Roundtable – “Communities, Connections, and Homelands”

Following the Presidential Address at noon on October 1 was the roundtable panel discussion on the topic of “Communities, Connections, and Homelands.” The panel participants were faculty, staff, alumni, and a graduate student from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Dr. Judith Pintar (Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures), Dr. Richelle Bernazzoli (Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Geography), Dr. Rob Whiting (Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Geography who is now a course mentor at Western Governor’s State University), Ryan Haynes (Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Musicology), and Joe Lenkart (Research Associate and Reference Specialist in the Slavic Reference Service). They each spoke about the Bosnian diaspora in their respective fields of specialization. The panel chair was Dr. Donna Buchanan, Associate Professor in the Department of Music and a REEEC faculty affiliate.

Panelists from left to right: Prof. Donna Buchanan, Joe Lenkart, Ryan Haynes, Dr. Rob Whiting, Prof. Richelle Bernazzoli, and Prof. Judith Pintar

Panelists from left to right: Prof. Donna Buchanan, Joe Lenkart, Ryan Haynes, Dr. Rob Whiting, Prof. Richelle Bernazzoli, and Prof. Judith Pintar

Dr. Judith Pintar was the first presenter. She remarked on the “beginning of a new and exciting relationship between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Bosnian community in Chicago.” The creation of a media archive on the Bosnian diaspora was a collaboration between BosTel (the Bosnian-American television station based in Chicago), and the International and Area Studies Library on campus. It will be an important addition to transnational studies, and trauma and diaspora studies. Dr. Pintar noted how the Bosnian experience is “translocal.” Bosnia is a country of multiple nationalities, where people come from and identify with particular villages. In diaspora, Bosnians organized themselves by their hometowns, no matter what part of the world they eventually settled. The Bosnian War tried to destroy everything that made a place a place, both the physical surroundings and the relationships between people. The refugees lost everything that surrounded their former life. To describe the Bosnian diaspora’s transition from their old home to their new home, Dr. Pintar spoke about a “translocal zavičaj.Zavičaj (pronounced za-vy-chai) is the Bosnian word for homeland. According to her, the wartime damage was remade through diaspora. More accessible travel and new technologies, such as Skype and social networking sites, foster connections among people from the same hometowns. The homeland is expanded; zavičaj is created. However, the new zavičaj is more complicated because it includes new homelands. Dr. Pintar noted how the Bosnian community in St. Louis, many of whom have ties to Sarajevo, have constructed a fountain like the one in their hometown in their new home. Furthermore, Dr. Pintar observed that her student Medina Spiodic, a sophomore in REEEC who was instrumental in bringing about President Zeljko Komsic’s visit to campus, was extending zavičaj to the University of Illinois. Dr. Pintar concluded with the statement that “translocal zavičaj” is remaking a home in a new home, which is part of the healing process.

After Dr. Pintar, Dr. Bernazzoli spoke about the dearth of academic scholarship on the Bosnian diaspora. She observed how the diaspora created strong informal and social ties among the Bosnian community. It produced and reinforced the sense of homeland within the local community. Dr. Bernazzoli pointed out that the Bosnian diaspora is widely dispersed and relatively young. The rates of return to Bosnia, despite the war’s end, is low. Thus, the transnational paradigm is not the best fit to explain the Bosnian diaspora. More useful and appropriate approaches to studying it are a policy analysis on the role of the nation-state in mobilizing human capital, and the interaction of translocality and the formation of a supranational identity to analyze the mobilization of diaspora in local communities.

The third to speak was Dr. Whiting. He discussed the concept of place and diaspora, and asserted the uniqueness of the Bosnian experience. Drawing upon his U.S. army experience in Bosnia, Dr. Whiting noted how the concept of place differs from physical reality. People attach meaning to a place. Those in diaspora are “displaced.” For a long time, more than seventy years before the war’s outbreak in 1992, Bosnia was part of Yugoslavia. In fact, Bosnia was considered the “most Yugoslav” of the Yugoslav republics because of its multinational composition and cultural diversity. After the war, the feeling of “Yugonostalgia” was acute, even among people who fought on opposing sides of the war. There was a terrible sense of loss; something was missing in the current experience that was embodied before. The loss of Yugoslavia was the loss of something precious and real. The only way to knit communities back together that have undergone such trauma is through shared experience.

Following Dr. Whiting was Ryan Haynes. His presentation focused on the Bosnian community in Waterloo, Iowa. Though the city was not designated as a refugee site, Bosnian refugees first arrived by bus from Chicago in 1996 to work at the Tyson plant. Initially, there was no resettlement blueprint to help the sudden influx of newcomers who desperately needed food, apartments, furniture, immigration counseling, and English lessons. Almost twenty years later, the Bosnian community has established established roots in their new homeland, where they have made a positive cultural and financial impact. Many own businesses such as restaurants, stores, and nightclubs. Students perform dances from all over the former Yugoslavia and participate in festivals showcasing their culture. Furthermore, Bosnian-Americans have started to participate in the political process. Anesa Kajtazovic was elected as the first Bosnian-American member of the Iowa House of Representatives and is contemplating a run for the United States House of Representatives. In conclusion, Haynes observed that the Bosnian community’s gatherings in the United States seal ties to their homeland. Yet, it is still a liminal community that does not fully belong in Bosnia or the United States, but has connections to both places.

Joe Lenkart gave the final presentation. He remarked how the Slavic Reference Service has served communities and scholars, both on campus and all over the world, since the late 1950s. The University of Illinois Libraries, along with several other academic libraries in the United States, participated in acquiring Yugoslav library materials through Public Law 480,  a congressional-sponsored program that liquidated Yugoslavia’s debt by acquiring its library materials. As a result, it created space for communities. The University of Illinois acquired Yugoslavia: Peoples, States, and Societies, a collection of 100 reels of microfilm, the majority of which were in Bosnian-Serbian-Croatian. Through the International and Area Studies Library’s acquisition of the Bosnian diaspora archive and the Bosnian libraries’ growing presence in online bibliographies , he hopes to build a lasting relationship between the University Libraries, the Slavic Reference Service, and Bosnia.

President Zeljko Komsic giving his concluding remarks.

President Zeljko Komsic giving his concluding remarks.

The panel concluded with a lively question-and-answer session among the panelists and members of the audience. Toward the end of the session, President Zeljko Komsic arrived to make the Presidential Remarks. He mentioned that the purpose of his visit to the United States was to help the Bosnians living here, and to improve the relationship between the U.S. and Bosnia. He expressed thanks to the University of Illinois community for their research interest in Bosnia. In particular, he appreciated all the different perspectives.  Although Bosnia is a small country, President Komsic proclaimed his pride for it and the scholarship about it. He praised the U.S. on how it has smoothly incorporated people from all over the world. He was impressed at how his host country has blended different cultures, religions, and regions into one entity. Yet, he asserted that “no matter what Bosnia-Herzegovina is, I’m happy for it.” He believed that the people of the Bosnian diaspora are happy in their new homeland. They have the “right to be who they are here” in the U.S., but not in Bosnia. He wished them all well as they integrate into American society. He encouraged them to be “good citizens of the U.S. and serve Bosnia well.” Moreover, he expressed admiration for those individuals who have become successful in their new homeland, even pointing out several people in attendance. He concluded his remarks with praise for the University of Illinois. His visit was unforgettable, and he had a “very valuable experience.” He was “very happy to be here.”

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