Lejla Bečar – Visoko: In love with archaeology. She could only bear to leave BiH briefly, and only for professional training.



Lejla Bečar lives in Visoko, she is archaeologist by profession, currently serving as a volunteer in the BiH National Museum. She is actively involved in the work of several non-governmental organizations and in multiple projects, of which she likes to make a particular note of the restoration of the St. Procopius, a BiH national monument located in Visoko. For the moment, she is mostly foused on the organization of the Researchers’ Night in Sarajevo, in cooperation with Oxfam, and on the organization of the Many Man Festival in Visoko.

I first asked her about the St. Procopius Church

Lejla Bečar:

Since the war, the church has been in a rather bleak condition. In essence, the rectory, right beside the church, is in the worst condition, and that is the major problem, because if there is no rectory, we cannot have a priest who would live here and bring this community together.

It was declared a national monument in 2004. It is peculiar that, in addition to the building itself, its collection of icons has also been declared a national monument. Three most valuable icons are kept at the Serb Orthodox Church Museum in Sarajevo. But even the remaining icons are of exceptional value. For instance, one dates from the 15th century.

In general, the church is also in a somewhat poor condition, let’s admit that… Structurally, it is sound, its stability has not been compromised. But, take the frescoes inside, and all the interior components, they are really dilapidated. There were some attempts at restoration after the war, the Greeks restored the building’s front in 1998. But even that front is now falling appart. No wonder, since that was done in 1998.

After that, there was little interest, both in the local community nor among the people who were supposed to be in charge of the church. I tried to connect with the people supposed to do maintenance of the church, but it was rather difficult. Because, in essence, there was the brilliant uncle Novica, who is 88 and who does maintenance of the church. Not long ago, the new Orthodox priest Miljan Rađenović arrived, and at the time I was working in the Visoko Town Museum and I asked the Museum’s manager at the time to try to do something. We reached out to him and found that he was very interested. So everything that goes on now is mostly because of him, because he showed so much willingness. So then I am mainly the person who knows who to talk to and what can be done.

We keep applying for funding. The Headley Trust has shown interest to provide funding through the „Cultural Heritage Without Borders“, which would, for me, take too long. We hope that we can restore the front of the building as soon as possible, because we cannot work on the interior before the front of the building and the joinery are in order. However, the very fact that we are working on a national monument is slowing things down to an unbelievable degree.

But, in general, I am glad, because now the local community has shown interest, once we started with these small works, with the assistance of both the municipality and of some private donors. There are certainly a lot of people who showed interest, and this is what I like most, to see and hear that people are really interested.

During the war, the army guarded the icons, that that is, for me, another great story. Even in the war, with all the madness going on, the army went to the church, took the icons and returned them only after the war, to safeguard them, because there were people who knew the value fo their icons and, in effect, the army urged that course of action to keep them from being stolen.

How much do people here care about history?

I think that, in general, awareness of history among the population is poor. At the moment, there are six national monuments in Visoko. I could not take you to a single one to show it. Actually, it’s not true – I could take you to the Franziscan Monastery, because it is a Franziscan Monastery.

Is it the fault, or the responsibility, of the Town Museum, is it the responsibility of higher levels of government, not just of the municipality, because the status of national monument means that not even the Town Museum has full powers. But, in my view, the greatest problem in Visoko is the matter of vanity. Vanity of employees, both of the museum and the municipality, as well as of some other relevant bodies, where really there is no, or only rarely there is some susceptibility, or even willlingness, to look into what and how something could be done.

In the village of Mile, they made plans to move the road, which was supposed to go over the site of the church, by moving it 5 meters away from the apse. This is nothing but more ravage. The fact is that we will build a new road over the graves of people who mattered enough to be buried there. Because, being buried next to the most important church in the country, at the time, no farmers were buried there. That’s where highest nobility of this country had been buried. So, it is really somehow… I have this aversion to it and I really mostly mind that vanity and inaptitude, or the lack of willingness to put this issue forward before it is too late.

The Old Town of Visoki – the municipality unilaterally adopted the initiative to reduce the size of its protection area. I find it irrational, but it is the same with Butmir, and Tašlihan, and a million other sites. So – do we have awareness, I think not. I believe it is everyone’s fault. In the end, it is my fault too, as an archaeologist. But even when one tries to do some promotional activities, when you try something, you come across so many obstacles that it is simply fascinating.

I have a feeling that, the smaller the community, the harder it is. I don’t think the situation is any better in most towns. I don’t think that Visoko is any exception, but somehow, the closer to home it is, it hurts more.

At the same time, I need to note that, now, in Visoko there are seven or eight archaeologists or students of archaeology. I really believe in this team. These are young people who are willing to make an effort, to work as volunteers, to get things to a level and to start doing real conservation.

Please tell me, what is Čajangrad?

Čajangrad is a fort located in the vicinity of Bobovac Castle. The plaque of Chamberlain Nespina was found there, one of the key medieval monuments, stone monuments in BiH, and which led to the hypothesis that it was the site of some kind of Ministry of Finance. The Čajangrad Fort was a lot smaller than, for instance, Old Town of Visoko and probably served as a watchtower of some kind. It had been burnt at the time of the Ottoman onslaught and was never rebuilt. It is really great. According to the writings of Pavo Anđelić, when you climb to Čajangrad, you can see the Bobovac Castle and the Old Town of Visoki. We already determined that those sites are definitely visible. You can even see the Kozovgrad in Fojnica.

Last year we had money for initial excavations. These were mainly funded by the Osman Effendi Redžepović Madrasah, because it is located in the immediate vicinity. We really had a great cooperation with the madrasah, which also sent us their students, members of the History Club, who were truly great. They were seniors, eldest in their class, and they proved to be exceptionally helpful.

At the time we did initial excavation, just to see what could be done there. The continuation of the works are planned for this year, when it gets a bit cooler, and when the madrasah’s students return. And I need to note, that they also funded our participation and presentation of everything we did at Čajangrad to date at the international conference on medieval archaeology in Zagreb, which also took place recently. So, they are evidently very interested and willing to offer funding. They set up a small museological collection, these are people who truly understand these matters and cooperating with them is a real pleasure.

Are there any prospects, perhaps, to excavate the entire site?

That is the general plan, to dig it all up in the next three to five years. It really has tourist potential, because it is situated on the top of a hill, in a really beautiful wood.

What would be your ideal employment, staying with the National Museum?

Well, I think it is definitely the National Museum. This would be my ideal job, for sure, because I believe that this is the sole institution in BiH which still refuses to compromise on the essence of things. And this is what attracts me and that is the only way I want to work. No matter how dependent all cultural institutions may be on the canton, or the municipality, or the state, or the Federation, or whoever, I believe that these are the institutions that, at some point or another, need to stand up against that government and to tell them, „No more!“

Take this situation with Butmir, with Tašlihan, now, unfortunately, in Visoko, too. These are all everyday occurrences, where, somehow, most local museums, either because they lack trained staff, or are unwilling or, maybe, lack courage – I mean I do not know what it is that is stopping them – they do not react. And that is what hurts me.

Because I believe that every museum, just like the Institute, like the commission – we are here to defend the cultural heritage of BiH. Sadly, we live in a country where we have to defend it, not just preserve it. If a museum is not going to do it, then I do not see what its purpose is. Because, just presenting some finds is pointless if, on the other hand, some buildings are torn down that had stood there since time immemorial. So I believe that the National Museum, despite all of its troubles, managed to keep it all together, and I believe that they have, regardless of the deficit they are running, that they have a really good team, who are doing best they can. I believe that their situation must improve and I believe it will. And I am so glad that so many visitors are coming. And I am particularly glad to see Bosnian visitors. I respect foreigners, but when I see a grandmother and grandfather who brought their granddaughter and are showing her, say, Bosnian medieval swords. I am into weapons, so I immediately mention swords, instead of the earrings worn by Anđelina :D That really fills my heart. This morning we had a group of students with their teacher, and they did not know what to do first. All the time they were, like, „Wow, great, cool, super, what is that, what is this?!“ and I believe that only the National Museum can offer such experience at the moment.

Young people emigrating, would you go, have you thought about it?

I am split in my mind. At some point, when I get into conflict with pretty much everyone, I think that it is not worth it, that I will only make myself sick. And then I realize I could not do it. I think I would still be eating myself up, wherever I went, about what is going on here, and that I could do nothing about it.

I fully understand young people who refuse to work here for a minimum wage, or work as volunteers etc. No young person should spend his or her best years in such a way. Fortunately, I have the parents who are very supportive, I have enough little projects I am working on that I can afford to work as a volunteer.

I would gladly go for professional training, but only for professional training that I could apply here. Because I believe that, if people leave, Arabs, or whoever, will buy everything up and at some point all this will become one huge mall.

And I could not sleep peacefully, neither in Germany, nor in Britain, nor in America, knowing that the road is going to pass through the village of Mile, and I was there, and no one here would react. I believe that I am simply that kind of person, I would not leave. Or, I might leave for a spell, only for some form of professional training, perhaps doctoral studies.

Where did the love of archaeology come from, how come you made this choice?

Well, it all started really when I was little. I was always into antiques. Certainly, we all watched Indiana Jones, then came Lara Croft, who was even better than Indiana Jones. Then I somehow started reading about it. Then, my Grampa collected many books for me. I guess that’s what the people from his time werelike. Then I put my hands on the book „Visoko and Its Environs in History I“, by Pavao Anđelić, and then I was already totally in love both with the person and with the opus of Pavao Anđelić, and everything that went with it. And I wanted to go to the Zagreb University, beause at that time it was not offered here in Sarajevo. But my mother opposed it, because I was very rebellious and lively at that age. So I took up civil engineering studies, but the moment I found out that the Department of Archaeology opened in Sarajevo, I dropped out of civil engineering and transferred. And I really never regretted it.

A thousand times I got phone calls from people both here in Visoko and from friends in Sarajevo, because I resided there during my time at university, to inquire about the study programme and all that. The studies are really dull for someone who does not have a passion for it. When my sister saw what I was studying and how I studied, she thought me a complete lunatic. Since so much is about typology, forms, decorations, I put it all up all around the apartment, say, the Sopot culture, Lengyel culture, Butmir culture, Kakanj, this and that, I put it all up everywhere, even in the toilet, so I can always look at it so I can recognize it later. Than I fell in love with weapons, because I visited the exhibition „Memories about a Pioneer“ about Ćiro Truhelka. I spotted a saber, I liked it so much I wanted to hug it. Then I started specializing in weapons, and I found it so amusing that, effectively, in former Yugoslavia it was mainly women who focused on the study of ancient weapons. Then I realized, this is it, I’ll stay on weapons, because this is something that women should be involved in :D

Mislim da je super struka, super je zanimanje. U Bosni trenutno nije idealno ali moraće biti bolje. Gore od ovog vjerovatno ne može. Dosta se putuje, upoznaje se dosta ljudi, pravo je dinamično zanimanje i zanimljivo.

Neopisiv je osjećaj – moj prvi nalaz je bio na kopanju hamama u centru Baščaršije baš. Mislim da je to bila 2012. ili 2013. Ja sam našla jedan novčić. To je neka ekstaza, euforija, nirvana je to bila. I stvarno je nekako poseban osjećaj kad odjednom ugledaš nešto što nije svjetlo dana vidjelo 400 godina, a ti si prva osoba koja to dodirne.

Tako da mislim da je stvarno pravo lijepo zanimanje, zanimljivo je, dinamično i nije dosadno. Nisam stvarno tip koji bi mogao sjediti i raditi neki uredski posao, iako je mama uvijek govorila da trebam upisati pravo ili ekonomiju. Ali drago mi je što sam ostala pri svom.

I think this is a great job, a great profession. In Bosnia, it is not ideal, at the moment, but it must get better. Worse than this probably cannot be. One travels a lot, meets a lot ofpeople, it is a really dynamic and interesting job.

It is an indescribable feelilng – my first find happened at the excavation of the Hammam straight in the center of Baščaršija. I think it was in 2012 or 2013. I found a coin. What an ecstasy, euphoria, nirvana it had been! And it is really a special feeling when, all of a sudden, you see something that was not in the light of day for 400 years, and you are the first person to touch it.

So I believe that this is really a great job, it is interesting, dynamic and everything but dull. I really am not a person who can sit down all day and work in an office, although Mom always said I should have picked law, or economics. But I am glad I stuck with my choice.


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