Fantasies of New Cities: Andric’s Marina, an older Skopje and other etno-dreams

Ever since the mayor of Trebinje Božidar Vučurević announced during the siege of Dubrovnik that “we will build an older and nicer Dubrovnik” (Sagradit ćemo još stariji i ljepši Dubrovnik), the destruction of cities and towns has been matched with fantasies of new cities and towns which would reflect the respective nationalist fantasies. The engineers of destruction were so successful in their destruction of cities that even 20 years since the beginning of the wars, these fantasies remained largely unrealized (if one excludes the successful elimination of reminders of the other). Right after the war, there were plans about transforming the Eastern suburbs of Sarajevo and the mountain resort/war-time “capital” of the Bosnian Serb leadership Pale into a Serbian Sarajevo metropolis. After 15 years, little of what has been planed was ever built.  Most post-conflict states were busy with reconstruction and short in cash to engage in grandiose building plans. In recent years, there has been movement. There is no Astana on the horizon, but rather a number of smaller projects which are telling about today’s nationalist fantasies.

Andrićgrad. This project by director Nemanja Emir Kusturica to build a city/tribute to Ivo Andric/stage for his film of Andric’s novel The Bridge on the Drina. Ground breaking ceremony was held on 28 June (Vidovdan) with heavy machinery, Carmina Burana and the President of the Serb Republic and Government.  A large-scale project, co-founded by the RS government and Kusturica has an estimated cost of about 12 million euros (although the costs seems little considering the ambition of the project), includes 50 stone houses as well as a church, hotels, theatre, and shops. The project has been controversial for ignoring the context of the recent war–one of the worst war criminals Milan Lukic lived close by. Furthermore the project seems problematic due to its proximity to the UNESCO world heritage protected bridge, the hero of Andric’ novel. The plans suggest that the new ‘town’ is more a Disneyland for Andric (The New Yorker even picked up the story and suggested the establishment of a string of similar towns in the US, including Rothlandia in Newark, New Jersey), focusing on tourism (including a marina?!). The goal of this plan is not to re-create Ottoman Visegrad, as Andric describes it in his novel, but a parallel history, a Balkan renaissance city which never could happen due to the “Turkish occupation”.

Küstendorf-Drvengrad. This little fake Serbian village was a by-product of Kusturica’s film Life if a Miracle. It  looks like a modest dry-run for Andricgrad. Like Andricgrad, it is not a town or city, but rather the attempt to recreate an idealized village. This vision is rejecting diversity, but rather projects a homogenous idealized Serbian rural village, centred around a church and the anti-globalization film festival.

Etnoselo Stanišići. This little “ethnic village” (ethno selo sounds a lot less conspicuous than an ethnic village). The benefactor of this village, Borisa Stanišić apparantly brought together Serb farm houses from throughout Bosnia to build this idealized village, including a Greek restaurant and a hotel Pirg in a retro-‘Balkan’ style.

Slobomir. This is the only project which is clear modernist in outlook, it plans to be more than just a tourist destination–including the Pavlović Tower, the tallest tower in the Balkans (although the predicted 37 floors seem to be beaten by a number of candidates in the region, the Avaz tower in Sarajevo has 36 floors). However, the plan seems to be older than others (dating back to the late 1990s), but besides the university, bank and television station, not much has been built.

Skopje 2014 differs from the other projects. It does not create a new city, but is transforming an existing city. It does share a number of similarities: It is a project to re-write history to cover up the present. It includes the constructions of buildings which were destroyed by the earthquake in 1963, the recreation of a pseudo-authentic Macedonia architecture, interspersed with a monumental landscape which reminds of a host of national heroes at every corner, but also the old-fashioned style of the sculptures suggests that the monuments are ‘old’ and ‘authentic’ reminders of the heroes, not new creations.

The fantasies of new cities are fantasies of ethnically homogenous towns, often small, lying about their own age, suggesting that they are authentic and old. They are constructing an alternative history, idealizing a past which never existed, from a Balkan renaissance to an neo-classical  Macedonia style. It is no surprise that a project of creating a modern city in the rural countryside a la Slobomir has not fared as well as the creation of ‘new-old’ towns  that are justified as tourist destinations and shed the burden of complexity and diversity which real cities in the region can offer.

7 Responses to Fantasies of New Cities: Andric’s Marina, an older Skopje and other etno-dreams

  1. nizar says:

    The media are giving Kamengrad a lot more attention than it deserves. It seems quite peculiar that Republic of Srpska has a 120 million deficit solely in the retirement fund(one should take in to consideration that pensions in RS are considerably lower than those in the Federation), but still has 25 millions to invest in Kusturica`s project. This project will end (or should I say, never begin) like all the other grandiose projects of Dodik`s government, like the Banja Luka- Bijeljina highway, Trebinje airport, Power plant in Gacko…

  2. Neretva'43 says:

    “The fantasies of new cities are fantasies of ethnically homogenous towns, often small, lying about their own age, suggesting that they are authentic and old.”

    This is just consequence, and ultimately madness of policy brought primarily by Berlin and Washington. This what you wrote should/must be seeing and studied in the context, without it, it is just worthless and meaningless. The real estate is favorite social engineering tool of capitalist and imperialist and all this mentioned serve the goal of foreign forces very well. Simply stated, the EU and US promoters of liberal-democracy have nothing to offer to the people of BiH (and anybody else for that matter), in whose benefit they are allegedly working. And yet nobody is saying or asking: Where the money is coming from and how is gonna to be repaid (remember the Greece)? We are in the age of new-colonialism, and countries such as Bosnia are in parlance of “occupiers” we are just on peripheral of, I guess, the civilization.

    In addition to your list, the list of the other real estate projects – less conspicuous – is long. I am reading the financiers from notorious Slovenia want to rebuild football stadium in Sarajevo. The figures are fantastic for local circumstances, and revenues from them are less than non-existent. While these “projects” are surreal, the poverty is real ( but it is only statistical fact, and it isn’t worrisome for those who are holding the power and those who supporting them namely IMF, WB, EBRD, EU, UN, USA and numerous so-called NGO sector. It is worth to notice that In my past life, in ex Yugoslavia, we had no poverty.

  3. Pingback: Andricgrad and Visegrad « Sarajevo Seyahatname

  4. Marius says:

    I think you’re mixing pretty different projects here, and you conveniently ignore the economy behind them because you’re fixated on the ethnic/social/political ideas you (want to?) see in them.

    Things like Küstendorf and Stanišić’s village are essentially somewhat glorified museum and tourism villages of the kind that exist pretty much everywhere in Europe (your native Austria has some of these, too, recreating cosy “villages of the good old times”). Those aren’t really settlements where people are expected to work and live – that’s not the point of an “etno selo”.

    But seriously, “rejecting diversity”? Excuse me? We’re not talking about a multiethnic metropolis here. Do you know how “diversified” the country villages in Bosnia used to be in reality? Should we rather create a fake, idealised past with a mosque, a catholic and an orthodox church in the middle of each village? That’s not just silly, it would only cement the neurotic ethnocentrism that keeps Bosnia firmly stuck in the past, and that is very much fostered by outsiders as well. Or would you rather not see any “etnoselo” at all? Then I’m waiting for your call to get rid of the nasty “Museumsdörfer” in the rest of Europe…

    Kamengrad/Andricgrad is just an extension of that, with a bit more of a Disney feel to it. Sure, its location and size make it a bit more than that – in this case I agree one goal seems to be to make a point and create a forceful symbol.

    But “Slobomir” is a fundamentally different thing: a grandiose project expected to build an actual working city in the middle of nowhere.

    And yes, “it is no surprise that a project of creating a modern city in the rural countryside a la Slobomir has not fared as well”. But why? Is it because Mr. Pavlovic’s lifetime monument is not “ethnic” enough for the powers to be? Well, it should be obvious that we’re talking about different orders of magnitude in terms of investment, and an entirely different economic model of how this settlement is expected to work. Tourists won’t flock to Slobomir en masse, at least not before it has some grandiose buildings to see, and even then they couldn’t possibly be the only source of income. This project will take hundreds of millions of EUR investment just as a start. It will require people to actually move there, and they will need money and good reasons for that. And little details like infrastructure to work, send their kids to school, etc.

    All this opposed to a modest museum village, which you can probably get going for a few 100k or maybe a million, pay the upkeep from the cash flow you generate from day visitors, and then grow from that in steps. All you need is a few picturesque huts, a kiosk and working toilets and off you go.

    I doubt that Slobomir would fare much better if it was marketed as an eee-vuhl Serbian nationalist project with an Orthodox cathedral in the center. The money isn’t here, and brick and mortar are expensive, while talk is cheap.

  5. Pingback: For Those That Can Tell No Tales: Bosnian film director finally wrestles away Visegrad from of Emir Kustrica. | Bosnienbloggen

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