In terms of world history, the Balkan region is about as complicated as it gets. Politics, religion and names of countries are an alphabet soup.
Prior to my visit to American University in Kosovo and the American College of Management and Technologyin Croatia, I sat down with a friendly face at Crossroads Market to get a better lay of the land. Meet Hasan Zelenjakovic, who has worked at RIT’s Crossroads for the past seven years.
To keep it simple, we went back only to the 19th Century where we started with the Ottoman Empire. Austria, Russia, Hungary, Bulgaria and other countries have all had an interest in ruling the Balkan region. Hasan drew up a map of the region and the surrounding countries in southeast Europe. He points to the surrounding lands outside the Balkans and simply states: “This spells trouble.” I recall that an assassination of an Austrian archduke in 1914 in the Bosnian city of Sarajevo set off a chain of events that led to World War I.
Hasan and I fast forward to the 1990s. It was a difficult period in his life when he lost family members, including his father, in the Balkan conflict. During this period, the former six republics of Yugoslavia broke up. Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia pushed for independence. Yet the Serbian Communist Party had other ideas. It was a brutal and tragic conflict in which the United States and NATO intervened.
Hasan, who is Bosnian, escaped to Belgium for safekeeping. His brother was in a refugee camp. Serb forces killed Hasan’s father and uncles because “they knew too much about the mass graves” related to “ethnic cleansing.”
Yet Hasan remains positive and upbeat. He speaks proudly of the Balkans today where peace and prosperity are on the rise. He breaks down a little of the culture of each of the new sovereign countries. “You are going to really enjoy it there,” he tells me. “It is very beautiful. I can’t wait to return myself later this year.”
Hasan is also proud of the RIT connection to his homeland. “I want to see all your pictures when you get back,” he tells me. I thank him for the history lesson.
To read post No. 1 of blogging from the Balkans, visit: http://www.rit.edu/news/tigerbeat/?p=4144
Next up: First impressions of Kosovo and a visit to the Kosovo Innovation Lab with American University in Kosovo and RIT students.