In a region that was affected by two major wars spread roughly 50 years apart–the Second World War and the Bosnian War–the village of Baljvine has remained peaceful despite being home to two nationalities that were otherwise extremely destructive toward one another at these times.
The village consists of both Bosniaks and Serbians, two ethnically similar identities who inhabit different areas of the village. The Serbs make up the village’s northern population, while the Bosniaks make up the southern section’s population. The people of Baljvine are proud to say they saved one another from war in their home town, “when fighters from the two ethnic groups were killing each other” close by.
As the story goes, at the outbreak of the Second World War, representatives from each section of the town, Lazar Tesanović from the Serbian and Rasim Zahirović from the Bosniak end, met up and made an agreement; “if you look after us, we’ll look after you.” Extremely simple, yet extremely effective.
This principle became the glue that kept the villagers together through the later Bosnian War that saw so much destruction between Bosniaks and Serbs throughout the rest of the region.
If the principle can work for Baljvine, it can work in other places too.
One of the oldest people living there, Śefko Ćaušević, gave an exclusive interview to TV Justice Magazine, saying the people of the village are very communicative, loving and respectful of everyone, whether they be of one religion or another. He is proud, and grateful that everyone in the village helped one another as much as they could, keeping good relations throughout turbulent times.
Examples of this selfless care for one another are Miroslav Tešanović and Nedo Koljević.
Tešanović, the only owner of a cordless telephone in the village, lets anyone make phone calls from it without charge, paying for it himself. Koljević, the owner of an electric mill, let anyone in the village who needed to grind their wheat use it freely. One man, who had nothing to his name but had 12 mouths to feed in his family, received a bag of ground grains weekly by villagers who were better off than he. The man who brought them to him said,
“I cannot watch them die of hunger while we have [food]. When we have nothing – we will all die together…In the village you have to push yourself to act in order to not be hungry”.
In terms of jobs, there aren’t many to go around. The villagers are generally without work, and some make a living from owning cows or sheep–producing milk, selling livestock, etc. Some can find miscellaneous work in the countryside but for the most part, are not employed, and spend their time visiting one another, hanging out together and living closely. Families help one another, and the culture very much encourages working together for the prosperity of the family and community as opposed to individualistic principles of working on your own for your own prosperity as we see so much in western society.
While this lifestyle is not applicable to every circumstance, and the western way of life doesn’t ensure our closeness to our neighbours the way village life does, there is a lot to learn from the respect these villagers have for one another despite the hate that was being propagated everywhere else throughout the region. By choosing to stick together rather than allow external influences to change their relationships, Baljvine’s inhabitants avoided causing further hatred down the track, as one man put it:
“Personally, I am proud of my neighbours, knowing that tomorrow I can pass through their village, with a clean cheek, having no one telling me ‘you killed this man, you killed that man.’, and that anyone can come to my front door and not have these objections [about me]…”
The principles behind agreeing to look after one another can be translated to international treaties or agreements, where countries may agree to look after one another internally, and protect each other from falling prey to propaganda and hatred through building and sustaining trust between each other. This kind of idea can be seen in international organisations such as the United Nations and numerous treaties that have come about through the growing International awareness for the need of peace. It is examples like Baljvine that the international community needs to look to, to try and replicate it on a larger scale. Rejection of conflict is a preventative means to end war, as well as a prevention of the call for ‘humanitarian’ intervention that so often worsens conflicts and results in further destruction.
Simply saying no to war, and not allowing propaganda and the too-often occurring domino affect of hate speech to cloud our judgement, is a powerful tool against succumbing to war – if only we choose to use it.
Perhaps it seems idealistic, but it worked for Baljvine.