With the second year of me being in France firmly establishing itself in the vestibules of my mind and everyday life (it‘s been almost six months since the anniversary), the thought of a review of this emerging identity firmly established itself, as well. The dust has settled, the horizon is foggy but promising. Who am I in all this, though, now, after a while? After the proud, antagonizing presence mellowed into a kind of uncertainty?
A lot of it has to do with disappointment. Or, better put, a kind of realization: no matter what Bosnians do and are, the basic ethical principle of „do no harm“ that is fundamental to veganism and my personal view of purpose in the world is not organic to them. To us. Just like any other nation in the world, Bosnians and Herzegovinians by and large are necrovores and think it‘s okay to oppress animals. That is a stance I cannot get behind.
So, what exactly is our nationality when faced with oppression? Does it even matter? I‘d love to be able to say that my nation is enlightened and non-oppressive, but the reality is that, in regards to animals, we are no different than anyone else on the planet (exceptions nothwithstanding). The animals are still being bred into miserable and short existence, exploited, tortured, mutilated, raped and murdered for pleasure, be it taste, entertainment, clothing… That is, sadly, true for Bosnia as much as its neighboring countries, as much as the US, the UK… or France, for that matter.
One injustice does not negate another. It is also true that Bosnia and Herzegovina has been through the worst atrocities in Europe since WWII, that the Serb military forces, along with Croat military forces, performed ethnic cleansing and systematic genocide during the aggression in the 1990s, and it is true that the country and its residents are still going through a systematic negation of the cleansing and genocide by ultranationalists inside who want to tear it apart. That is a truth I will always speak loudly.
However, blindly defending everything we do and produce is not part of patriotism. For example, I will never champion a cheese company from Bosnia and Herzegovina, because that „success“ is built upon grieving mothers and their dead children. Cheese comes from milk, and milk comes from mothers – exploited mothers whose milk is stolen by humans.
In that light, patriotism can never justify an injustice. And, that is why, next to locals, there are numerous animal rights activists here who hail from different countries, different nationalities, different religions, who have all clearly seen what happens behind the doors of slaughterhouses and milk factories, regardless of where they are. Whether it is France or Bosnia and Herzegovina, we are united in one goal: the liberation of all non-human animals.
In the end, I realized that there is a way to be both: a Bosnian and an animal rights activist. After all, I was both back in my homeland, and I can be both here. Issues and uncertainties regarding what it means to defend the truth about my country here will arise in the future, I‘m sure, but my settlement so far has clearly shown me how I want to spend most of my free time: defending the most innocent beings on the planet – animals. That is one of my reasons for existence, my purpose.
I will say one more thing to my Bosnians and Herzegovinians, as well as all the people, everywhere in the world: without changing our fundamental view of non-human animals, we will collectively never be able to rise above doing harm to other, human animals. As Tolstoy has rightfully remarked: „How can we hope that peace and prosperity will reign on Earth, if our bodies are living tombs, in which murdered animals are buried?“
„As long as there are slaughterhouses there will be battlefields.“
/visual impressions from the most recent action of animal rights activists in Lyon, France, against the consumption and glorification of meat aka dead animal parts in one of Lyon’s most famous meat restaurants, April 1, 2023 – photos by Nath One Voice/
I’ve been toying with the idea of renaming this blog to properly suit my intentions here, and I believe I finally got it. So, from now on, the blog „An Expat in France“ officially continues as „A Bosnian in France“. I’d say it’s quite suitable for the intended purpose, and it also echoes one of Sting’s classics.
Now, onto the topic itself. Last week Europe was in its regular annual Eurovision fever. Songs were heard, performances were discussed. Ukraine (deservedly) won this year’s Eurosong. Yes, it was a sympathy/empathy vote, too, but I firmly believe music should also have a message that goes beyond the rhythm and lyrics. And yes, next year’s competition can be held in Ukraine if the Russian aggressor is finally kicked out of the country. It would be a cathartic rebirth and recognition of human values we like to say we cherish inside.
However, this is not the first time one part of Europe was celebrating, while another one suffered in the noise of bombs. Back in 1993, Bosnia and Herzegovina, my homeland, participated in the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time as an independent country. Our own Muhamed Fazlagić Fazla, along with the accompanying ensemble, literally had to go through hell to come to that shiny stage. Bosnia was suffering from an aggression by Bosnian Serb paramilitary forces & former Yugoslav army. They wanted to obliterate us, and there was no pardon for children, or mothers, or artists who just wanted to sing. As per this thread and other sources, first our delegation had to flee besieged Sarajevo to get to Millstreet in Ireland. They were forced to run across the airport tarmac, were shot at so hard the conductor had to give up and stay behind. Six people who tried to escape that night were killed, while 17 were wounded. The singer, Fazla, had to try twice. On the second attempt, he lost his shoes in the mud of the destroyed airport runway and kept running, barefoot. But that was only the beginning: after that they had to walk ten kilometers over the 1510 meter high mountain Igman. Igman is a symbol of suffering, and many people did not survive the journey over the mountain. Because of cold, exhaustion or Serbian killers. Ten kilometers through snow and mud, up a mountain, in danger from armed murderers. Our Eurosong delegation survived. The delegation then had to pass another obstable when it was stopped around Mostar by the HVO (Croatian forces), the soldiers of which were saying „There is no Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina“.
Despite the historic, geographic and other differences, so far one could have the argument that these were, more-or-less, the kind of conditions that the Ukraine delegation also had to go through, but Ukraine isn’t besieged in the same totality as Sarajevo, and their path is open. Our dance of death, as the Mirror describes it, took extreme courage and luck in impossible conditions, above all things – because hardly anyone knew or cared, as opposed to now & Ukraine.
But this is the point where, really, any sort of resemblance disappears. Even when that iconic line „Sarajevo, we’re hearing you“ broke through the applause that erupted amidst a ‘screeching’ telephone line from the besieged Sarajevo, our delegation faced obstacles that the Ukraine delegation (luckily) didn’t experience. There was tremendous media attention, but sometimes for bizarre reasons. See, for many journalists, the fact that our singer is called Muhamed and also has blond hair and blue eyes was raking their brains. The additional fact of his model height (1,90) was another point of bewilderment. Fazla heard the line „You don’t look like a Muhamed!“ every day, to which he asked: „What is a Muhamed supposed to look like?“ The above-linked thread continues: „Those who already knew that Muslims can also ‘look European’ still wanted to exclude him from Europe. A Croatian journalist tried to portray Fazla as an ‘Islamist’ just because he had a green jacket.“
Seriously? Suddenly green is a forbidden color? Judging a man who lost his shoes while escaping from the snipers? It still baffles me almost 30 years later. But despite these finely-tuned obstacles and discrimination, Fazla knew why he had to sing for Bosnia: “The music was a symbolic interaction to prove that our struggle against aggression and genocide and everything we had to endure was right and human. And that we will win in the end.”
Just consider the following lyrics:
„All the world’s pain is in Bosnia tonight
I stay here to defy the pain
And I’m not afraid to stand in front of a wall
I know how to sing, I know how to win
Tonight when the tears on my face freeze
I will not let fear overcome me
Who will keep watch instead of me
So that the evil doesn’t repeat itself?”
He knew that he needed to nurture our tortured souls. People in shelters struggled to find a source to watch or hear the contest, soldiers on the battlefield gathering around a battered transistor and crying at the chorus – that night, Bosnia’s cries were heard in Europe and in many of its corners for the first time.
But why was his name and religion important? Why is that a measure of worth in Europe? Why did our song end up in 16th place, and Ukraine won? Who ‘deserves’ to be perceived as European and human, and who not, according to this? Is it only bestowed upon persons with an ‘approved’ religion, heritage and physical appearance? In case I need to spell it out for you, Bosnia and Herzegovina is in Europe, too. We are Europeans just like you are. The apsurdity of Europe’s hypocrisy is often, like now, loud and clear.
The reasons for these questions are as loud today as they were then. My beautiful country is ravaged in a time of supposed peace by nationalist politics from the main neighboring countries (same old), there is a seed of poison growing in it as well, and there is pressure everywhere to be less. Less Bosnian, less Muslim, less oneself. Whether you are in Bosnia or abroad, these sometimes invisible forces push your head down into a guillotine of self-loathing and hiding, because they hate what you represent and they are afraid. Afraid of my beautiful Bosnia, of all the highest human values that lived in my country for centuries. CENTURIES. Afraid of Islam, because that generational blood speaks volumes about the crussades their ancestors led in the name of another religion, so they’re projecting (those who have issues, of course – I am NOT generalizing). Hypocrisy much?
But you will never be able to silence me and my existence. The same with my enlightened compatriots. And when you tell me in the face that my language does not exist and that I am actually speaking another language, I will laugh in your face (this one’s about you, genocide denier from the Office of Immigration – shame on you. Luckily, you’re in the minority, because all the ladies there are respectful and helpful). If you make jokes about my name and conflate me with another nation, I will call you out on your racism and mysogyny (another „humanoid creature“ here in France who is yet to feel my full wrath). At first, I played nice here, trying to be as polite and kind as possible (also another trait of us Bosnians that gets us into trouble sometimes because we are TOO nice). But, it’s been a few months since I released my spite and my full presence here and I breathe nicely now, thank you. If that’s too much for you, Europe, well, tough titty, said the kitty! I will forever be a true ambassador of my identity here. An ambassador of respect towards others, but also of pride towards my own. By the way, those are true European values, and not atrocious things that end in –ism – check yourself, EU.
And one other thing: Bosnia will exist forever. Because the ethereal idea of Bosnia, of a land with beautiful nature and beautiful, kind and welcoming people, of love – that will never disappear. My body will rest in soil and disappear itself, but Bosnia is and will be long after that.
Muhamed Fazlagić, our blond and blue-eyed singer, showed all that on the Eurovision stage. And he sent hope into this world. Hope of not only helping Bosnia, but also the hope of seeing the love of his life again. The song was a love letter to her: „I cannot take the stars down from the sky / I can’t find the road, the road to the universe / But I can send you this song / So that you know that I’m alive, my love.“
They reunited during Eurovision and haven’t been apart ever since. A few months after the contest, they returned to Sarajevo. He performed for our troops and they both survived, thank God. How’s that for a love story? How’s that for a European story? How’s that for a human story?
Music achieved something valuable back in 1993, despite the votes. I just hope that there will be no countries at war and no genocide anywhere next year. An utopian thought, perhaps, but a thought to strive for. We Bosnians know very well what the oppressed people around the world are going through, at the hands of oppressors and new Hitlers and Karadžićs, and so we know the importance of that thought being born into action. A voice, an act against the evil. Against hypocrisy.
We’re in the Holy Month of Ramadan, and what better time is there to express gratitude for what you have? Therefore, I am finally going to write the promised chapter about things that make me happy in France!
Five months in, and this is what makes my every day brighter:
1) No stray dogs and cats on the street, struggling, suffering, dying – For my entire life, my family and I have rescued poor animals from the street. Sometimes we managed to save them from hurt, cold, heat, cruel people, illnesses and hunger, but sometimes it was all just too much and a wonderful being had to die just because laws and common ethics were not enforced and followed.That’s why I feel relief when walking the streets of Lyon and every other city in France. The neighborhood where we live is peaceful and pets live their life in the comfort of their humans’ home. Almost every house has a cat door, and the nearby park is filled with dogs being walked on sunny afternoons of this spring. Just last year, France adopted tougher laws that target animal cruelty and ban wild animal entertainment. Bosnia and Herzegovina has yet to strive to finally fulfill the provisions of the existing Animal Protection and Welfare Law that was passed in 2009. Anything less than that and we’re still stuck in the 15th century, inflicting cruelty and suffering onto beings that have the same right to this planet as we do (even more, actually, because they don’t destroy nature). Take note, you in charge!
2) Vegan food in abundance – Connected with the topic of animal rights, another exhilarating thing is the total explosion in yummy vegan products across the French aisles. It’s still not on the level of, say, Germany, but literally every time we go to a certain supermarket, there’s another new food to try. So far my faves are soy chunks from Garden Gourmet and pretty much every type of cheese we found so far, but especially the ones from Les Nouveaux Affineurs. Go, France!
3) Concerts in the actual city I live in (!) – For the past 25 years, whenever I wanted to see some of my favourite bands and musicians, I would have to travel for hours minimum (not to mention going to Finland to see The 69 Eyes!). Now I just need to see if the band is playing in Lyon, and in most cases, it’s true – such as The Rolling Stones on their upcoming STONES SIXTY tour. This will be a very exciting experience and our first Stones concert together! Before that, we have Simple Minds – and all it takes is a metro ride to the venue.
4) Overall art & culture scene – A tattoo convention here, a cinema retrospective of Francis Ford Coppola there – not only are concerts a dime a dozen here, but you also get plenty of cultural variety, especially during summer. That’s when Lyon transforms into a veritable treasure trove of aesthetic cultural experiences to everyone’s taste, and you only have to choose what to attend. Since this is the City of Film, Cinémas Lumière are here, and they regularly offer special screenings and retrospectives. Unfortunately, we missed the Night of Horror (with It Follows!), because we were spending that weekend in Annecy, but that’s a good reason to miss it, I think!
5) Sharing my husband’s language, culture, people – Never have I thought that I would fall in love with a Frenchman and start learning his language, but you know that saying about mysterious ways! I will soon attend an intense language course to improve my French, and since this is not my first foray into Romance languages, I intend to continue with Spanish and Italian. French culture certainly has an inspiring and formidable history, and many items in its iconography are also parts of what my eyes are fond of. My husband’s friends have all welcomed me warmly, and I found that I really like to discover France’s beautiful cities, their architecture, decor… I am thoroughly enjoying it all!
6) Growing fonder of my homeland – Bosnia and Herzegovina will always be my land. The soil I grew up from, where the sun casts its most familiar and beautiful rays. There is no other feeling quite like walking through my town on a bright, sunny day, checking to see if there are new Dylan Dog episodes in the comics section of a newsstand. But when you’re only there, life gets dour. It’s not easy living in Bosnia because of all the opstructions to our thousand-year long existence, which have continued well after the most recent aggression and genocide. War is being led in peace. That takes up much of one’s energy and motivation to contribute to one’s country. For some time before my departure, I have felt like I gave all I could give to the cultural and professional life in B&H. However, now being part of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian diaspora, I feel an envigorated urge to help in any way that I can, carrying the Bosnian voice to France and making it loud and clear. I already made some contacts (more on that soon) and I love it!
7) Being relatively close to Bosnia and Herzegovina – France is not as close to us as, for example, Slovenia or Austria, but there are one thousand kilometers between my hometown and Lyon, and we can cross it in 13-14 hours. Taking an airplane is even faster, and in a space of less than half a day, I am back to my home No. 1. That knowledge alone is enough to make me fell spiritually close to my (two-legged and four-legged) loved ones, and whenever I get a chance, I can always hop on to a trusty Air France flight and see them again. Pretty good if you ask me!
8) Finally being with my husband – Those of you more familiar with our story know how long we were apart during the heyday of the pandemic. As if the regular distance wasn’t enough! So, my husband and our life together are the ultimate positive aspect of my life in France.
So, these are my top 8 things I love about France. I hope there will be much more soon, but I am very grateful for my happiness here. Now it’s time to think of a great vegan iftar for tonight! To all of you, have a blessed Ramadan or other holidays you might celebrate these days!
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