Actor Michael A. Green shares a powerful insight into living through the war in Yugoslavia.
Even during Yugoslavia, Bosnia was a politically and emotionally unstable country.
My professor was telling me that you had be very careful which songs you sang publicly in different parts of Bosnia, or which language (Croatian, Bosnian or Serbian) you spoke on the streets.
The worst place, some argue, was Sarajevo. It was always divided into three parts and there was a saying about Sarajevo – “Three nations, three religions, three languages in three square metres”.
The situation was very intense and on the edge of war in 1980, so it was not a coincidence that the Winter Olympic Games took place in Sarajevo – to calm down the situation.
The situation has not really changed. There are still UN troops in Bosnia and people assure me that if they ever leave, the war will continue.
During the attacks on Sarajevo the city was surrounded by battlefields. Serbs were attacking Sarajevo, Croatians were attacking Serbs, the UN was trying to keep the peace and people from Sarajevo (Saralije) – Serbs, Croats, Bosnians together were fighting for Sarajevo. It was a chaotic situation – a mixed, united bunch inside Sarajevo fighting against even their own people.
During the war people found their own ways to survive, so they were growing vegetables on their balconies.
An opera singer from Sarajevo told me they had a book of recipes for dishes made from beans – there were more 400 of them (bread, crepes, stews).
Another friend from Croatia told me she realised how little water a person actually needs for personal hygiene per day, since in the war zones there was no electricity and no water. To wash yourself, wash your hair, to brush your teeth you need approximately 500ml of water per day and sometimes you can even wash some of your clothes with the remaining supply.
A friend of mine from Mostar told me that his family owned properties and buildings on both sides of Neretva river. After the Old Bridge was destroyed in 1993 they could not access the property. There were also fights going on so they were watching from the other side as strangers entered their properties, taking all their stuff. Some of them moved into a building and repainted the facade of the house green.
Living in Zagreb during the Balkan war was actually a very interesting experience. Fortunately I was way too young and way too inexperienced to understand what was really going on otherwise I am not sure if I would have stayed there during that time. I guess my thirst for knowledge was overpowering my fear.
The moment that will remain burned into my memory for ever was the day Zagreb was attacked by General Mladic. Bombs were falling all over the city. A few of them fell on our school, on the ballet studio and one of the unexploded bombs fell on the bench outside the Croatian National Theatre , exactly the same spot where I was sitting with my friend a few minutes earlier. The interesting thing is we did not feel any fear, just the will to survive.
Life has such a strange way of telling stories.
Although my father’s family is from Croatia I would have never thought I will start my education in Croatia. Growing up I didn’t even speak the language – and there I was starting my theatrical studies in Zagreb in a language I hardy spoke, with people I hardly knew, places I had never seen before.
And to top that – it was during the Balkan war and during bomb attacks on Zagreb. War alarms, hiding in shelters, a curfew – these were just some of the everyday challenges we faced.
As part of my studies I was involved in a production of Jean Girodoux: The Troyan War Will Not Take Place (La guerre de Troie n’aura pas lieu) in Kamerni Teater 55 in Sarajevo, directed by my professor Tomislav Durbesic. Just the choice of producing this particular show in Sarajevo during the major attacks was incredible and the day after the opening night, Serbian attacks on Sarajevo began so we had to escape through the tunnel built underneath the town of Sarajevo. Clearly the experience I will never forget – fortunately I was too young to actually understand what was going on, but I have learned that people can and will survive because no matter what is going on around us, no matter what religion or nation we are, when in need we do help each other.
A human can be a beast and a friend at the same time.
Michael A. Green (Alujevic) is musical theatre performer currently living between Vienna, Austria and Cologne Germany. His credits include solo concerts, cabarets, operettas, musicals and stage plays in various languages (German,English, French, Italian, Croatian, Slovene) all over EU and USA. MY FAIR LADY – Freddy (Kammeroper Köln), DER SCHMIED VON RULA – der Langraff (Neues Attelier Wien), LA CAGE AUX FOLLES – Jean Michel (Kammeroper Köln), TITANIC.SI (Artbark , Greenspace Studios NYC USA), CABARET – MC (SLG Celje)