Arman Bešlija – Goražde: “Being on the right side of history matters. If you are afraid of telling the truth, we should not live here. Let’s all pack up and go”

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Hana:

While I was inquiring about interesting people in Goražde, the name Arman Bešlija popped up several times, so I had a really great wish to talk to him when I come to that town. I was lucky to be able to reach him, and he had time to meet with me. When I wondered, as every time on the occasion of such meetings, how I would recognize the person I am supposed to see, without knowing him, except from his Facebook profile photo, people who knew him told me – it would be easy to recognize him, he has a beard and a smile is always plastered on his face.

And that turned out to be true. Arman has this very peculiar positive energy, even when he talks about problems, solving them always looks very easy.

He told me about the Youth Cultural Association and about the Goražde Youth Theater, which is one of the most successful clubs within the association. It exists since 2012, and so far they had 9 opening nights, and their performances often needed to be replayed. At the moment, the play „Last Unemployed 2“ is currently on the programme, and according to his stories, and judging by reactions of those who had seen it, it seems to be a very interesting piece. In addition to the Youth Theater, the Rock School is another of their activities. Arman’s thoughts and views were really of a great interest for me, and I believe that many will find this interview as inspiring as I did.

Arman Bešlija:

We strove to make our theater really socially involved. We try to develop topics that concern the problems in the community. We come together, discuss what we want to do, and through an easy improvization we gradually embark on this entire journey all together, and we create a play. The entire Youth Theater company, as a group, does directing, screenplay-writing and everything else.

How many are you?

We are 30 regulars. That is exactly why we do not travel often, because it is really difficult to pay for the bus. One must find funding for that purpose. We give visually very distinct performances and we bring a lot of props. See, for the „Last Unemployed 2“, how am I supposed to bring a concrete mixer with us?

We are regularly sold out. We always have a good feeling, because we work a lot. And it is impossible that people would not come if you poured your heart and soul into something, and when you bring together a lot of people, and when the town is always abuzz that something new would be happening, people get interested. And people always show up, to show respect for our work, so, evidently, theater has a future in this town. Only, these young people need to be supported, those who have their creative ways to attract people, and to do that in a manner of simply „Let me take the money and get out,“ but we really invest all funds into the projects which we win as the Theater. We buy some equipment for the Cultural Center – a mixer, floodlights, the works…, a projector… because we want to leave something lasting behind us and for the coming generation tomorrow, who will also benefit.

The Rock School?

The Rock School has existed for a year and a half to two years. And this also we got rolling step by step – here we were given use of some office space, now let’s get them furnished. How can we best do it – we bring the youth together, to show im things, to practice a little, play a little, and then, through concert and various activities, we attract attention of the powers that be and sponsors, and eventually we can furnish the premises.

So you already played gigs?

Always in the summer we have our own festival, „Elza fest“, an alternative one. This year we even managed to bring guests from five countries – from Palestine, Tunisia, Germany, Belgium, and France, and we spent 10 days together. We held music workshops, theater performances together, and we do something like that every year. During the winter period we always give humanitarian concerts, while in the summer we take part in the Friendship Festival, in various motocycle gatherings etc.

How do you manage to bring together so many young people, evidently it is not really true that young people here are apathetic.

In reality, young people are quite keen, but it is not organized properly. Enough with volunteering. Take me, I am fortunate that I have a job, so I can do all this – I leave work at 5pm, have something to eat, and then I turn to this, and my friends too. But, if I did not have a job, if I were doing this as a volunteer for the past 5-6 years, I am not so sure that this would still be so high-minded. While your parents told you daily, „What are you doing, it is all well and nice, but you must start your own life and earn your own living.“ That is what I hold against the powers that be. Everyone is patting us on the back, they realized that all this is great, it is useful, but no one is saying, „OK, we have the Cultural Center, let’s establish within it a theater and employ two people to manage it.“ To ensure continuity, to improve quality.

What is it that drives you to be so active?

What drives me is that I hate injustice. I am in reality an introvert, but I learnt how to be, and how to act in my environment, as an extrovert. When I detect passivity, it always awakens in me some leadership instinct, something that’s hidden inside me and I always say, „Never mind, I’ll do it.“ It is always – I’ll do it, if no one else will – I will, and then that „I will“, allowed me to have a good job, to have flexible working hours, to be closely linked with the community and to work in the community a lot, so that it does not take away from the work with the youth in the community.

And really, my recommendation is – everyone, don’t be afraid to make an effort, no work should be despised. You will develop stronger working habits, take me, I am never afraid that I will not have a job. I know that I am not afraid of work and that I will always be able to work and that someone will always recognize that, since, next to those 100 idlers, someone who does the work will always have a job and must have a job.

Since you spend so much time with young people – young people increasingly want to leave BiH. Do you have a recipe how to keep them here and have you ever thought about leaving?

I thought about leaving a hundred times, but I always say to the politicians here, when they start criticizing, „Why are you talking to me?“, I always say, „I came back. I can leave, I had a chance to leave.“ I got my degree in Sarajevo, and here I came back to serve this community, to serve society and to make it better. So I am unafraid even from that angle, because I came back with pure motives, to do what is necessary, to work in my town and in my community.

As I said, I thought about leaving a hundred times, particularly when I find myself in a situation that you work so hard and make such an effort, you do not get a salary from them, and you are doing their job. You are doing the work of someone who was appointed and his job description includes working with young people and all this, and I do it on a volunteer basis, basically I give him his paycheck. And a hundred times when I found myself in such a situation, I either got ingratitude, or I would be attacked, and would have no support. But, I keep saying – I remain exactly because of these young people. Because I want to teach them something better, that there is something better, to develop critical thinking, that it is not all about school, home, coffee. Instead, let’s have a coffee together at the theater. To break such habits that it is important exactly when you have your coffee. Instead, let’s do something together. People are making me stay, those young people, and my desire to do right by them, to help them leave their mark.

Let me also touch upon this latest play, „the Last Unemployed Person“ – what was the point? I read that, in a way, you wanted to change this image that Goražde is a town without unemployment?

Well, it was. In the first part, because there were two parts, when we did the first part of the „Last Unemployed Person“, it was after we read a satirical piece on the portal, which in a satirical manner treated this state of no unemployment. How there was this one person, this last unemployed person, who is subjected to all sorts of torments – the man does not want to work. He simply does not want, but everyone is pressuring him, here the Mayor wants to help, there the Prime Minister is trying to get him a job, then businesspeople, all in this satirical fashion.

Since that was exactly the time when Goražde was hit by a tide of various media manipulations, paid programming, and media reports how Goražde was really prosperous… Not that they said that there was no unemployment, but it was so overblown that, when you live here as a young person and think about it, „How come, and this friend of mine has no job, that friend has no job, this is wrong,“ and a thousand things like this. So that drove us, that lie.

We are living a lie. I much prefer when we simply list all the failings and problems we are facing, and then start addressing them. It is easy to say – we have our beautiful Drina River, that is always true. We have natural resources, that is also always true, but there is nothing else. Instead, we should say that we have a concrete problem and we all should pitch in to solve it. So, in a satirical manner, in the first part we showed how everyone tried to find the job for the sole unemployed person, and that single person – he left. He left, saying, „I cannot stay here, you are making me be something I’m not, I am under pressure from all sides.“

And for the second part, we covered everything that is all over town, everything that is known about the political scene, but no one dares to say it out loud. From falsified university degrees of some ministers, to how we are exaggerating some investments, foreign donors from Turkey, to how good people, who are producing results, are removed from their jobs with a single phone call…

The Center for Social Work?

Yes, the Center for Social Work. People who are doing a great job, how little it means to others who are always out having coffee, lunch, even here, in this same hotel where we are now, they are always here.

I wanted to address it with the young people who work with me – at one point they seemed to have concerns. Something along the lines of, „Wow, what can we do, we heard this, we heard that…“

I told them, „Don’t irritate me. If you are afraid to tell the truth, then we shouldn’t live here. Let us all leave, if you are afraid to say – it is wrong that you stole 1 million KM, it is wrong that you removed the guy who helped 1000 families, while in 10 previous mandates all the managers did not do half of what he achieved in six months. If we are afraid to say that, then I will be the first to pack up my stuff and leave. Be brave! Speak out. Be on the right side of history. Because, tomorrow, when all this is summed up, when we, God willing, achieve prosperity, then others will say how we were on the right side and stood up to injustice.“

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