Central Europe Review find out about advertising in CER
Vol 3, No 25
10 September 2001
front page 
our awards 
CER cited 
jobs at CER 
CER Direct 
e-mail us 
year 2000 
year 1999 
by subject 
by author 
EU Focus 
music shop 
video store 
find books 


Which way to go? Next Stop, Bosnia-

More than five years after Dayton, a Sarajevan tour-guide and part-time poet offers a glimpse of the country he sees.
Beth Kampschror

War tourists have been coming to Bosnia-Hercegovina to gawk at ruins and to make macabre visits to massacre sites since the war ended in late 1995. In 2000, Sarajevan Zijad Jusufović was the first person in Bosnia to receive a license as a private tour guide.

Among the more startling attractions featured in his brochure are the "Mission Impossible" tour of Sarajevo and an excursion to the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica. The first promises visits to former frontline areas and the site of the marketplace massacre. The latter is considered the site of the most horrific atrocities of the war—Bosnian Serb forces overran the town in July 1995 and executed an estimated 8000 Muslims.

Some could call Jusufović a war profiteer or worse, but in talking to him one can see that there's more to him than that. He writes poetry for himself and has an encyclopedic knowledge of Bosnia's history and culture, and even takes those interested on "non-gruesome" walking tours. Jusufović talks to CER about his job, history and whether anyone owns it and the problems encountered when starting a business in a country ruled by cronyism and the seemingly never-ending, senseless bureaucracy.

Tell me what you want to see and I will show you

Zijad Jusufović: I have looked into my soul and asked why I earn money thanks to the suffering of my people. To show foreigners how we were wounded and how we died. Everyone thinks it's too early to talk about war, about massacres. I'm talking about facts—I never blame anyone. If you ask me who [dropped a bomb on the Sarajevo marketplace], I say, I don't know, I wasn't there.

For DEM 500 (about USD 250), Jusufović recently took a French man to take a look at the family house of Radovan Karadžić, the most-wanted war crimes suspect in the Balkans. Karadžić was the wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs and has technically been in hiding since 1996. The infamous house is in Pale, a town about 25 kilometers from Sarajevo and was considered the center of Serb power during the war. "I'm Muslim, so it wasn't easy for me to go up to Pale and ask people where the house was, but I did it," he said. But he said that wasn't the most bizarre thing he's done in the line of duty.

A foreigner wanted that I make a photo wearing a Chetnik suit, and I have done it. The next one is in Srebrenica, I asked some Serbs in Srebrenica in the stadium [one of the places where Muslims were executed], I saw pieces of clothes in the corner. I asked them, "Why you killed 7000 people?" If you ask that question in Srebrenica, you can either die or you can have many troubles. They answered, "They deserved to die." I said, "Children and women too?" They said, "All of them are ugly, stupid Muslims and this place belonged to Serbs." OK, this is democracy. You can say what you want. But where is the soul? But again, I don't hate anybody. During the war I died ten times and I survived.

Romeo and Juliet stories

All the bridges that cross the Miljacka River that runs through Sarajevo have names. Some of the names have changed because of the war. The former Brotherhood and Unity Bridge is now called the Romeo and Juliet Bridge, and Jusufovićc told me why as we walked along the river. The story goes something like this:

When the war began, a Serb girl and her family left Sarajevo on one of the flights evacuating people out of the city. She left her Muslim boyfriend behind. But she couldn't stand to be away from him, so she came back to Sarajevo to see him.

At another bridge that then was on the frontline, the Serb soldiers inspected her bag of gifts that she'd brought for her boyfriend. It was all food—mostly meat and other things that were almost impossible to get in wartime Sarajevo. But what the soldiers didn't find was the machine gun she'd brought with her. She crossed into the city, found her boyfriend and stayed. She joined the Bosnian Army, and for about two months they were very happy. Tragically, they died together in a firefight near the Brotherhood and Unity Bridge, which has since been re-named after their story.

Jusufović has his own Romeo and Juliet story. Right after the war he was in love with a woman from Belgrade, but because there were no diplomatic relations between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Sarajevo officials told him it would be impossible for him and his girlfriend to get married in the municipality. He said he wanted to pursue it and stir-up trouble because he figured it was a basic human right to marry anyone he wanted in his home municipality.

The two never married, and Jusufović said the woman now lives in Los Angeles. The affair was famous enough that a recent Slobodna Bosna magazine profile of Jusufović's guide business opened with this story. He said his troubles with officials began right then and have continued to this day. Some of the troubles deal with history.

Historiography for the masses

Jusufović pointed out that right now nothing marks Sarajevo's most famous spot, where the young Gavrilo Princip started the First World War by shooting the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Both monuments that once stood on what is now called Princip's Bridge have been taken away—one for Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, and one with Princip's footprints marking the shooting. Commemorating the events that happened here didn't suit later authorities. Jusufović is among those talking to the new officials elected last year to reinstate the monuments.

After all my fights against the government and national parties, they don't like me too much. They wanted me to present history they way they see it. They wanted that I be an ass kisser, and say yes chief, yes chief. In the 1980s there was always a police officer following the tour and recording. The poet in me wants to leave a trace after I die, and I will do it. This was one of the top ten events of the 20th century, and there's nothing there. No one knows the history of Gavrilo Princip, for example. No one [here] cares about history. They lost five or six years of their lives and now they want to live very fast.

A business is born

Jusufović worked as an English-language tour guide before the war, and worked with NATO forces immediately after the war. But he said that he didn't want to feel like a "robot" anymore. He started writing poetry and wrangled himself a job with the Sarajevo Canton Tourist Association. He worked himself up to be in charge of accommodation for the July 1999 Stability Pact Summit in Sarajevo, and organized a few projects to educate tourist workers with funds from the European Commission (EC). Butting heads with his boss at the association is what ultimately led him to go into business for himself, he said.

We were supposed to have a 500-seat hall for 250 pupils and some agencies or hotels to send people. But my manager found an 80-seat hall. 150 people had to stand and take notes during the seminar which was three or four hours. One girl who was not well already fell down [fainted] during the seminar.

I became a poet again in that moment. I told my manager, the next time it must be a big hall, enough space for everyone or I will leave. He said, "Fuck them all—everything is free so who cares if they are satisfied." And I left the job. I left a good salary. I lost everything because of an unknown girl who fell down. Three days later I registered as a tourist guide and I became competition for them. The manager is working now with a few personal friends and family, who were abroad during the war and don't know anything.

Today, Jusufović is in business for himself, complete with office equipment from another EC project. He said he does tours once or twice a week. But it wasn't so easy to start the business. Bosnia is notorious for being a difficult country to legally do business. Jusufović said he had to have papers from the Muslim-Croat Federation government, the Sarajevo Canton government, and finally the government of his local municipality. In the best-case scenario, starting any business in Bosnia can take weeks—and in worst-case predicaments it can linger on for months.

Send this article to a friend

I had many troubles. Everyone was surprised when I asked permission. It was the first time anyone asked for something like that. I had to take an exam—history, cultural monuments and power structures, the system. Right now [the system] is something between Communism and a new system.

I passed the exam in 1988, but under the new law I had to pass again. After you pass the exam you feel happy, but you also feel that it's useless, and stupid, and that maybe it would be better to get a job with an international organization and make 2000 [German] marks every month. But somebody must do this job professionally; somebody must teach—this is a stupid word—the new generations.

We walked past the Arts Academy, a golden-colored domed building on the Miljacka River. "Do you know what this building used to be?" he asked. "A church," I said. "What sort of church?" he asked. "I don't know," I said.

"A Protestant church," he said. "When the Austrians were here, Sarajevo was the only city in the world after Jerusalem to have the buildings of five religions so close together." [Sarajevo is now the only city in the world after Jerusalem to have the buildings of four religions within a few hundred meters of one another.]

Many people in Sarajevo, especially those who are educated and speak foreign languages, want to leave because they see the current chaotic system and very bad economic situation as hopeless. But Jusufović said he never wants to leave. One of his poems addresses his feelings about this city in the valley, which he is now showing to the outside world.

Friend, guard Sarajevo as you would your own eyes.

Anyplace else you go is not yours.

Many have wanted to take Sarajevo.

But only the Miljacka divides it.

Beth Kampschror, 10 September 2001

Moving on:


Vladimir Gligorov
Dealing with Macedonia

Sam Vaknin
Bulgaria's Future

Beth Kampschror
War Tourism

Andrew James Horton
Contemporary Polish Art

Rob Stout
The Hitler Virus

Štěpán Kotrba
Sow and Reap

Brian J Požun
Shedding the Balkan Skin

Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Oil Scandal

Sam Vaknin
After the Rain

CER eBookclub Members enter here