Minority associations in Balkans nurture diversity, reconciliation

10/04/2014

Cultural societies in Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia are paving the way toward co-existence.

By Selena Petrovic, Marina Stojanovska and Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Zagreb, Skopje and Belgrade -- 11/04/14

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Sevdah performs dances from Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia. [Facebook/BKUD Sevdah]

Several minority culture and art societies in the region are adhering to principles that exemplify tolerance, co-operation and reconciliation, a model that could be integrated into the mainstream in Balkan countries, members said. Ivica Fabijanic, 26, a Catholic who works as a car-body mechanic, joined the Zagreb-based Bosniak Culture and Art Society Sevdah about a year ago. His Bosniak friends brought him to the folklore group.

"They have accepted me here as good friends would, so I don't really feel different. The idea to join came to me simply because I love to dance, meet new people and travel," he told SETimes. Ermina Softic, the head of Sevdah's folklore ensemble, said the group "accepts all who are willing [to participate] and interested in what we are doing. We could say that members of other nationalities and religions are, in a way, a minority in our association."

Among the group's members are Catholic Croats and Albanian Muslims. "We don't see them in a different way. They realise this, and they stay with us," Softic said.

Sevdah was founded in 2006, and its leaders use social media to invite people to join their ranks.

Softic said the society's repertoire includes Croatian and Serbian folk songs and dances.

"On YouTube, we often watch various kolo dances from Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia, and we try to copy the moves and create a certain style," Anisa Zahirovic, a long-time Sevdah member, told SETimes. "We have a choreographer who comes from Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and he encourages using different dance steps and dances."

In Novi Sad, Serbia, the group Stanislav Preprek of the Croatian Cultural Artistic and Educational Society embraces diversity as a tool for multiculturalism, tolerance and co-existence.

"We are spreading tolerance by having manifestations open for everyone. We invite all the people we know, but we also ask them to invite their friends, relatives and acquaintances. When all of them come together, it is a chance to meet and better understand each other. Nobody refuses to come and relax a bit with good plays, and some snacks and conversation afterwards," Marijan Sabljak, society president, told SETimes.

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Marijan Sabljak, president of the Croatian Cultural Artistic and Educational Society Stanislav Preprek, said his group's goal is to ensure the interlacing of cultures of countries that once were a single state. [Nada Bozic/SETimes]

While achieving certain artistic standards is one of their main objectives, he said, the central goal is to spread confidence and ensure the interlacing of cultures of countries that two decades ago made up a single state.

"It is not possible to destroy traces from the past, especially because we are all neighbours now and have to live together," Sabljak said. "The most important thing for our society is that members of all national communities are represented. So, we have Serbs, Croats, Hungarians. I never ask about nationality when someone comes to join our society."

Ternipe, in Delcevo, Macedonia, illustrates the same principles.

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Although its members are mostly children from the Roma ethnic community, it also includes young members from Macedonia, Turkey and Serbia.

"Our goal is to bring children closer to each other so they can learn about each other through language, culture and songs," Zenil Redzepov, the artistic director of Ternipe, which was established in 2007, told SETimes.

"When we are guests somewhere, the audience is amazed when they see that as part of our repertoire we also dance to Macedonian or Serbian folk music and we sing Turkish songs," Redzepov said.

How can governments implement principles of tolerance and co-existence into daily life in the Balkans? Share your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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