Tucked between hills, in a landscape resembling a West Virginia “holler,” the Bosnian city of Srebrenica has a painful past. It serves as an example of how a single cultural trait, ethnicity or religion, can separate people who otherwise practice identical lifestyle, share common history and ancestors, and compete over who makes the best home-made plum brandy.
A common theme that accelerates local-level atrocities in the Balkans region during turbulent times, and drives people to hurt their neighbors, is a fear of (a) becoming a minority group in numerical terms, and (b) shrinking living space; that is, a fear of loss of dominance over territory. This fear is a part of a seemingly-perpetual cycle marked with wars and interwar periods. It is almost engraved in the Balkan peoples’ collective memory to always expect something negative (see a Nobel Prize for literature winning title The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric).
Despite all this, the reality dictates that people from different groups together interact, work, love, worship, and reside in the same areas as they have done for centuries. Everyone benefits from emphasizing similarities instead of focusing on differences. A mosque and a church standing next to each other, as I recorded during my brief time in Srebrenica, are hopefully going to be symbols of togetherness there and the rest of the Balkans for future generations, regardless of the amount of pain locked in the current generation’s collective memory.