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Ana Baric

Returning To the City That Made Us Refugees

Illustration by Natalie Nelson

Ana Barić | Longreads | October 2018 | 12 minutes (3,214 words)


I want to feel an affinity, or even just a positive connection, to the city of my birth. My parents were raised in its outskirts, and began a family on its leafy green streets. I took some of my first teetering steps near the Vrbas (river) in Mejdan, and engaged with its kafić (cafe) culture from the age of two, when I would sit down for a tall glass of whipped cream while my dad sipped his espresso. My friends from the States and Sarajevo sing the city’s praises. Strangers I’ve met from other countries comment on its beautiful women. Clearly people appreciate Banja Luka.

Instead, every time I visit the city, I almost immediately feel alienated and uncomfortable, suffocated by a heavy blanket of political revisionism and economic bleakness. A sense of despair and trauma from the war still seems to hang over every conversation my family and I have with its residents. Life is measured before and after the war.

Day two of my trip only reaffirms these sentiments. I am at the police station in Banja Luka, waiting for my younger sister to file her lost phone report. The first thing I see in the station is a memorial to the members of the police force who gave their lives for Republika Srpska (the RS), the majority Serb, secessionist proto-state in Bosnia and Herzegovina that Banja Luka sits in.

Pali su časno za odbranu otadžbine,” the memorial proclaims in the Cyrillic script. They fell honorably while defending the fatherland.

More than a hundred faces and names stare at me from a gold-plated plaque that is several feet tall and stretches across a full wall. I understand that the RS is proud of what it is today, but I can’t fully separate the state today from its bloody roots. The memorial is dated 1992-1995, meaning that these men fell fighting for a regime that committed crimes against humanity. They were part of Mladić and Karadžić’s project of partition and ethnic cleansing. Read more…