Swimmer Born without Arms Wins Regional Gold

A six-year-old from Zenica who was born without arms won a gold medal at the regional swimming championship for the disabled in Zagreb this weekend. Ismail Zulfić traveled to the competition in Croatia with a team of Bosnia’s only club for children swimmers with disabilities, Spid. The club members train at the Olympic Pool Otoka in Sarajevo.

“Six children in our club traveled (to Zagreb). Ismail competed in the 50-meter category. When he reached the finish line, he said with a big smile: ‘I won’,” said coach Amel Kapo.

Three times a week, Ismail’s parents drive him to swim training in Sarajevo from their home in the city of Zenica, 70 kilometers north.  It is a considerable financial burden for his father, a steel factory worker, and his unemployed mother, reported AFP last year. But the trips have allowed Ismail to become a proud member of Spid, the only swimming club in the country for children with disabilities.

Bosnian children with disabilities get almost five times less state aid than maimed war veterans, while disabled access to schools, sports halls and other institutions remains hugely limited. Amel Kapo, a 30-year-old sports graduate in Sarajevo, decided to set up the swimming school after he noticed children with disabilities were coming to the pool without professional supervision. He was convinced nobody would deny support to such a project, especially not the authorities, but all he could get from them was a one-off grant of 1,000 euros from the culture ministry.

The training is given for free by Kapo and three fellow volunteers, but the monthly bill to use the municipal swimming pool is around 650 euros, paid through donations from two local businesses.

There are about 50 children in the club from all over Bosnia, home to 300,000 people with disabilities, including 84,000 who fought in the 1992-1995 war. Social benefits weigh heavily on the budget, as nearly half of the active population is unemployed.

Europe Day Will Be Marked with Events across Bosnia

The Delegation of the European Union and the EU Info Center are marking Europe Day, 9 May, with a number of events to be held across Bosnia. The Europe Day celebration begins on Monday, 8 May, with an exhibition to be opened by the Head of the EU Delegation to Bosnia and EU Special Representative, Ambassador Lars-Gunnar Wigemark. An illustrator and comic author of Bosnian roots, Mirko Ilić, will present 24 posters by famous illustrators from around the world.

The reception and concert of the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra to mark Europe Day will be held at the National Theater in Sarajevo on 9 May.

On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Erasmus+, a European Union education exchange program, a panel will take place between students of the Faculty of Political Sciences in Sarajevo, beneficiaries of the Erasmus+ program and Nikola Minasi, the Ambassador of Italy to Bosnia, in the new library of the Faculty of Political Sciences on 10 May.

On 11 May, a concert featuring the band Zoster will take place in front of the BBI center in Sarajevo, while on 12 May, the band Elemental will entertain audience at Krajina Square in Banja Luka. The band Pips, Chips & Video Clips will play at OKC Abrašević in Mostar on 16 May.

Ambassador Wigemark will attend the Literary Afternoon in Banja Luka, while on 16 May, at the Pavarotti Music Center in Mostar, the Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to BiH Khaldoun Sinno will attend a Musical Afternoon with the Mostar Rock School and the “Superar Srebrenica” Children’s Choir, followed by a discussion on the role of music in building bridges between people.

In cooperation with the Cultural Association Dante Alighieri and the Embassy of Italy, an exhibition dedicated to the work of Bosnian writer Predrag Matvejević will take place on 18 May at the EU Info Center.

Within the “European Film Days” event, each evening from 22 to 31 May at the Meeting Point Cinema, cinema fans will have the opportunity to enjoy screenings of selected European films.

On 23 May, in cooperation with the Directorate for European Integration, the EU Info Center will host a briefing for media representatives on the topic of “Media reporting on the financial assistance of the European Union in BiH”.

In addition, EU Member State embassies, their cultural centers and the European Union Force in Bosnia are participating in the celebration of Europe Day with a number of events.

See full list of the events here.

Volunteers Join Global Clean-up Campaign

Volunteers joined a global campaign “Let’s Do It  – Clean up the World in Just One Day” on Saturday to clean city streets, parks, picnic spots, river beds and lakes. Coordinator of the campaign, Junuz Elkaz, said it was the 6th volunteer campaign organized in Bosnia.

“Turnout has been increasing by the year. Communal companies and local authorities also supported the campaign,” he said.

He said the campaign was implemented in more than 70 municipalities and cities since April 22, Earth Day. Thousands of volunteers collected hundreds of tons of waste.

This year’s campaign was supported by Eko život d.o.o., Konzum, UN volunteers, UNDP, Sarajevski Kiseljak, Almy d.o.o., Podravka and the Una-Sana Canton’s ministry of zoning and environmental protection. Bosnian Olympic Committee supported the project financially and logistically.

Neretva Battle Anniversary Marked

The 74th anniversary of the WWII “Neretva Battle” was marked Saturday at the battle memorial in Jablanica. The ceremony was attended by representatives of the government, the WWII veterans’ organization and guests from the countries of former Yugoslavia.

The marking started with the opening of an exhibition of Tuzla Canton Archives called “The historic railway in the historical sources” and the guests throwing 74 carnations from the remains of a railway bridge, destroyed during the battle, into the Neretva River.

Battle of the Neretva, also known as the battle for the wounded, is a common name for a series of battles in the Neretva valley between Yugoslav Partisans and the Axis forces during February and March 1943. For the Germans, this was the Operation Weiss II, but in Yugoslav historiography, this was the culmination of the 4th Enemy Offensive.

Young and Emerging Artists Exhibit at Collegium Artisticum

An exhibition of young and emerging authors opens Saturday, May 6 at the Collegium Artisticum gallery in Sarajevo. The exhibition includes works of 13 young Bosnian authors who shape the culture and art scene of the city.

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The works emphasize “processuality, transformation action, space intervention, playful creativity and exploration, curiosity, soul searching and the need to respond to the current problem situations in the society”, the organizer said.

The exhibition will be open by May 20. The authors that took part in the exhibition are Aldin Mustafi, Anesa Kadić, Azra Subašić, Damir Šabić, Dženan Hadžihasanović, Lamija Halilagić, Maja Skenderović, Mak Hubjer, Marko Francešević, Mirza Rahmanović, Nardina Zubanović, Vanja Solaković and Zlatan Hadžifejzović. The curator is Sanela Osmanović.

Nationalist Rhetoric Worrying, Says Swedish FM

Bosnian Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak said the visit of the Swedish Foreign Minister was “a visit of an old friend of our country, because Sweden is a friend that supports our country in its most important foreign policy goals”.

He said focus of the meeting with Margot Wallström was the European integration of Bosnia and the efforts to finalize the Questionnaire of the European Commission so that the country can get candidate status by the end of this year or at the beginning of next year.

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The two ministers also discussed the anti-terror efforts – one of the priorities of both countries. Minister Wallström said her visit to Bosnia was part of a three countries in two days” to the region.

“I came as a friend and partner to BiH,” said Wallstrom, adding that Sweden is one of the countries that advocate the EU enlargement.

She added she is aware of the fact that it is a very demanding process, but she welcomed the progress that was made in that direction and called for further implementation of reforms and steps towards membership in the EU.

“We believe that the economy market – the labor market is an important area, and an advantage of membership in the EU that the citizens of BiH should be informed about,” she said.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden expressed concerns about the frequent instances of nationalist rhetoric, not only in Bosnia but in the neighboring countries as well, and emphasized it is necessary to do everything and avoid such situations in the future.

She concluded that regardless of difficult past of Bosnia and the region, it is necessary to look to the future for young people, and that the regional cooperation is key for prosperity of the region.

Neo-Nazis Use Internet to Gain a Foothold

Far-right groups in the Balkans have increasingly turned to the Internet to get their extreme message across. More than 60 websites in the region can be found promoting the idea of ethnically pure nation states, neo-Nazism, violent homophobia and other radical right-wing policies, according to a piece posted on Balkan Insight.

In Bosnia, Serb far-right Chetnik groups rely mainly on the Ravna Gora movement, which last year opened an office in the northwestern town of Prijedor. They are also active online and their webpage has 4,000 daily visits while their overall number of visits is some 3 million. They have several groups on Facebook but they are mostly closed.

The webpage of Bosnia’s main Ustasha movement is registered in Kassel, Germany, and offers its own history of the WWII Nazi puppet state, the Independent State of Croatia, a section on “proven Serbian lies” and a list of patriotic songs. Neo-Ustasha groups in Bosnia are especially active in areas close to the border in Croatia, where ethnic incidents flare between the majority Croat population and Bosniak Muslims.

Bosniaks have their own far-right groups, however. Most are linked with radical Islam. But in recent years new movements have also emerged, such as the Bosnian Movement of National Pride, BPNP, which promotes the identity of Bosniaks but without religious prefix. They advocate a secular Bosniak state while declaring a broad list of groups, including Jews, Roma, communists, gays and people of color as enemies of Bosnia.

The moderator of this group’s webpage is a Sarajevan who now lives in Sweden and works under the pseudonym of a former SS officer. This page also has a forum, but one can become a part of it only after answering questions.

One of its leaders told BIRN under the condition of anonymity that their goal was to end the international community’s “dictatorship” over Bosnia, prevent Serbs and Croats from seceding and block the interference of Russia and Turkey in Bosnia’s affairs.

“I joined the movement when I was 21. I started reading about the history of Bosnia and Bosniaks and saw how much Bosniaks had suffered and how many powers tried to wipe out our people,” he said.

“I wanted to protect our people and the BPNP was the only option as they don’t fear to tell the truth,” he told BIRN.

Almost all of the organisations promoting far-right or nationalist ideas in the Balkans have links with similar organizations in Europe.

According to the BPNP member that BIRN spoke to, this organization has the strongest ties with organisations in Scandinavia and Ukraine, but he was mysterious about exactly what kind of relations and cooperation they have.

Despite the conflicting nationalist agendas of the far-right groups in Croatia and Serbia, they share a desire for parts of Bosnia and promote the self-determination or independence of the Croats and Serbs in Bosnia, to create a Greater Croatia or Greater Serbia. Serbian rightists call for the unification of today’s Serbia with Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, and with parts of Croatia that were once dominated by Serbs.