Bosnians are not really into protesting. Clearly, it requires too much mental and physical energy that is better spent … well, in the Bosnian fashion: living life, seizing the day (with coffee and cigarettes, but nonetheless).
Every now and then small groups of war veterans and pensioners will gather in front of a government building to protest not having received their funds, and once, last year, there was a protest when a teenager was stabbed to death by another teenager, but it was entirely unclear against whom the protests were directed (presumably God). Other than that, the only protest to note was when a down-on-her-luck female education official attempted to distract herself from her personal problems by causing a Christmastime uproar, proposing the sacking of Santa and his replacement by some previously unknown Muslim version of the jolly fellow. This time, a few handfuls of people (representing all ethnic-religious-secular groups) gathered in protest outside the main cathedral in the city center.
In the past few weeks, however, a new target for potential protest is a newly opened shopping center. Though the protests are unlikely to develop beyond the verbal complaint and tacit boycott phase, the shopping center is the latest exciting controversy and the main topic of call-in radio and television talk shows. The problem: Well, the shopping center is Arab built and run and refuses to sell pork in its supermarket or to allow the sale of alcohol or the presence of betting shops, the latter a major Bosnian hobby of late.
This new, elite shopping center, the BBI Center, was built by Muslim-run BBI Leasing & Real Estate, itself the creation of the Islamic Development Bank of Saudi Arabia, the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, the Dubai Islamic Bank, and Bosna Bank International d.d. Sarajevo.
I personally have no problem with this shopping center, which is a private establishment and can run itself as it pleases: I’ve gone off pork for the time being what with all the swine flu reports, for alcohol prefer a proper café, and betting on sports, well, not really my hobby. But plenty of people, including some of my colleagues and acquaintances, disagree.
When I suggested to a journalist colleague of mine recently that we take advantage of the excellent children’s playroom at the BBI Center, he looked at me disdainfully and said he would never step foot in the place as a matter of principle. He is one of Bosnia’s famed “secular Muslims,” and would prefer that religious fundamentalists not “shove their rules down his throat.” Of course, it is easier for men to stand on principle when the subject is shopping (and the shopping is expensive).
Another close friend of mine recently said she had heard that the security guards would not allow couples to engage in any open displays of intimacy in the shopping center, and that kissing couples would be kicked out with no apologies. Whether this is true or simply a colorful rumor is not entirely significant. What is significant is the issue is indicative of a growing trend in Sarajevo (not to be confused with Bosnia as a whole): an increasingly obvious discrimination against religious fundamentalists, and particularly Arabs.
It seems that a fair majority of Sarajevans prize their secularism regardless of ethnicity, much like Turkey’s secularist Ataturk worshipers. In recent years, there has been a surge in new arrivals here from Arab countries, bearded men and fully covered, burka-clad women. The women in particular draw the ire of the local women, who sneer at them (behind their backs) on the street and click their tongues in disapproval at those leading children around and “not being able to see properly through the holes in their burkas.” In boutiques, female shop attendants roll their eyes at Arab women and then talk about them when they leave.
Many Sarajevans have had enough of religion, especially of the fundamentalist genre, which is perhaps understandable. These sentiments are growing to the extent that a second civil war here could very likely see secularist or moderate Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs unite against fundamentalist Islam and the growing Wahhabi movement. So after all this time, in the end it may be a fear and loathing of Islamic fundamentalism that finally unites this complex country.