This interview has been one of the most interesting I had to date. Namely, while looking up people in Goražde I came across Nihad Ferhatović. I saw an article on a portal and from it Iearned that Nihad with his friends organized painting of the fence of the pedestrian bridge in Goražde, and I found that curious. It is not a frequent occurrence that young people shoulder some of the work normally carried out by town utility services. I arranged for an interview with Nihad, and six young men showed up at the appointed time – all members of the informal group that calls itself „Seagulls of the Drina River“.
The six of them are all between 19 and 24 years old. They are all university students – one in Ankara, Turkey, the rest in Sarajevo. They are linked by friendship and by the desire to live in a better Goražde and better Bosnia and Herzegovina, and they are ready to work for it.
These young men ar: Vekas Gušo, Edo Kanlić, Nedžad Kamenica, Mirza Starhonić, Nihad Ferhatović, and Faruk Topuz.
What do we do? All sorts of things – from organizing various volunteering activities, working with high school students, on affirmation, on some form of empowerment and encouragement for them to do what we do, to managing to change cantonal-level laws through some of the other organizations. The last thing we did through this other organization was the new law on higher education.
We pushed through our initiative that secondary school graduates can apply to more than one university department in Sarajevo, which previously had not been the case anywhere in BiH, except in Mostar, at the University that teaches according to the Croatian curriculum. We also succeeded to amend this law, i.e. to introduce this initiative in the Una-Sana Canton as well, at their university, and the plan for the coming period is to do it in the Zenica-Doboj Canton, in Tuzla…
It is important to note that this is the first time that the six of us appear in this form with something that we do in this town. But we must say that, from the very beginnings of the non-governmental sector in Goražde, at least the eldest among us, we were involved with the first organizations that emerged in Goražde, and we remained involved, mostly in Sarajevo, because it is closest and is the seat of many organizations. Let me mention the Association of Secondary School Students, in which all of us were members and with which we did interesting things, not only in Goražde, but beyond.
Wherever something was going on, we went, and that is how we came together, because Goražde is small and we keep running into one another, but again, we actually connected, and formed this group, around common interests. We call it informal, although, whenever people meet us, when one of us is missing, they ask about him.
And what matters as well is that, all six of us, so far, managed to steer clear from politics, which is quite difficult. And we all know that there have been pressures from all sides, because, you know how it works with our politicians – „we need young people on the lists“. And just young people, not anything that the young people do and offer, just their names. So far, thank God, we avoided that, I hope we will not need it in the future.
And again, we must acknowledge that, in what we did to date, whether looking at our most recent activity, or any others, we never encountered any major obstructions, which is what matters. Certainly, what we get, and the support we receive, it is not enough, not for us as a group, but for young people in Goražde in general, but we also need to understand that we have to be engines of some changes, because we waited for so long for things to happen, and it is up to the people in charge to change things, but when we see that nothing is happening, we should, if nothing else, stand up publicly against it, and at least get people to think about the changes that need to be made.
We felt the need to give back to our town, even if it was nothing else but painting the bridge, because we all had left, for a brief period, to Sarajevo, and we got involved there. Then, when we came back together here, at the start of the summer vacation, it was like, „Great, we will swim in the Drina, have fun, but let’s actually do something!“ And this is how the idea about the bridge came to be.
And how far has that gone, since the bridge has not yet been painted?
At the moment, just 2-3 days ago, we got the permit of the city administration to carry out the work, that we can work on the bride. All that we are doing is part of the celebration of 18th September, which is both the Day of the Town and of the Canton, so at the moment we are waiting for the decision of the organizing committee. That is the top-level body in charge of organization of events for that day, we have formally submitted our request to it, although all the people who are on that committee, we already talked to them and they all fervently supported this idea.
Another point to make is that we did all this following the logical and legal way, because we did not want to look like some guerillas who would show up and paint the bridge at night, but we essentially wanted to test the formal channels and see how it all works. Since the bridge is under the town’s jurisdiction, we first requested the necessary permits, and everything else would follow.
What matters is that this would not be the six of us painting the bridge, but it would be young people of Goražde, because we planned to involve the students of both elementary and secondary schools, even, in a symbollic fashion, kindergarten kids, who would open the work on the bridge, so this would be an opportunity for young people to come together.
18th September is a very important date for our town, but somehow, the dimension of young people is lost from the start. Because it was the liberation day, which later was declared the Day of the Town and of the Canton, and all of this somehow boils down to ceremonies with veterans’ organizations, so young people do not feel that day as theirs, although it should be.
The town administration allocated 1,500 KM for this, so we have already secured half of the funding required.
Will you have any technical help?
We are already cooperating with the „Džemal Bijedić“ Secondary Vocational School, with their principal and a professor we conducted a technical evaluation to determine how much materials and funding are needed for the bridge, and it will require around 3,000 KM. This secondary school will also be our partner, because their students will carry out the basic preparation. They will perform the bulk of the works. Other students in other vocational departments will prepare sandwitches, refreshments, so that component will be covered as well and I believe all that will be really cool.
What is it like to live in Goražde?
The way we look at it is that this is a town worth visiting, worth working in, a place where it is still worthwhile to make an effort. Others make their excuses saying „Nothing can be done here, the authorities do not allow us to…“ but this initiative of ours is, at least for myself, but for others as well, I believe, a personal proof that things can be done. When you really want something, it can be done. We had a ton of meetings, from ministers, mayors – all that.
Even the Mayor.
Even the Mayor. :D just to get the permit. And this has been the boring part, but, when you really want it, it can be done.
Other people would have given up after the third meeting, we went to five or six just for the permit.
And that is the point. Painting the bridge and leaving it at that – that is not our ultimate objective – just to paint the bridge but, as Nihad put it – we want to show all young people in our town that, when you really want to get something done, you can. That we could not forever sit around sipping coffee and find excuses by saying, „Nothing can be done, I give up, I am leaving this town.“ In other words, to show that it is not just the bridge that would be painted, but that we can change whatever we want in this town.
But, another problem of Goražde, and of smaller communities in general, is that, first of all, we are not a university center and, young people mostly go to university to Sarajevo, and quite a few do not come back. You probably read that job situation in Goražde is quite good, but it comes down to several professions, linked with the industries we have here in Goražde. But, take us here, many among us are students of humanities, and someone who is a student of international affairs cannot hope for a job in Goražde. So the problem is that young people with potential and talent leave and do not come back.
What matters is that Goražde really has a lot of young people who are talented and who amount to something – whether in sports, culture, activism, any of all those domains in which young people can stand out. We have quite a few good people, and the image of life in Goražde is not strictly black and white, just as it isn’t for any other town. We have a million problems, but, still, if we give up and declare that one cannot have a life here, I do not see the point of our coming back, even for these summer breaks.
That’s it. And what is the point of living if we just say – it’s impossible here, and leave.
Please tell me, this is a very topical question now, young people are emigrating from BiH. Have you thought about it, except in this way, to study, would you go and live abroad?
We do not think about it at the moment.
Are you planning to come back?
I have been abroad for four years and I still haven’t said, „I want to stay.“ Although I will most likely continue my master’s studies outside BiH, I am still planning to come back, if only to give it a try. It does not mean, when I come back, that I will be glad and stay, but, again, I haven’t written off Bosnia after these four years.
And we come back to it again – if everyone leaves, how can anything change?
We should also note that this positive attitude of ours does not mean that we are utopians of some kind, and unrealistic optimists, because we are aware of all the problems. And we all agree about all the problems that other interviewees from Goražde bring up, only our approach to solving those problems is a bit different.