07 / 29 / 2014

“Golden ages”

Dear Naya,

Every country, city, or family has an age in its past perceived as a golden era, the location of fairy tales, in the imagination as real as – or more real than – any other period of history. In our minds its landscapes are overdrawn with gold like the illumination of a medieval manuscript or the decorative swirls of jugendstil.

In Sarajevo – once upon a time known as the ‘little Jerusalem of Europe’ – the golden age of tolerance has different backdrops, depending on who you talk to. Sitting in the shady courtyard of an old madrasah, a curator tells us the story of the sultan who paid for a church, a synagogue and a mosque to be built close together in the bascarsija, the city’s bazaar. At the Sephardic synagogue, however, an elderly man claims that life was at its simplest and best under Tito. Later on, a student in his twenties describes the Habsburgs as “good occupators… they really understood people here. The newspapers appeared in three languages. Thank God, I am happy they came here. The post office. Universities. Theatre. Hospital, the city hall. They brought a different way of life. There were opportunities, people moved around. My surname is Hungarian. I am a living relic of this age.”

It is a statement that comes up over and again in Sarajevo: I am a living relic.