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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

First Year in Bosnia, Aftermath

I know that I know nothing -- Socrates, Greek philosopher
It's now roughly one year already that I'm living in Banja Luka and I'm amazed by all the various people I met and the interesting impressions and habits I was exposed to. So, just about getting time to sum them up, right?

I learned that Serbian orthodox people celebrate Slava on the day their ancestors accepted Christianity, and Christmas and other Christian feasts according to the Julian calendar, normally around two weeks after Catholics. They would typically attend funerals also of the parents of friends and colleagues from work, in order to share their grief - something fairly uncommon in Austria.

Furthermore, I was surprised to hear that school classes are typically held in shifts, that is, one week you attend school from morning till around noon, and the next week you have afternoon classes only. Apparently, this is mainly due to shortage in rooms in schools.

Probably most remarkable for me, I feel that people are generally much more flexible here than in Austria. (Of course, such generalizations are kind of stupid, but I don't claim I'm providing any scientific proof and just talking about my personal impressions. Ha, on the safe side now!) Austrians tend to (over-) plan and organize, think several weeks in advance, just to be surprised that in the meantime circumstances changed and therefore their entire plan needs to be adjusted. Not so here, though ... it will be fine, that way or the other, so why bother thinking and struggling today?

That flexibility also applies when it comes to appointments. Yes, maybe you agreed to meet somewhere at a certain time, but there are so many things that might arise between agreeing and actually meeting, so it's fairly possible that you just re-arrange five minutes before that.

Flexibility sometimes also manifests as simply not caring too much. Why ride your motorbike with a helmet and registration blades? After all, that's just a stupid regulation from police, and until they notice that you are driving without helmet, you have passed already anyway, and of course, they will not run after you.

Overall, I thought that I had gotten a fairly well feeling for the mindset of people around here, but just last Friday my naïvety hit me again.

On Monday, November 21st, there was the 16th anniversary of the Dayton Agreement. Since that represents the end of the Bosnian War, you might assume that both Serbs, Croats and Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina consider that worth celebrating, right? But far from it! It's only a national holiday in the Republika Srpska, the Serbian-dominated entity. People in the Federation celebrate on November 25th, the Statehood Day of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Naturally, that is not recognized by the RS.

How can I still be surprised about this?

My impression is that, particularly when it comes to issues related to the war, my understanding is still quite poor.
Furthermore, when it comes to (not) doing business and working habits, I think that in various regards it's evident that I, a child raised in a capitalist country, simply lack the understanding of what drives people with a communist background.

Concluding, I would say that I met lots of interesting and nice people, and that I'm happy to watch my (not-so-) new environment with the curiosity of a child and having learned a few things already. At the same time, I know that I know nothing.

P.S.: In case you are enjoying already but don't yet value some of the freedoms granted to you by being part of the EU (as was the case for me), feel invited to visit me and experience being short of them. No visa regulations (that is, freedom of movement)? No need to pay customs on the border, or think about it at all when ordering something online (that is, freedom of goods)? Of course, I don't say these advantages come without prize and EU is purely a supercool thing but some of the key advantages became that natural for us already, so it is good to keep it in mind they are not yet for many others.

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