Like a flock of migratory birds, Bosnians all over the world look forward to summer time with great yearning. It means the smell of cevapi and lamb over coals, the sight of family and friends that were only available over phone and computer monitors for most of the year, and the sounds of the mosque’s call to prayer mingled with church bells. It means the sight of ancient stone bridges, rolling green landscapes and roaring waterfalls breaking the silence of the day. It means a return home. It means a return to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This return has become much of a tradition for most Bosnian families, who save money throughout the year, and during the summer months, spend a great deal of it traveling sometimes thousands of miles just to recharge their “sevdah,” batteries. Even though a lot of Bosnians emigrated away from the country during war in the 1990s, the connection to the homeland still hasn’t been completely lost, despite the distance and cultural assimilation of their new host nations. Sometimes it can be a funny sight – Bosnians gathered from all over the world in a single place, often communicating in part in different languages. You would swear it was a mixture of European, American and Australian tourists, and not true Bosnians.
The older generation, that were adults during the conflict, have a profound and strong connection to Bosnia. There is no disputing that. This takes the form of either memories, of their childhood and younger days, or the very real presence of their family, waiting for them for the yearly return. However, for some of the younger generation of Bosnians living in the diaspora the trip has become more of a touristic style excursion that allows them freedom and a taste of a European youth lifestyle over the summer.
Unfortunately, a common phenomenon with diaspora populations is that the younger generations, particularly those born in the host nation, lose the ability to speak the native tongue, the language of their ancestors. Bosnians have not escaped this reality. This is unfortunate, but what is perhaps even more worrying is that they lose any sort of profound connection or emotional attachment to the country of their parents or grandparents.
This hasn’t just been a personal observation, but one of objective and neutral observers I’ve come across. For example, one of my physicians that routinely treats Bosnian patients told me, “The Bosnians are a great people. Honest and hardworking. But you have two main problems in this country. First, the smoking issue, and second, the fact that your children are losing their language and their identity.”
The smoking issue, I won’t touch, because of the risk of becoming persona non grata among my fellow Bosnians. While some might argue that something like this is bound to happen and completely natural as part of the assimilation process, it can also be a dangerous precedent. One of the most endearing American attributes I’ve encountered living in the U.S. is cultural pride without nationalistic or even overtly patriotic overtones. You see this in the way of Italian-American neighborhoods and restaurants for example, or Irish-American celebrations like St. Patrick’s Day. Even though most native-born Americans are obviously assimilated, they still have some form of connection to their heritage and ancestral background.
For the Bosnian youth – there is very little in terms of community support and heritage preservation. Of course there are exceptions, such as the St. Louis community and others like it across the U.S., but for the vast majority, they are on islands of exclusion and thereby on highways towards assimilation and cultural loss. As a biased football fan, I do have to say that the Bosnian national football team has done a tremendous job of keeping a patriotic fire lit in the Bosnian community across the world, which has seeped its way down to the very young. Bastions of cultural pride like this will always be important. However, nothing can replace the actual experience.
This is why it’s so important that the traditional trip to Bosnia remains perennial. Not just because of the revenue that streams into the country as a result of the cash injection to local businesses and private individuals, but for the sake of the younger generations of Bosnians all over the world. Even if the language is lost in whole or in part, the memory of the country lasts a lifetime and people that travel to a particular place, are more likely to bring their own kids, and so forth. Of course, not everyone can afford a yearly trip, but a trip every once in a while is vital. Nothing can replace actually witnessing the natural beauty of the country, the historic sights, and tasting the cuisine.
And so, in short, long live our yearly returns home, no matter where your actual home may be.