While working on the „People of BiH“ Project, many times I had an opportunity to see on the spot how much an institution’s functioning depends on its leader. Institutions shine as minor miracles if you entrust them to someone who wants and knows how to do their job, to someone who, above and beyond the call of duty, brings to the job personal enthusiasm and love, and then you wonder why this does not happen more often.
One such institution that delighted me is the Žepče General Library, i.e. its Manager Sabina Maličbegović.
She said herself she could not do this work if it was just about lending books to readers. This is why she turned this library into a venue that is already known and appreciated even beyond Žepče. Perusing the list of all activities carried out and organised by this library, I found it difficult to choose what to highlight. But, let’s say that I found the following topics to be of greatest interest.
Due to the cooperation with OSCE, Žepče became the first town in FBiH with a Book Corner dedicated to human rights and social connections – available to all, even to non-members.
Otherwise, the library holds more than 17,000 books. The Žepče Hometown Collection, created exactly by Sabina, is particularly interesting. It includes nearly 200 rare books published since 1885 to the present. I saw it myself and it is really impressive to see in one place all those books written by people originating from Žepče, all those describing Žepče, as well as paintings, posters and photographs of Žepče, newspaper clippings etc.
The library is often a co-publisher of many literary works, and it regularly organises exceptionally well-attended book launches. For its great work and results, the library received many commendations and a great deal of recognition by the BiH National and University Library, Library Foundation, and I found particularly valuable a commendation of the Balkans Literary Society, which chose to distinguish this library as the library that left the best impression on the writers out of 17 they visited after the „Writers for the Future“ Project.
Certainly, such results will come when you have at the head of an institution someone who had been in love with books since childhood and who loves to read, in addition to being a poet herself. Namely, Sabina Maličbegović is a poet herself, she already published several collections of poems, received notable awards, and she just loves her work. On top of that, she is the kind of person who will welcome you as if you are dearest friend in the world, even if she does not actually know you, because – as she put it herself – she loves people and treats everyone this way, until persuaded otherwise.
I enjoyed talking to her, and I took note of several of her statements which I personally liked most, about books and reading, and about life in general.
And I hope, I mean I keep promising myself, that I would attend in person an event organised by the Žepče General Library.
As far as Žepče itself is concerned, it is a place just to my liking. There are two aspects. One is – do not be a prophet in your own village. That means that you will inevitably encounter misunderstanding, some resistance, it might take even a year for some people to understand why something needed to be done today. Mistakes are not forgiven. Small communities are rather tribally closed and that, naturally, does not suit me.
I take a broad-minded view of life, of the world, of people. I love life, love people, I love everyone until convinced otherwise. And yet, on the other hand, in a small town, I find room for cooperation. So I, and when I say I, I do not mean me personally, I mean the library as a team. I have a great team. We can cooperate with everyone and that is what we do.
I believe that there is no institution or public institution in Žepče that we did not do some projects with. So people sometimes say that the library is in everything, at least when Žepče is concerned.
Talking about the library, I cannot recall all the events we organised. Let’s say that something happens every other month. Say, an average audience at the library’s launch events is between 60 and 150 people, but we try to dole it out in small doses. Topics that might be heavy for the audience, it simply must be delivered in such a way that people are not smothered by quotes, by weighty lectures, so they doze off. There must be a bit of this, a bit of that, all with the aim to satisfy the given target group.
I pretend not to see bad things. I absolutely shut out the world around me when negativity is concerned, and I do not let it influence my life. Somehow, from my childhood I knew how to sort out what mattered and what didn’t, and whatever is happening, if it is bad, if it is evil, I do not want that to reach me. I look for beauty and joy in my life and I find them.
Going back to the individual – if we all were to start from ourselves first and had a little dialogue in front of a mirror – how ready we really were for sacrifices, how willing we were to help, how prepared we were to devote time to someone, how capable of love we were? It’s love that makes the world go round, not money, for sure.
It is different when you read Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Faulkner, Balsac, it is different when you start with the Assyrian-Babylonian literature and read on. There are books for all times. And when a person learns to read even the stream-of-consciousness novels, then neither the Steppenwolf nor Thomas Mann, who wrote exquisite sagas, would feel weird to you. All that is something that is fundamental, that is strong.
And strong foundations guarantee that a person, no matter how shaken, will remain upright. Just as a house – it is build from the foundations up. Everything depends on the foundations.
What can be offered to children in this age of consumerism? What is it that can make a child satisfied? An expensive phone, total irresponsibility, because this is what they see in their parents who are lethargic, tired, exhausted from the daily struggles. What parent can set aside three hours for his/her child, but really and daily, to focus just on the children and develop all this we just discussed?
Simply, people are forced into a struggle for survival. And perhaps it is an illusion to even mention books. But, in any case, there are still readers. And, despite the dark forecasts that the libraries, and books as the medium in particular, that they are about to go extinct – there is no chance of that.
In you view, is there a way to keep them here? You also communicate a lot with young people, what is it that mainly drives them to leave?
Young people are embittered. They just waive their hands, but they are fully aware of what goes on. And no one should have any illusions that they may have deceived the youth, and that they will remain here for any ideals. No chnce.
The young are leaving, mainly to gain a sense of security. So that, when they get up in the morning, that they are in a country that as a single president, that, at least on paper, has a solid welfare plan, any kind of security, that they can go out, and, if they wish, that they can work. Let us be honest – the material side matters a lot in life. Absent the material base, nothing higher can be constructed.
What can those young people do here? They live with their parents until they are 35 or 40. We infantilise our children. My personality at the age of 19 had already been developed, I was very independent. At 19 I knew what I did not want. I did not need to know what I wanted. I still needed to mature to feel as a complete person. But still, at that time I awoke, I got up in the morning in a country where I knew there was a wide range of jobs for all of my vocations.
I got a secondary commercial school diploma. I had set out to enroll in the general secondary school, but something intervened, it does not matter now. I attended and graduated from the secondary commercial school, for which I had no affinity, and here I mean mathematics and related rubbish. But even there I had been an A student, because I cannot bear failure. So, even though it was math, I still studied hard. But I had also known that, after that commercial school, I could find a job. And I turned down an amazing job. With the secondary commercial school diploma I turned town a job in a bank, which had been well paid even back then. Instead I chose far more unsettled field, literature, culture and everything that accompanies books, because a book in itself is an adventure. Books are a great adventure.
And this young generation lacks that kind of security. And everything goes on from there – they cannot have a place of their own, they cannot marry, which affects the birth rate… All that is a single chain and all is interlinked. And this is why the situation is difficult and I am very apprehensive about the future.
I am afraid because people are leaving. I am afraid who will stay.