GORNJA MAOCA — In Sarajevo, you come to realize that all the essential things in the world have been affected by war, or rather, by the circumstances of war. You realize the economy's upheaval, the general misery and, above all, the turmoil in each individual life: embarrassment, uncertainty, anxiety.
"It's like being in a prison and knowing that you can't get out," says a friend of mine who works in television. "You hear stories you won't believe. It's such a small part of the world that you can't understand how it's so difficult to live."
Bosnia and Herzegovina is fertile ground for fundamentalism, and people say that many who go to fight in Mosul and Raqqa pass through here on their way.
What the people have been deprived of here is not just a united country. A year ago, people took to the streets, burning town halls and ministries, demonstrating their rage against chronic hunger and frustration about the country's paralysis and corruption. One year later, nothing has happened — civic committees have entirely disappeared or have been absorbed by political parties.
That's what brought me here to the small town of Gornja Maoca, where the ISIS flag has been raised and the people live as if they were in lands conquered by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's men. Just like in Mosul, black flags are flying — a mere hour's plane flight from Vienna.
"You're going to Maoca?" asks my friend smiling. "Save yourself the journey. All you'll find there is hypocritical silence. Did you know that you can't find vinegar in Sarajevo's supermarkets anymore? They're owned by Arab groups. This is supposed to be a multiethnic city, but men won't even shake my hand, and they lower their eyes when I speak. Because I am a woman, they won't look at me," she says.
Fights have broken out in the mosque in Nedjadici because new radical preachers want to abandon the old Bosnian prayer traditions, she tells me. "Don't bother going to Maoca," she says. "It's not worth the hassle. There are bad people there."
Bosnian TV channel reportage in Gorjna Maoca — Source: Skiljo Kikas
A few weeks ago in Sarajevo the trial of Bilan "the Recruiter" Bosnic began. He went around the mosques, gathering the support of poor youth in small villages — and there was no shortage of listeners. According to official reports, 130 Bosnians are currently fighting with ISIS, and at least 30 have already been killed. But these are just the optimistic official figures issued to avoid spreading panic.
A different world
Maoca is near Brcko, on the northeastern border with Croatia, at least four hours drive from Sarajevo. Even as we pass through the smallest towns, we can see new minarets being constructed, funded by money from Saudi Arabia.
We stopped at an inn and met a group of boys, and when it became clear we were heading to Maoca, one of them took out his phone to show me a photo. "Look! This is Mirza Ganic, the martyr," he says, showing pictures of a bearded man holding his gun against the backdrop of a beautiful villa, built in the distinctive style of refined Syrian mansions. There's another photo of a group of guys in a pool, and the final one is of the same man wrapped in a blanket, dead, at the feet of his companions.
"He was born in Sandzak, and he got injured on his way here," the boy says. "It wasn't a mortal wound. He could have been easily saved. But he came here to die and become a martyr, so they left him to bleed to death."
Bairo "the Bosnian" Ikonovic is another who went over there; he's one of the bosses in the caliphate. "Some people decide to travel in space, but here in Bosnia this is how they hold on to a glorious past. In their minds, it will bring back the golden age of Islam," says the boy.
Mosque in Sarajevo — Photo: Avrupa/GFDL
The small Serbian cemetery was moved away when the Muslims bought the lands. Wherever you stand, there are simple tombstones and crosses, most of the deceased unnamed. A group of children plays nearby, the girls with their heads covered. There is something wry and gentle in the way they look at you, like the smile of an old lady and sad child mixed together. The two biggest kids are lookouts, ready to warn when someone is coming.
The houses here are barns made of stones and mud, and the flags of the caliphate don't fly from the windows of the houses anymore because the police took them down. But the black and white lettering remains on the balconies of those who proclaim the "true faith."
Prayer and violence
We stop near the mezdid, the place of prayer — in Salafist Maoca, there is no mosque. Trousers, djellabas and niqabs all hang in the local shop. We arrive just before noon, prayer time, and women dressed in black niqabs traipse through the snow with their brightly colored plastic sandals. The men all have long beards, boots and warm layers piled on top of their djellabas.
The head, the "emir," is Nesred Imamovic, and he left for Syria months ago with his wives and children. He named Merset Cekic as head of the community. This is a man who hurries to prayer; he lost an eye and looks at us with the remaining one with hatred as he spits on the ground. "Go away. No one here wants to talk to you," he says.
It isn't easy to live here, says a man who finally agrees to speak with us. "We have come from different places in Bosnia. Many work as masons and laborers in Brcko. Some people have even tried to go to Germany and Austria for work, but the people at the border saw that they came from Maoca and sent them back, telling them they were terrorists," he says.
"When the flags were put up, around 200 soldiers came with their faces covered, terrifying all the children," says the man, who wishes to remain anonymous. "They smashed up houses and stole about 3,000 euros from me. You tell me, is this not terrorism?"
Asked about the caliphate, he replies, "Muhammad said the whole world will belong to Islam, and the cross will be broken. This is the sign that this time is coming."
But this holy war is killing many Muslims, I tell him. "Answer me first, foreigner: What do the Americans, the British, all you infidels do to the Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria? This is fascism. The Muslims in Sarajevo and other cities are the same as the Americans — they're false believers," he says. "I dream of a Bosnia where there's a mosque at every corner to pray."
He invites us to his house to show me how it was damaged by the police. One of his children is learning to read by reciting verses of the Koran, and black veils hastily disappear behind a door. He shows me the police report, which details the items that were confiscated: a gun, three bayonets and a sword.