Zelenkovac, Bosnia & Herzegovina

10 08 2009

caffe and gallery insideWhile staying in Bosnia we went to Zelenkovac an “eco-zone” in the Serbian part of the country, Republika Srpska. Zelenkovac means ‘the little green one’ and consists of a former water-mill turned into a bar-gallery and several bungalows making it a village.

A little bit of history

The project started over 20 years ago and has always evolved around Borislav Jankovic or Boro, its main owner and founder. His father owned an ancient water-mill in the middle of the forest and Boro wanted to turn it in into a painting studio. Called insane by his entourage, he decided to spend more time in nature and gradually started living in Zelenkovac. The water-mill was turned into a bar-gallery, and attracted more and more people coming from all places. Then, the war came and Boro decided to stay in his place, giving its peculiar name to the gallery “Why didn’t Boro leave?”.

The country changed drastically after the conflict. From the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia it became a capital-based economy under the name of  Bosnia and Herzegovina, split-up between: the Federacija (where Bosnian-Muslims and Bosnian-Croats live) and the Republika Srpska (where Bosnian-Serbs live). Yet, even though the political and economical situation affected a lot the people of this region, Zelenkovac managed to gain popularity as a green oasis and was tolerated, then appreciated as an “eco-zone”.

Today, like-minded individuals have created the Ecological Movement Zelenkovac which strives towards preserving Nature. In its website it is stated to be the “only organization of that kind” in the area. (source: click link)

 

Environmental Spirit

The Ecological Movement Zelenkovac was founded in 1997 and describes its activities as “[…] based on tracking and improving life and work environment of people, protecting and improving flora and fauna, plus development of young people’s ecological awareness that are key factor for development of healthy society”. (source: click link)

The natural beauty of the forests around Zelenkovac is enough to remind anyone of the importance and the necessity of having green spaces in our world. Yet, we felt the environmental potencial of this place could be much more developped. In fact, while we were there, we found some inconsistencies regarding the “eco” aspect of this “eco-zone”. For example, synthetic soap is directly used in the river polluting it, waste is not selected and it is easy to find garbage left behind. We believe these practices are not suitable for an “eco-zone”.

It is true that by existing it prevents the government from selling the land, and that on its own is a major environmental success, but responsability on a personal level is crucial.


 

An inconvenient joy

According to Alex, the owner’s son, in 2004 at the annual Jazz festival, police made a raid and wanted to shut down the place after finding 60g of marihuana. That same year a petition was launched in the region of Mrkonjic Grad and 92% of the population supported the “eco-zone”. Taken to the mayor, this petition helped protect the project and the land. Apparently, the government had plans to shut the “eco-zone” down and sell individual pieces of land for the construction of weekend houses.

Today, the people in power seem to be more supportive. For last year’s Jazz Fest, the government even made a financial contribution to the event. 

 

Our visit

We spent two nights couchsurfing at this place, recommended as a must see in Europe… And for sure it would have been the case, any other weekend.

They were hosting the annual Jazz Festival, and for the time we were there it turned out to be a Hard-Rock, Psy-Trance gathering with lots of alcohol and nationalistic propaganda going around. It was pretty scary and we wanted to leave the day after we got there, but we finally met some French guys that were in a similar situation so we stayed together and the experience changed completely. We were able to find more like-minded individuals coming from Italy, Lebanon and Spain. We also connected with some of the people there and had long conversations. But Juan did not dare to mention he is also Bosnian, as muslims were explicitly not welcome by some, not all. This made the experience quite unique: he understood everything they said but could not show it. For example, 30 minutes after arriving there, a drunk man approached us in Serbian asking if we were ‘theirs’ or not. The word ‘ours’ is used by all sides (Bosnians, Serbians and Croatians) to distinguish themselves from the ‘others’ or ‘them’. After the war, this became common and is often used in the region, even though for centuries these people belonged to the same ethnicity. Realizing we spoke only English, the man asked in Serbian how come we were not ashamed of ourselves for not speaking the language, and followed by saying he would kill us in a second if he had a chance, making a cross-sign with his hand… Hearing that does not make one feel comfortable at all.

We want to make it clear that this atmosphere was caused by the people who attended the event, not the place nor its founders nor members of the ecological movement. It reflects the contemporary social situation of the country as a whole.

 

Conclusion

The man behind the construction of this elfic site, Boro, his son Alex, Tomislav the barman and Boggy showed a sincere interest in having a space where humans can enjoy nature and be as close to her as possible, according to their standards. The fact is that by existing, this eco-zone prevents the government from selling the beautiful land as individual acres for weekend houses. On top of that, even though Zelenkovac makes money from renting bungalows and having various Festivals, they host couchsurfers for free any time, creating a sense of fraternity. Go Boro, congratulations and please use some biodegradable soap!

 

Take it further:

To learn more about Zelenkovac and the Ecological Movement Zelenkovac go to: www.zelenkovac.org

To learn more about couchsurfing go to: http://www.couchsurfing.org/about.html

All pictures of the village are a courtesy of snowgirl_bih from the webshots community. Thanks! To see more photos from this artist go to: http://community.webshots.com/user/snowgirl_bih

The painting Zelenkovac na moru is Borislav Jankovic’s. More pictures of his paintings are found here: http://www.zelenkovac.org/index.php?option=com_rsgallery2&Itemid=71&gid=15

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