Against the backdrop of the Dutch EU Council presidency, OneWorld.nl has sent Reinier Vriend on a mission to identify the everyday European values and concerns. In the interview series #ThisIsMyEurope he speaks with colourful individuals in and of the continent, trying to find out what ‘Europe’ means to us. This week he meets director Zulfikar in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
“In some ways, Europe doesn’t immediately mean anything to me. I could define it as a landmass in which I was born, a place where I feel at home, but also a culture I participate in. It is nothing and everything for me at the same time.”
Zulfikar Filandra (26) works as film and theatre director. We meet in ‘Balkan Express’, a smoky bar in Sarajevo, named after the mythical train that used to cross the south-eastern corner of the continent. Zulfikar currently works as assistant director of the play What is Europe? by András Urbán. It’s a critical piece, played by Bosnian actors who explore the European identity of the former Yugoslavian countries.
Currently it seems to be a mainstream idea that Islam is un-European. But then, in the case of Bosnia that would be discarding some five hundred years of history of European Islam
I ask him how Bosnia fits into this story. “People here struggle to answer that question. It is interesting that many people here share the dilemma of whether they are European or not. It seems that simply existing on the European continent alongside other European nations is not enough.” Zulfikar feels that the country's islamic traditions might have something to do with that. “Currently it seems to be a mainstream idea that Islam is un-European. But then, in the case of Bosnia that would be discarding some five hundred years of history of European Islam. Here we feel, and I feel personally, that both the European and Muslim identity are complementary.”
Another issue is the relationship between Europe and the EU. “Here, the obstacle for European identification is that Bosnia is not an EU member country and it seems that “Europe” equals EU. This cannot be ignored, it influences movement, work. As a Bosnian I cannot even go to the UK without a visa. It restricts me, and like any other Bosnian it makes me wonder how much I can get from this continent. It is my continent, yes, but how many of the opportunities that exist for ordinary citizens of Europe are accessible to me?”
With the exception comes a certain pride. “So if we're not European, then what are we? There is this “Balkan identity”. Are we barbaric? Compared to the EU we would claim with a certain pride that we are. We would defend the idea that we are more relaxed, loose maybe even, towards institutions and legal systems. Is this good? I would say: definitely not. But it is indicative of how things aren't equal on this continent.”
It is a sauce that we have and the EU lacks. It's a certain inner fire, spirit, spice
Zulfikar sees it as a defence mechanism that springs from an inferiority complex “'We would believe that we are somehow better than the EU. An expression that describes this is saft, meaning sauce. It is a sauce that we have and the EU lacks. It's a certain inner fire, spirit, spice. The idea that life is richer here and tastes better. Bosnians like to believe that our friendships are more real, that we're more compassionate than the “the West”. That we're more visceral, essential, that we have there is this something that's more real with a capital R. It is probably untrue, but what is interesting is why people here think that.”
The basis for it is contradictory. “So at the same time, Bosnians tend to believe that we're not worth being part of that Europe. Our recent EU application is in conflict with a popular idea that if we would be able to be part of Europe, it must be lousy or ineffectual or meaningless after all. Again, it shows how low we think of ourselves.”
However, Zulfikar thinks that Europe's future, will depend on a deepening struggle between the rich and poor, not nations against nations. “When those riots were taking place in London in 2011, I was living in Dublin, Ireland. I lived in a part of the city populated by people from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and I somehow could solidarize with the protestors. I remember I felt that the message to people from these backgrounds was that on paper we are all equal, but it seems that for success in Europe you have to be white and communicate with a Christian tradition. We shouldn’t neglect Europe’s colonial past and the anger it still fuels.”
It seems that for success in Europe you have to be white and communicate with a Christian tradition
Zulfikar reflects on Bosnia's 2014 reform protests. “I was there on that first day. It was a moment of violence, a realization of frustration. It really felt extremely important at that moment, just as today it feels somehow extremely unimportant. Where is it today?” But Zulfikar sees ways in which people are resisting that are generally not included in Bosnia's current self-conception. “These negative self-representations are only the mainstream perspectives. I believe they are deliberately pessimistic. In fact, I see many great young people in culture, business and IT, working hard and achieving great results. Our future belongs to them.” After short pause: “No really, things are good.”