now lives within the borders of their own ethnicity’s entity, meaning that Bosnia’s interethnic makeup during Yugoslavia has been transformed.  Before, villages with Serbs would sit next to Muslim towns, and vice versa.  Now most populated areas are majority Serb or majority Muslim or majority Croat (yes, there certainly are exceptions to this, but the overall tone of interethnic cooperation has been destroyed).
Ok, so what does that mean now?  It means that almost everything in political life comes down to ethnicity.  Whether or not Bosnia’s citizens want this, it is the reality.  Three of the four major political parties are ethnically based and consistently spew hateful rhetoric against the other parties.  The Muslim majority party, Party of Democratic Action (SDA), cannot ever agree with the Serb majority party (Serb Democratic Party – SDS), who rarely agrees with the Croat majority party, Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).  To be clear, I don’t blame the parties for certain conflicts; recently the Serb Party in Parliament called to abolish the National Court (which charges war crimes transferred from the Hague) because they believe it would be better to try such cases in entity courts.  Certainly, a terrible and unjust idea for all ethnic groups involved – how can we expect justice for victims and perpetrators if they are on trial in areas where they are often the hated minority?  
But it goes without saying that the Federal Bosnian Government simply does not work.  The three ethnic majority parties plus one heavyweight multi-ethnic party (the SDP) have created a stalemate on nearly all national matters.  I mean, they were unable to form an official government (one with Ministers of Defense, Foreign Affairs etc…) for FOURTEEN MONTHS.  That’s right.  Bosnia and Herzegovina operated without a fully-formed government for fourteen months before a breakthrough this December.So critical national affairs are consistently stalled in Sarajevo, but does Bosnia’s politics affect people’s everyday life?  You bet.    
You better join a political party, and if it’s not the right party for your area, then you’re plum out of luck for things like work, housing, and other advantages that come with Bosnian nepotism and corruption.  My friends from all over Bosnia face problems because of politics:A good friend of mine, X, doesn’t agree with ethnic politics, even though X lives in a town where their own ethnic majority is in power .  X is instead, a party member of the multi-ethnic SDP party.  Guess what?  Even though X is a kind, compassionate, and brilliant person who speaks multiple languages, X simply can’t find a job in town.  Sorry, you lose because you envision a multi-ethnic future for Bosnia!  X has a partner, V, who also faces issues – V is not a member of any political party and because of this, has been blackmailed at work, and has not been offered a long-term contract at their job…. every three months when the contract period is up there is the chance that V will be terminated unless V caves and joins the local ruling political party.*  
So people who should be celebrated because they refuse to play into ethnic biases and a political system corrupt from top to bottom are instead left out of the whole process.  What does this mean for Bosnia’s future?  Where are the moderate, tolerant voices?  I honestly don’t know what the future holds for this beautiful country and its incredible residents, but the opportunities denied my friends make me incredibly angry and sad.  Political rhetoric is getting worse, and if the economy and employment situation doesn’t improve I don’t see a very peaceful future.  Uncertainty makes people afraid, and that can cause them to turn to those who act like they hold the answers – the answers in today’s Bosnia are all ethnic.  I don’t have any real insight or suggestions for fixing this, except that education in conflict resolution and tolerance must be taught on the grassroots level.  Let’s rebuild relationships so that people can say “you know, I have a Serb friend that is a really great person – maybe those politicians are wrong about all Serbs being evil….”  It can only start there.  
*To ensure anonymity I have replaced names with letters.  In the current Bosnian political climate,  it very important to give as few details as possible lest someone happen upon this entry and my words cause even more problems for my friends.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Best Balkan meals!

I have made many mentions of the 'delicious' food that is present here in the Balkans, that it is somewhat surprising that it has taken 67 blog entries before I decided to write on the topic!

So, for all you food-lovers that are out there, this one is for you.

Here are five 'must-have's' when it comes to dining in any of the countries that make up this Balkan region; with, of course, a particular focus on Bosnia! By the way, just for you to know before some of you start going crazy; I realise that many of these foods are not of Balkan origin, but they make them so well here that, if you were to visit this part of the world, it would be a shame to not have a taste!

Whichever language you speak; enjoy and prijatno!

  • Burek
Although bureks have an origin in Turkey, this is one dish that you can simply not avoid. I took every Aussie friend that I met up with in Sarajevo to the 'burekdzinica' (burek restaurant, hint hint) and, believe me, it wasn't the only time during their stay that they made a visit to there! In fact, the burek is so popular, that iconic Bosnian singer Dino Merlin wrote a song about it!
Click here to listen to the song.
In short, the burek is a meat-filled pastry that is traditionally rolled in a spiral and cut into sections for serving.
In 2012, Lonely Planet included the Bosnian burek in their "The World's Best Street Food" book; so, you know it's damn good!

Want to try making it yourself? Click here.

  • Cevapi
This is one that really goes without saying, and most of you have probably heard of this before. Cevapi! In Croatia and Serbia it is sold with pork meat, however in Bosnia, it comprises of small grilled meat sausages made of lamb and beef mix; served with onions, sour cream, ajvar and traditional Bosnian pita bread.
If you come to Bosnia, it is said that you can find the best cevapi in Middle Bosnia, particularly in the city of Travnik. Otherwise, if you can't make it out of Australia, there are several cevapi restaurants dotted around the place. They are worth checking out if you have the time!

Can't make it to any of the restaurants? No dramas. Click here to learn how to make it yourself!

  • Bosanski lonac

Bosanski lonac, or 'Bosnian pot', is a lesser-known local dish, yet one that arguably still gets the taste-buds working in a similar fashion. It is a real Bosnian culinary speciality, and, although it can come in various forms, its ingredients are usually the same: meat and various vegetables.
Check the photo; looks good, huh?

Bosanski Lonac recipe (GoogleTranslate required here!)

  • Ustipci
Ustipci is a type of food common not only to Bosnia, but also a number of other Balkan nations. They are very similar to croissants, but with a more soft, bread-like feel to them. 
The great thing about ustipci is that it can either serve as a proper, sit-down meal, or simply as a dessert. People have various options to eat with the ustipci; jam, cheese, cream and even meat are popular choices amongst locals.
Luckily, this meal is much easier to make than it is to pronounce the name of it.

  • Hurmasice
There is little doubting that the above dishes need to be accompanied with something sweet afterwards (well, if your stomach has some room left!); so why not complement it with a delicious speciality locally known as 'hurmasice'?

I can tell you from many first-hand experiences that these babies literally melt in your mouth - they are simply divine, and are one thing you just cannot pass up.
They are a very popular home-made treat, which means it doesn't matter where you are in the world; you can make one yourself, too!
In fact, here's an easy-to-follow recipe: Bosnian Hurmasice.
Go on!

There you are, people.
Don't blame me if a few of you put on a couple of kilos in the near future! :-)

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Photo of the Day (Zenica)

Jasmin Mesanovic celebrates with team-mates and supporters of Celik Zenica following his second goal in his side's 2-1 win over league rivals Siroki Brijeg today.
The victory pushed Celik up to fourth on the Bosnia-Herzegovina league table ahead of its away match to Travnik next weekend.

This might be a long way from Old Trafford or the Nou Camp, but this is passion!!!
You can't buy that!

(Source: Jasmin Hadzic / ZenicaBlog)

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Homosexuality in Bosnia and the Balkans.

Pro-homosexual graffiti in downtown Sarajevo.
The subject of homosexuality has been brought up again this week following an article published by Bosnian news portal Klix.

The article focused on the recent rise in pro-homosexual graffiti around the streets of Bosnia's capital Sarajevo; which is of particular interest due to the general negative perception of gays in Bosnia, as well as in surrounding Balkan countries.

Although these nations have had many differences, certain levels of homophobia are undoubtedly shared in each of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. When looking at the facts, this is not so surprising. This whole region is full of pious people, so one can only expect that much of the dislike towards homosexuality is a given considering people and their alignment to their religion.

To many, including members of local political parties, homosexuality is an 'illness'; and such behaviour is considered 'deviant'.

Perhaps, then, it should come as no surprise that there have been large, and often-violent, incidents in recent years in each of the three aforementioned countries. In Belgrade in October 2010, more than 100 people, mostly police, were injured, and more than 100 arrested, when thousands turned up to protest a Gay Pride march in the city. Meanwhile, in June 2011, at least five people were injured and around 100 arrested during a similar Gay Pride march in Split.

In fear of further trouble, the Serbian government did not allow another Gay Pride to take place in 2011. Another pride march did, however, occur in Split in June this year, and without major incident like the year previous - albeit with 900 police present to protect around 300 marchers.

Going further back, this time to September 2008, confrontations also broke out in Sarajevo at Bosnia's first ever gay rights festival. On that occasion, the violence was comparatively smaller; though, still, nine people were injured, including two journalists and a police officer, when dozens attempted to counter-demonstrate the festival.

The Sarajevo attack was condemned by leading members of the European Parliament's all-party 'Intergroup' for gay and lesbian rights, with some stating it was detrimental to the nation's hopes of entering the European Union.
Trouble breaks out at the first ever gay rights festival in
Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2008.

"It is a cowardly behaviour to challenge the views one disagrees with by violence," said Intergroup president Michael Cashman following the incidents. "I also need to point out that Bosnia-Herzegovina wants to become a member of the European Union and the country should clearly show that it is ready for membership."

Regardless, it is all these occurrences and circumstances which make the pro-gay graffiti in Sarajevo somewhat more significant than just a bit of paint on the wall.

Some of the tags that are appearing include: 'We're here, We're queer'; 'He loves him', and; 'We are gay, lesbian, trans and proud of it.' In fact, Klix even labelled the graffiti as Sarajevo's 'Quiet' Gay Pride.

Regardless of your own personal views on homosexuality, there is little doubting the complexity of the issue of sexuality in countries such as these which are, at least to some extent, driven by religion.

In truth, although most locals don't necessarily support homosexuality, they are content to let people behave as they wish in their own homes. Much anger seems to be stirred up only when gays wish to hold marches or parades in public. (It should be stressed, however, that although many might disagree with the gay pride marches and such, it is only a small minority who actually resort to violence to express their opinion.)

One viewpoint might side with the so-called 'anti-gays' who are angered over public displays of homosexuality; some may think, 'Is it really necessary to literally parade yourself around the main streets of the city when you know that many believe your sexual orientation is deviant and sick?' Whilst another side may take the stand that such demonstrations are necessary due to the persistent persecution of gays in society, and to promote further acceptance among citizens.

Nonetheless, it is interesting to contrast popular perspectives of homosexuality in Western countries to other countries, such as those in the Balkans. Much of the Western world seems to be embracing homosexuals and increasing their legal rights; already in the USA, some states have legalised same-sex marriage; while in Australia, there are growing calls for Prime Minister Julia Gillard to pass the same law.

One wonders, however, if that is ever a real possibility here; where religion is so ingrained into the core fabric of the nation, that it doesn't seem like changing any time soon.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Looking back: Ramadan 2012.

It is nice to be able to freely eat food such as cevapi
whenever I feel like, and not feel so guilty!
As most of you should be aware by now, Ramadan for 2012 came to a conclusion across the world last Saturday evening.

If you are a reader of this blog, most likely you will have followed the progress of my personal Ramadan experience to at least some degree.

So, now that it is all over; how was it?

Well, where to begin ...

After my most-recent Ramadan blog entry, a few of you were probably expecting that I would 'pack it in' and completely give up on fasting any further days. The truth is, I did manage to fast again; albeit only for a day.

This took my total of days fasted during Ramadan to a number of eight - quite short of my intended goal of 14. Furthermore, although I had plans to make up for these lost days post-Ramadan, my motivation to complete this is rather lacking at the moment. (A severe heat-wave across Bosnia is also not helping my cause.)

So, upon reflection, because I fell substantially short of what I had hoped to achieve, does this mean I feel like I failed? Damn no.

I have to be realistic and look at the facts. This was my first ever Ramadan, and first ever experience with the notion of fasting. It could be said that, perhaps, my expectations were too high for a beginner.

Moreover, if somebody told me at the start of the year that I would fast (yes, fast!) for eight days in the space of a couple of weeks, I would have scoffed at them. When I look at this overall picture, I must say, I am proud.
Favourite memory: An Iftar dinner organised in Zenica
by a local Turkish community was a highlight for how
it displayed how religion can bring people together.
(Source: Zenica Foto)

It should be said that those eight days were not the only days I was actively participating in the month of fasting. Although it was tough at times, I managed to completely abstain from alcohol for the entire month. I knew that refraining from alcohol had a large part to do with respect to the local Muslim population; particularly my partner and her family. This made it a lot easier to stay away from the stuff, and, even though Ramadan concluded more than five days ago, I still haven't taken a sip of anything remotely alcoholic.

Beyond all of that, my pride is further strengthened because, quite simply, I gave the whole thing a try. Many people around the world will never attempt it in their life; and, probably, many of those people are also ones who express contempt and confusion about the whole process. "What sort of nonsensical weirdos would want to fast?", is what they probably think. I should have some idea - I used to be one of those people.

My favourite memory from the month was one that I took to be symbolic. The night of the collective Iftar dinner - organised by residents of a local community in Istanbul - which took place in the main street of Zenica one evening, really stood out to me. As an attendee that evening, and as I wrote in a blog entry of mine, I was extremely surprised to see that people would volunteer their time and money to others in such a way - people they do not know. As I failed to make a point of in my blog entry at the time, this supply of food and drink that evening would have been a massive help to a large number of local families who themselves struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis.

I'm not completely free of guilt when enjoying
those cevapi, however; fasting opened my eyes
to the suffering of those without food and
water on a daily basis.
Significantly, it helped strengthen ties between two sets of people separated by thousands of kilometres, but united by religion. Truth be told, in a world where news streams are dominated by depressing and negative stories, it was beautiful to witness first-hand such kindness, and revel in the fact that it still exists.

Overall, taking part in this has further opened my eyes to the world in ways I could not previously imagine. It helped me close the book on the world I used to live in; a world where my thoughts were based on nothing but presumptions and falsities. I managed to gain a real-life insight into something in which many people simply refuse to learn about. Even outside the world of religion, it furthered my understanding and compassion for all those around the world who don't even have the fortune to choose when they will and will not eat or drink.

It has been an unforgettable experience for me. An experience that has changed my life, an experience that I will remember forever, and an experience which has led me to make plans to repeat the whole process, once again, next year.

State of Emergency declared as wildfires rage through Bosnia-Herzegovina

Locals watch on as fires burn near the town of Konjic,
50 km south of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
(Source: AssociatedPress)
Authorities declared a state of emergency on Tuesday as wildfires continue to burn out of control across Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Mayor of Bratunac Nedeljko Mladjenovic declared the emergency after the fires began to threaten his town from several directions. Calls for help have been made to the army as up to 50 locals assist fire-fighters in attempting to contain the fires.

Bratunac, located in Bosnia's north-east, is not the only town under impending threat. Further south, fire-fighters are battling blazes surrounding the town of Konjic.

One particular area near Konjic which is feeling the heat is Boracko Lake; a destination popular with tourists, and only located 50 km from the nation's capital, Sarajevo.

Tourists - mostly comprising of Bosnian diaspora - have begun evacuating their houses around the lake due to fear of the impending fire-front.

"This is really not pleasant at all," said Zorica Muskovic, a Bosnian holidaying from Munich. "I am scared, I want to leave as soon as possible."

Weather conditions are expected to provide little relief over the following days, with forecasts predicting temperatures to rise to the 40°C mark in some areas.


I must admit, these fires are reminding me, somewhat, of the catastrophic bushfires that raced across Victoria on 'Black Saturday' in 2009.
Although these fires should be contained, I am a tad worried about what could happen.
This morning, locals in threatened areas were phoning radio stations to express their disappointment in the lack of help from the public and, particularly, their government.
As a side note, a number of days ago, when I was returning from my trip to Trebinje, I could see first-hand just how extensive some of the fires were. In fact, our bus passed by a pretty large wild-fire, literally only a matter of metres away.
At the moment, we have our fingers crossed, and are, quite simply, hoping for the best.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Something that needs to be said re: Australian Police

This is a photo I came across, today, of a police officer using pepper spray on a supporter of Sydney United FC at a football trial match in west Sydney this evening. The reason? Somebody (most probably not even the person in the photo) let off a fire-cracker at the stadium. Apparently, this justifies RIOT police, along with security, wading into a crowd of people with batons and pepper spray drawn. Seriously, what the heck? How do these police boneheads get away with this, time and time again, in our supposed "free and lucky country"? Why do our public continually simply blurt, 'Oh, that guy did the crime - let him pay for it'?

(Source: The Daily Telegraph)

The police are, more-often-than-not, the perpetrators in these incidents. For the majority of you, I sincerely pray that you won't have to find this out first-hand; as I once (or twice) did. Lets also not forget that pepper spray was introduced as an alternative to guns. Guns! They are meant as a last-resort before police turn to their pistols. So why are they using them so freely?
Over the past 3 days here in Zenica there have exploded literally thousands of firecrackers and fireworks. No one has been hurt. No police have gone in trying to arrest people; and guess what? There has been no trouble.
Don't let them get away with this, and do not believe the media's lies.

NB: For those who are wondering what on earth this has to do with the Balkans; Sydney United is a Croatian-backed club. That's my excuse.

More photos:

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Top 3 places I wish to visit in Bosnia

I can rule out Sarajevo and Zenica (and now Trebinje, hehe); so here are three Bosnian destinations I wish to visit before I depart these borders!

What do you think? Have you visited any of these places yourself? Can you offer me some advice? Or, do you think I have my priorities wrong; and there are other Bosnian destinations which I should have my eyes set on?

Feedback, people!

Neum is the only coastal town located in Bosnia and Herzegovina; comprising of 24.5km of coastline. It is located just 60 kilometres from Dubrovnik in Croatia.

Jajce is a city and municipality located in central Bosnia and Herzegovina; and is popular for its beautiful 20-metre high 

Mostar is a city located in the Herzegovina region of the country. It is situated on the Neretva River, and is the fifth largest city in the nation. The Stari Most, or 'Old Bridge', is Mostar's major attraction for tourists.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Robijasi Zenica

At the weekend, I travelled with 'Robijasi' Zenica to support Celik Zenica away to Leotar Trebinje.

Trebinje is a city a solid 6-7 hours away by bus; in fact, it is located just 10km from the Adriatic Sea, and 20-odd kilometres from Dubrovnik!

The trip was a battle with the heat and over-packed bus, but I loved it.

Unfortunately Celik went down 0-1 due to a Leotar goal in the dieing minutes, but Robijasi were a shining light for the day. I really respect these lads.

Here's a 15-minute video solely showing their (or can I say 'our' now?) support.

This Saturday, Celik will be hoping for a better result when they face Siroki Brijeg.

Ma hajde Celik.....

Bajram 2012 in Bosnia!

Hundreds of Muslims in Zenica pile out into the area
adjacent to the local mosque for the Eid prayer
in Zenica's centre, August 19, 2012.
(Source: ZenicaBlog)
Well, for those who don't know, this year's month of Ramadan officially came to a conclusion on Saturday evening, which meant only one thing (not true, it actually meant a number of things, but y'know...); the following day would begin Bajram!

Bajram - or 'Bayram' - is actually just the Turkish term for a national holiday; the specific celebration of yesterday is worldly-titled 'Eid-ul-Fitr'. It is, perhaps, the most important day in the Islamic calendar; though, in fact, it can be celebrated over two or, even, three days. (Remember, I told you the other day that the most important night is Laylatul-Qadr.)

So, what actually happens on this day?

Because a large proportion of my readers are Catholic-Australians, to help you better understand I have to make reference to our own personal traditions, and state that this day draws many similarities to the day of Christmas.

The long-standing tradition, at least here in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is for families to get-together and enjoy lunch and coffee together.

Because it is forbidden in Islam to fast on this holy day (if you were planning on making up for missed days during Ramadan); large feasts are ensured.

I had the opportunity to accompany my partner to her family lunch; and, it has to be said, I had a fantastic time! The similarities between this day and how people celebrate Christmas in Australia really were striking to me.

However, there are some traditions which somewhat differ to Christmas in Oz.

Firstly, it is as though it is almost compulsory for every Muslim male (regardless of how truly religious they are) to attend prayer at the Mosque early in the morning; this is known as the 'Eid prayer'.

Therefore, the mosques here in Zenica - and, I am sure, all over the world - were absolutely jam-packed, with people pouring out onto public squares and streets just so they could pray.

Check out how many people attended a mosque in Zenica's 
centre for yesterday's 'Eid Prayer':

It should also be noted here that it is obligatory for every Muslim to provide some form of charity to the poor  or needy in the period prior to Eid-ul-Fitr - unless, of course, they have a good reason not to, such as they are poor themselves.

A second tradition revolves around gifts. It is much more common for people to give money (10 or 20 KM seems to be the norm) rather than some other tangible present. Usually, the money is just provided to children and the like; adults don't really seem to gift each other as such.

Children certainly enjoy seeking money, too. Our apartment doorbell didn't stop ringing all day with children coming to ask for money! This is accepted, though, and many people are happy to give a bit of their change. Personally, it reminded me a little of Halloween, and the tradition of door-knocking and asking for chocolates or such.

Also common is for people to wear some new clothes, such as a nice shirt, for the day of Bajram. My partner bought herself a dress, whilst I got my hands on a new Lacoste polo (I looked pretty good, I must say!).

Muslims of all ages across Bosnia-Herzegovina turned
out for the Eid Prayer yesterday morning.
Finally, but certainly not least, another popular pastime for this day seems to be for people to blow up as much firecrackers as they can. I am not exaggerating when I estimate that the number of exploded crackers in Zenica alone, until now, must be in the thousands.

Even now as I write this, a day after the main celebration, the explosions persist. Perhaps somewhat ignorant, but I swear some of these sounds are people firing bullets into the ear, or something similar!

Nonetheless, as my first Bajram experience, it was an extremely enjoyable day.

Although my belly is a tad over-blown with food, I have two months and 10 days before I do it all again for the next Bajram holiday, 'Eid al-Adha'.

Maybe it will be a good idea for me to get in shape before I place myself in front of that much amazing food again!

I am honestly looking forward to it, and will update you all about it, again, when the time comes.

PS. Expect a report in the coming day or so as I digress my thoughts on my first ever experience with Ramadan.

Thanks peeps. Hvala vam!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Bajram Serif Mubarak Olsun

Bajram serif mubarak olsun to all my Muslim friends around the world :)

Today is the first day of Bajram ... it is three days long and marks the end of the month of Ramadan.

I am very busy now and do not have much time to write anything - so expect something a bit more in-depth later.


Thursday, 16 August 2012

The number of Aussies touring Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Sarajevo has recently become a popular tourist
destination for travelling Aussies.
Well, is it just me, or are more and more Australians including Bosnia-Herzegovina in their travel itineraries lately?

I write this following last month, in which, in the space of three weeks, I met up with six Australian friends who had come to visit Sarajevo.

One of these men enjoyed it here so much, that he has returned to Bosnia a further three times! In fact, he is in Zenica as I type this! (It feels strange to think that I am now not the only Aussie in this city.)

Regardless, these visits from my friends gave me a grand opportunity to gain a further insight into the Sarajevo tourist 'scene'. 

The guys often commented on how other Aussie tourists were sharing hostel dorms with them in the city. I was not surprised by this as I regularly heard Australian accents in restaurants and through the main streets of Sarajevo.

So, it begs the question, what is dragging Aussie tourists to the city; and to Bosnia-Herzegovina in general?

Traditionally, many foreigners have been wary of travelling to the area due to the always-possible threat of fighting (read: war) breaking out once again. It is true that Sarajevo still bears significant scars from the previous war, which only came to an end a measly seventeen years ago.

However, it seems as more time passes, and as the nation gradually rebuilds itself, people's fears are waning. It is not just Australians flocking to Sarajevo; Americans, New Zealanders and Brits are, also, very well represented.

From discussions with friends and other tourists, Sarajevo is dragging Aussies in because, compared to other European destinations, it is remarkably cheap. One can go out consecutively for a week here and still spend just as much as they would for one night out in Amsterdam, for example.

Another attraction is to avoid our own people; it's nothing new that Aussies hate meeting other Aussies whilst on holiday - especially when there's a whole heap of them. 
Mostar is also being further included in the travel plans
of Australians in Europe.

Australians flood the popular tourist cities such as Venice, Munich, London and Paris - so why not go to a place where there is likely to be few of them? (I must admit, I empathise with them on this point.)

Once tourists are here, they have a whole heap to enjoy: educating themselves about the significant history of the city; experiencing a vastly different culture compared to home; wining and dining in restaurants serving up ridiculously-delicious food.

Mostar has also featured prominently in the travel plans of Aussies in recent times; so it is not just Sarajevo reaping all the rewards!

However, one must ask the question: If one of the key reasons for Australians visiting Bosnia-Herzegovina is to avoid other Aussie tourists - what happens when Sarajevo or Mostar also become one of the 'mainstream' European destinations?

I think that is a fair way off, but, with regard to the fledgling local economy, it would be a nice problem to have.

Hopefully, sometime in the future, Zenica will also become a city in the minds of travelling tourists!

Bujrum :-)

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

10,000 views! Thank you!

Hello everyone / Zdravo svima!

It is with great pride that I inform you that yesterday - after just 53 days of this blog going public - I ticked over the 10,000 views mark. In fact, it didn't just 'tick' over, it jogged past it! Currently we sit on 10,500 views.
I could not imagine this response after one year, let alone after a month-and-a-half.

I can't thank you enough ... and I hope you will remain a reader of this blog in the future; and that you will help me knock down more milestones as time passes! :)

Vidimo se!

Photo of the Day: Sarajevo

Thousands of Muslim pack into a mosque in Sarajevo last night to mark the Islamic evening of Laylatul-Qadr. (Source:

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Ramadan: 'Laylatul-Qadr'

Laylatul-Qadr, or the Night of Power, marks the evening
in which the Quran is said to have been revealed.
G'day everyone once again; or should that be 'Selam Alejkum' to some of you (for those who don't know, this is a popular greeting by Muslims around the world, meaning 'Peace be upon you').

Straight up, I won't waste your time here, and will just cut to the chase. I did not fast yesterday (Monday), and I am not fasting today.

Why not?

I could provide you with a number of reasons. Yes, reasons. They definitely could not be referred to as excuses, or anything.

Yesterday, myself and my partner wanted to visit some of her family members for coffee and a catch-up. This requires walking across to the other side of town and, realistically, do you think we can do that on a day which we are fasting? I am sure some have the ability to do so, but not myself, at least.

Heck, another reason, and a somewhat pathetic one at that, was I wanted to have a kick of the Sherrin footy outside yesterday for the first time in more than six months. Sweating it out with no food and water to rehydrate me? No, thanks.

A trip to the shopping centre today to buy some new clothes can also be added to that list.

So, why am I telling you all of this?

It is not to illustrate a sudden disrespect from my behalf towards Islam and Ramadan. It is, also, not to tell you that I have thrown the towel in the ring, and given up on this month of fasting.

I am telling you this because my reasoning for not fasting, finally, flicked a switch in my head to make me consider and further realise the relationship between the local Bosnian Muslim population and actually fasting.

As was the case with myself - in fact, it was probably the case right up until now - many people seem to assume that just about every single Muslim in the world is fasting during the month of Ramadan. If you know a Muslim who is not fasting, you probably have a preconceived thought that they are, therefore, considered a 'bad' Muslim, or that they are an odd one out-of-the-pack compared to the other Muslims who are fasting.

The truth is, at least here in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the majority of Muslims are not absolutely dedicated to their religion. True, there are a large number who attend the mosques during this holy month, and many people fast as much as they can, but there are just as many - if not more - people who I like to label as 'moderate' Muslims.

These people all identify themselves as Muslim, no question, although, many of them have their own reasons, perhaps similar to mine, for not fasting every day. Maybe some of them fast a few days here and there, or maybe some of them don't fast at all. Maybe some of them are not fasting, but they pray once-a-week. Not everyone is the same.

To be clear, I am not judging these people - I mean, how could I possibly judge anyone?

I am merely writing this as an observation, and to crush the myth held by some that Bosnia-Herzegovina is some sort of country which is filled with Muslims to its core.

In fact, an article released today by the 'Muslim Village' reveals that only 63% of Muslims worldwide actually pray five times a day; 93% are said to fast; while just 9% have completed the Hajj pilgrimage.

Recent figures from a study on the 'participation' levels
of Muslims around the world.
True, there are a large number of people who are fasting and praying regularly - even when it is not Ramadan - but I do not believe that this number is anywhere near as high as some in Australia, for example, would assume.

Dosta o ovome.

Nonetheless, moving on!

Now that I have got that out of the way, I need to write a little bit about tonight - a night that is a very special one in the Islamic calendar.

Tonight is Laylatul-Qadr (the Night of Power), and is easily the most special night, not just during Ramadan, but throughout the entire Islamic year. Its significance bare downs to the fact - among other reasons - that it is the same night the Quran was revealed.

So, how do Muslims mark or celebrate this occasion?

It is said that the Muslim who prays on the Night of Power is extremely fortunate. In fact, prayer throughout this night is said to be 'better than a thousand months'. A thousand months! This is equivalent to 83 years and 4 months. Therefore, whoever prays tonight will deserve the same blessings and reward for the period as if he or she had been praying for 83 years and 4 months consecutively.

Yep, you're probably thinking what I am thinking: There is going to be quite a crowd at each of the local mosques tonight!

I think I will be heading into Zenica's city centre to check it all out myself.

Heck, why not?

Speak soon, people!

Monday, 13 August 2012

Six-year-old child dies in mine explosion.

Mourners gather for the funeral of Tarik Bijelic, a
six-year-old boy killed by a landmine in east Bosnia
last Friday.
A six-year-old has died after a mine exploded near the Bosnian town of Olova on Friday.

The explosion, which occurred in a marked minefield, killed Tarik Bijelic instantly and seriously injured his father.

Local media reports state that the pair were out "collecting firewood" when the incident happened, with the father regularly risking his life by entering the minefield because "he had no job" and struggled to "provide for his family."

Since the conclusion of the Bosnian war 17 years ago, Bosnia's Mine Action Centre estimates unexploded war ordnance have killed or injured around 1,700 people, including 230 children.

You can take the boy out of Melbourne ...

Ramadan: Back on track!

Fasting during Ramadan encourages people
 to think more about those who go without
food because they have no choice.
I am very pleased to write to you today to inform you that I have finally progressed past my Ramadan 'dry patch'.

Stuck on six days of fasting for around a week-and-a-half, I managed to complete my seventh day of fasting yesterday (Sunday). Man, it feels good ... and already I feel a bit of weight off my shoulders!

Now, I sit half-way along the road to my projected goal of 14 days, meaning there is still quite a way to go.

However, as I have previously stated, the truth is this Ramadan experience is not all about myself and how I am coping with fasting. From the very beginning, I wanted to use this opportunity to discover more about this tradition from my anglo-Australian perspective, and to, hopefully, provide my followers back home with a greater understanding of everything compared to what they receive from the usual mainstream media.

With that said, I would like to iterate a strong point of Ramadan; one which I have failed to do thus far in my journey.

Many of you already know the key reasons behind Ramadan and fasting. For example, these reasons include demonstrating submission to God, and to cleanse one's soul of 'sins' they have previously committed.

Increasing the social awareness of people, however, is one fact which I have not yet made reference to. Straight to the point, fasting is supposed to raise citizens' awareness to the struggles of the poor. More particularly, the burning desire for food and water which a 'faster' experiences during the month of Ramadan is shown to be nothing compared to the daily - and often life-long - experiences of the poverty-stricken.

Personally, and speaking in a general sense, I believe that there needs to be more knowledge and care towards the socially-disadvantaged; so, regarding this aspect of Ramadan, and Islam in general, I believe it can only be a good thing.

Certainly, when my stomach began grumbling yesterday afternoon during my fast, my thoughts almost immediately turned to those who experience this terrible feeling on a daily basis, and to a far worse degree.

I don't mean to make a pun, but that is some food-for-thought for not only myself, but, perhaps, for all of you.

Cujemo se / Speak soon.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

My football experience: Celik Zenica - Velez Mostar

Celik players celebrate with supporters following their
impressive 2-0 victory over Velez Mostar.
(Source: / Jasmin Hadzic)
Yesterday, for the first time in almost five months, I had the fantastic opportunity to get along to a football match of my local team.

Coming off a brave draw away to Sarajevo last weekend, Celik Zenica played host to Velez Mostar at Zenica's Kamberovica Polje stadium. Celik's usual home ground, Bilino Polje, was out of action due to current relaying of the turf. 

The local Zenica side backed-up their good result in Sarajevo with a determined 2-0 victory over Velez; and I had a blast.

Here is a little review of the day:

Under the wing of my partner's brother for the afternoon, we met up with a number of his friends an hour or two before the match.

As kick-off approached, the atmosphere around the city began to rise. It reached fever-pitch when 200 or so chanting Celik lads - Robijasi - marched down the street next to us. At this time, around 45 minutes prior to kick-off, we followed them towards the stadium
Robijasi Zenica on their way to the stadium for the match against
Once we arrived outside the stadium, I was somewhat surprised to see no-one from Robijasi had entered inside. There must have been around 350 guys standing outside and, put simply, they didn't look like they were going to enter at all. 

August, 2012: Robijasi Zenica.
(Source: / Jasmin Hadzic)
Soon, I took a guess and assumed that this was some form of protest. Most likely, I gathered, it was for the sudden jump in ticket prices for this once-off match at Kamberovica Polje; although the usual entry fee for Celik matches is 2 KM, the price of a ticket for this fixture, for unexplained reasons, jumped to 6 KM.

It is interesting to note how actions on - or outside - football stadiums often mirror that of issues in wider society. Locals commonly complain, for example, of their government(s) and being ripped-off without reason or excuse.

With players from both sides warming-up on the pitch immediately prior to the match, the hundreds of Robijasi present begun to make their voice heard, and their opinions known.

Loud chants of, "Sack the board" echoed around the perimeter of the stadium, while the fans outside called their own players over to the fence, with some asking them not to play the match out of respect.

Finally, some common-sense prevailed, and the gates were opened up for the supporters . . . free-of-charge. Awesome!
August, 2012: Robijasi Zenica.
(Source: ZenicaBlog / Jasmin Hadzic)
So, with the match about to begin, hundreds of us hurriedly made our way through the standard security checks and positioned ourselves to one side of the grandstand.

For the next hour-and-a-half, I jumped and chanted my voice hoarse like I haven't done in years. Really. I was slightly afraid I would suffer a heart attack from the amount of exercise and effort I was putting in! (Yeah, I should probably ease up on those bureks and what-not..)

Although I didn't have the best position to view them with my own eyes, there seemed to be around 50 or more Velez fans who made the journey from Mostar. Somewhat peculiarly, however, they were escorted out of the stadium - and the city - with around 20 minutes remaining in the match - as a precautionary measure to avoid fan trouble, perhaps.
Celik players applaud their supporters following their
2-0 win over Velez Mostar.
(Source: ZenicaBlog / Jasmin Hadzic)
Nonetheless, they didn't miss out on much. Celik maintained their 2-0 lead over Velez to extend their unbeaten run to two matches, momentarily placing them at the top of the league's table. The happiness on the faces of both players and fans alike was obvious yesterday; four points from these first two matches is a very positive start to the season.

I am already looking ahead to the next fixture which I can make in a fortnight. To be honest, I really can't wait. I had such a great time yesterday (winning helps, though, of course).

It is amazing. I love football whether it's at Melbourne's 'Etihad Stadium' in front of tens of thousands, or in the parks of Zenica in front of one or two thousand. It is my love and my addiction, and I can't get enough of it.

Click here for highlights of Celik-Velez!

Naprijed Celik!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Come on, everyone!

Amazingly, the view-count for this blog has climbed by the thousands in the previous week.

Now, there remains just a few hundred until I reach the magical 10,000-mark.

Come on, people, help me reach this milestone!

Share my blog! :-)

Ramadan: Where am I at?

A number of Muslim women enjoy Iftar (dinner) together
during Ramadan. (Source:
Zdravo svima; Hello everyone.

As I haven't updated my Ramadan activities for a number of days, some of you are probably wondering my current Ramadan 'status', if you will.

So, this post is to very quickly update you on my lack of progress, again, this week.

Unfortunately, my headache and sore throat have persisted for a number of days, which meant that fasting was probably not the best idea anyway. Furthermore, as I stated in my previous post this morning, I was together in Sarajevo with a Melburnian friend of mine from Monday until yesterday.

As you may have noted from my last Ramadan entry prior to this one, the Quran outlines that those who are 'journeying' (read: travelling) are not expected to fast on those days. Therefore, I have a little bit more support on my side for not fasting whilst in Sarajevo.

Anyway, rather than harping on the negatives, I'm looking towards the future once again. I have ear-marked Sunday for my return to fasting. Regardless of my setbacks, reaching that fourteen-day milestone remains my primary goal, and I will not settle for anything less.

Also looking to the future - and stepping away from Ramadan for a moment - I shall be bringing you a number of new topics to this blog. Over the next couple of days, subjects will cover a broad area; from Australian tourists in Bosnia-Herzegovina, to the Islamic celebration of 'Bajram', as well as to plenty of other discussion areas.

I look forward to discussing these topics with you and, please, do not hesitate to provide your own opinion to any of the points raised.

I greatly value free speech, and it's always eye-opening to hear differing perspectives from people from all corners of the globe.

Enjoy and, if you won't be around to read my pieces, I hope you enjoy your weekend!

I'm alive, folks.

Ok guys, there is no need to send out the search parties just yet - I am alive. ;-)

In all seriousness, I've just been busy over the last few days catching up in Sarajevo with a good friend of mine.

I only returned to Zenica last night, so expect normal service to resume from today.

Apologies for not informing you all about my absence at the beginning of the week.

Hope you are all well! :-)

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Zenica; An introduction.

As you all should know by now, whether you read about me on the news or you are simply one of my friends, Zenica is the city which I currently call my 'home'.

Although most Bosnians would have some idea about the city, the same could not be said about the majority of my Australian readers.

So, I thought now is the perfect opportunity to inform my Aussie brethren a little about this small city nestled away in the mountains. Bosnians; feel free to correct me on any mistakes you think I made. Enjoy :)

Zenica in winter. (Source: ZenicaBlog)

O.K, where do we start?

Zenica is Bosnia and Herzegovina's fourth largest city, and is located just over an hour's drive from the nation's capital, Sarajevo. The Federal Office of Statistics estimates that the municipality's population is more than 127,000, with more than 85% of these inhabitants being Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims, for those who don't know).

Okay, there's the statistics for you, now for the real stuff ...

How do I pronounce it?
The pronunciation of Zenica has caused a lot of grief for many Aussies that I know, and this includes myself initially. Although many of you probably think the city is pronounced "Zen-i-cha", this is not the case. Rather, the correct pronunciation is "Zen-i-tsa". Pretty simple stuff once you learn it.
I hope that some of you will say it correctly the next time we talk!

What is the city famous for?
Undoubtedly, Zenica is most notably known for its massive industrial factories which produce steel. Therefore, to many people in this area of Europe, Zenica is known as 'Steel City'.
Zenica is well known for its steel production.
In fact, some of the sporting clubs in the city are named "Celik", which is the Bosnian word for 'steel'. (I'll go into more detail about the local football club a bit further down the page.)
However, having these large factories located right near the city does come at a price. Air pollution is rife, with sulphur dioxide (this aggravates asthma and sometimes causes bronchitis) levels sometimes reaching more than three times the European Union limit. Local residents are consistently demanding filters to be implemented in the plants so as to clear up the air; but it seems like not a whole lot is happening on that front.

How does the city go for sport?
Thankfully, as I am a Melburnian - the city which is said to be the world's sporting capital (though probably it's just us Melburnians who claim that) - Zenica is a city rich with sport; particularly when it comes to football.
Firstly, the Bosnia-Herzegovina national football team plays the majority of their matches at Bilino Polje - Zenica's largest football stadium with a capacity of more than 15,000.
Another side which calls Bilino Polje home is the local football club, Celik Zenica, which is, arguably, the pride of the city.
Celik, which is a 3-time national champion of Bosnia-Herzegovina, currently compete in the 'Premijer Liga', the highest football division in the country.
It has to be said that Zenica really bleeds for this football team. The club has one of the highest fan-bases in the nation; and the city itself is covered with wall murals dedicated to the club. 'Robijasi', which in English translates to 'convicts', is the name of the club's supporter group.
October, 2011: Myself and a local posing in front of one of the city's 
many murals devoted to the local football side.
The weirdest aspect to Zenica?
Ok, I have to be honest and say that there are a lot of strange things that I regularly witness in Zenica. While most of these have been normalised due to the frequency in which I see them, there remains one particular aspect which I still can't quite get my head around; the amount of stray dogs in this city.
I've mentioned this subject in a previous entry or two, but I must re-iterate the point: the amount of wild dogs in this city is crazy! Even after I first saw them last October, their sheer amount of numbers remains amazing to me. It really is out of control now, and although many residents have called for government action, once again, little seems to be happening.
Although I consider myself an animal lover - particularly when it comes to dogs - these canines are very unpredictable, and many of them can turn violent on you in a split second. Lately, it has been common to see them hunt in packs of ten or more. Many parents seem fearful to take their children outside late at night, when the dogs tend to become more vicious.
Once, several months ago, I went 'toe-to-toe' (or is that 'toe-to-paw'?) with a particular dog at the bottom of our building. There were no 'blows' exchanged, but an umbrella came in handy to scare the little bugger off. (I had to include this last anecdote in case my girlfriend or her mother read this. They were both present here, and they both seemed to find my 'fear' very amusing. Pff!)

Meanwhile ... the best aspect(s)?
For me, it has to be the people. True, you may meet some 'bad eggs' from time to time, but that is the case with any large society which you interact with. For the most part, the people I have met have been extremely welcoming and friendly. Despite the fact you are a stranger and completely unknown to them, people will open their doors and their arms to you to make you feel welcome.
When you arrive in a world that is almost completely alien to you, it makes settling in just that little bit easier.

Also a nice - and recent - addition to the city is the Zenica Shopping Centar, a very modern shopping complex which contains a variety of cafes and retail outlets, amongst other things.

Zenica Shopping Centar. (Source: ZenicaBlog)
Where can one stay if they wish to visit Zenica?
Hotel Dubrovnik in Zenica.
Undoubtedly, the three best options for accomodation in Zenica are Hotel Dubrovnik, Hotel Zenica and Hotel Internacional. Hotels Dubrovnik and Zenica are more recent and modern buildings, and therefore rather expensive, though if you have a tight budget, you can snare a room at Hotel Internacional for around 30 Euros (or less, depending on your bargaining skills).

The links for each of the hotels are here:

A final note?
Yes, yes, I have one.
Here is a song, which, in fact, I discovered from an Australian friend of mine.
The song, titled 'Zenica Blues', is from the ex-Yugoslav rock band 'Zabranjeno Pusenje' (in English that means 'Smoking Forbidden') - though they originated from Sarajevo rather than Zenica.
Nonetheless, a great song that I am a rather big fan of (even if I don't really know the words!).

I will leave you on this note.
Ciao people, and I hope that now you know just that little bit more about this sometimes-forgotten Bosnian city! Pozdravi iz Zenice!