The Bosnians of Vienna

Selma Jahić

by Hanna Begić

Srebrenica born, Vienna based – two cities, two homes, two identities. Selma Jahić’s life has been lived in twos ever since she has fled her war-torn country of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s and resettled with her family in Vienna. 

Selma Jahić 

“It is difficult to separate my two homes from one another. I do think of myself as living in an interspace, I am as much Viennese as I am Bosnian,” says the 33-year-old content manager. Reappraising her earlier life in Srebrenica a couple of years ago, she decided to talk publicly about her experiences as a genocide survivor. At the time, Jahić felt there was a lack of knowledge about the Srebrenica genocide, so she started doing educational outreach as an eye-witness over her social media. 

Today Selma is working with the Potočari Memorial Center in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Remembering Srebrenica Organisation based in London, to promote the remembrance and understanding of the Srebrenica Genocide. Her hope is to build a strong network and spread her knowledge, especially at schools. 

Sara Velić

by Antonio Šećerović

“It’s time for the future” declared Sara Velić (21) in her campaign for chair of the Austrian Students Union.  Born in Dornbirn, Vorarlberg, she was the lead candidate of the student social-democratic party VSStÖ. And her win made history. Already leader in high school, she was her school’s spokeswoman, and as lead singer of the music band Soloflair, with whom she won the prestigious Falco award for the genre of pop/rock music.

Sara Velić (c) VSSTÖ.

Velić’s parents come from the Bosnian cities of Cazin and Velika Kladuša. During the war, her mother came to Austria via Switzerland, while her father moved to Vorarlberg as a young man. To get her on the right path, Sarah’s mother worked in gastronomy, and her father as a truck driver. 

“My parents’ journey to Austria has left a huge mark on me, as well,” says Velić. “Without their effort and hard work, I would not be where I am today.” As the chairwoman of the ÖH, she fights to break down social barriers in the education system, so that poorer students do not have to take a back seat. “It must no longer happen that a student loses a place at a university, just because they have a foreign surname.”

A student of political science and land-use planning, Sara misses the beautiful days of her childhood, when she went to her grandmother in Bosnia.

Since her grandparents died early, “that happy place” no longer exists. “The more I learn about the political and economic conditions in B&H, the more I am pained by every thought of it. I still miss being there, but it’s as if I’m missing something that is no longer there.”

Adisa Beganović

by Hanna Begić

The title of Adisa Beganović’s book is already ambiguous: Über/Leben im Krieg (a German wordplay, meaning both Surviving in War and About Living in War). Published in 2015 – her debut as an author, she writes as a former refugee passionate about telling her story and those of her peers. 

Adisa Beganović

With a natural gift for storytelling, Beganović has been pursuing a career in journalism, writing for Austrian news media such as Wiener Zeitung, Kurier and the ethno-magazine Kosmo. Although she has spent the majority of her life in Linz, Upper Austria, she has now chosen Vienna to study. This choice was not random: When she first fled the war with her mother and her eldest sister, they first arrived to Vienna. Nowadays she cannot imagine living anywhere else as the tightly knit Balkan community, but also Vienna, have welcomed her wholeheartedly. 

“As I was partly raised in Linz, some expect me to have an Upper Austrian accent, but even that has fallen away as soon as I embraced my ‘inner Viennese.’ When it comes to my identity, I would say that I am a perfect mix between a Bosnia Kahva and a Wiener Melange.”

Asja Makarević

by Emir Pekmez

Asja Makarević’s face lights up when she talks about her work. Manager of the Talents Sarajevo program the Sarajevo Film Festival from 2009 to 2017, she is now completing a PhD in Film Studies at the Goethe University Frankfurt am Main. 

Asja Makarević

“Through my work with the Film Festival, I realized that the on-going transition from a single socialist society to a group of neoliberal states is a prevalent theme in the works of filmmakers from Southeast Europe,” she told Metropole. “The cultural and political idiosyncrasies of the unordinary state I had lived in, made me want to better understand the complexity of my environment through film.” She is looking forward to getting acquainted with the specific Viennese discussion, in “the city that has become a home to my family in the past four years.”

Her enthusiasm for film began in her teens, complemented by her studies in Comparative Literature at Sarajevo’s Faculty of Philosophy, writing her thesis on Nikolai Gogol, a “cinematic” pioneer of modern narrative techniques. 

After working as a journalist, she was appointed Talents Programme Manager at the Sarajevo Film Festival, the largest film showcase in the region. During those eight years she learned a lot about the inner workings of the film industry, managing events and shaping content on a platform for emerging film professionals, as well as overall management of the short fiction films production, and travelling to festivals and workshops around the world. She is married to Austrian Christoph Hinterreiter, whom she had met him in Sarajevo where he worked for several years as an architect, eventually opening his own practice there. 

With an M.A. in Film Studies from the University of Amsterdam, she will soon defend her PhD thesis in Frankfurt, addressing the “post-war” condition of former Yugoslav countries and the emergence of “non-representational” images of war in post-Yugoslav film. 

After moving to Vienna with her family in 2017, she is now an assistant in the department of Media and Film Studies at the Vienna Film Academy.

“I like Vienna the most when it shows its international face,” says Asja, “whether in the classroom of my son in the 4th district, where his friends are of at least ten different nationalities, or at the lively Brunnenmarkt in the 16th district.” She also enjoys being taken by their friends to their favorite spots, “like Café Hold in the 8th district or Krapfenwaldbad in the 19th.”

She is, however, no fan of Wiener Grant, Viennese grumpiness. Some even call it the Viennese sense of humour, a definition that itself is a typical Schmäh. Asja understands the concept though, and for those who enjoy it, she’s willing to respond in kind.

Tina Kordić

by Emir Pekmez

It was the early 1990s, and pianist Tina Kordić was still in occupied Sarajevo. A student of Aleksandra Romanić, Kordić had played her first solo concert when she was sixteen and became committed to the preservation of cultural life in the besieged city, participating in The Chopin Marathon and The Mozart Evenings, as well as playing solo concerts at the city’s Chamber Theatre. “Don’t forget,” Romanić had told her: With music, “we are experiencing the most beautiful thing of all.”

Tina Kordić

Then, in 1994, an arrangement was made that made it possible for a new generation of talented young musicians to go to Vienna to complete their educations. “There were twelve of us,” she remembers. Arriving with relief and determination, she completed a bachelor’s degree at the University of Music and Performing Arts (MDW) in the class of Manfred Wagner-Artzt, and went on to do a MA under Leonore Aumaier, writing her thesis on “The History of Ballet in Sarajevo.” 

After graduation, most of her group went back to Sarajevo. But Kordić decided to stay on.  

“Often I was uncertain where ‘home’ [really] was, but sometime, around the beginning of the new century, I started to feel that it was Vienna.”

During and after her studies in Vienna she continued to perform in Austria and abroad, giving recitals in Germany, China, and the former Yugoslavia. Her debut with the Sarajevo Philharmonic in February 2000 at the National Theatre was broadcast on state television of Bosnia and Herzegovina. More concerts followed.

As an educator, she represented the Vienna Conservatory in the United Kingdom and spent a year teaching piano at the Music University in Weifang, in China.

Kordić has since expanded her activities into cultural management, bringing to her adoptive city the Macedonian guitar virtuoso Vlatko Stefanovski and the immensely popular actor/singer Rade Šerbedžija. She’s currently organizing a concert of Bosnian women artists in Vienna’s Theater Akzent, covering music from Baroque through Bosnian Sevdah to Jazz.

It all helps build awareness of Bosnian culture in Austria, and she supports the initiative for formal recognition of the Bosnian national minority. 

But for herself, she says, “I’ve never really felt like a stranger here.”

Mario Dujaković

by Antonio Šećerović

During the coronavirus pandemic, Mario Dujaković’s name was all over the Austrian media. As a spokesman for Vienna’s city councilor for health, the 32-year-old became trusted source for citizens of the former Yugoslavia. They would contact him to be sure they understood the rules, and for many, he was the first address for questions about entering the country, especially during the summer months. “My tweets were even shared in family WhatsApp groups,” he remembered, “because the information was coming from ‘one of us.’” 

Born in Banja Luka, Dujaković had been working in the SPÖ’s public relations office for years, including working with today’s party leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner. He came to Austria in 1991 with his father and mother who was expecting his sister at the time. In the small town in Upper Austria where he grew up, his last name was considered exotic, leaving him wondering why he had such a strange name and why he always had to spell it for everyone. 

“I would explain my origins like a relationship with a distant relative: I know he exists, although we don’t have that much contact with him. But still, he’s part of the family!”

Still, he never took life in Austria for granted, and took to heart his parents warnings, so typically for people from the Balkans: “You have to work twice as hard to be recognized by everyone here!” A student speaker at his school in Traun, like his countryman footballer Jasminko Velić, Dujaković went on to study law and communication sciences, and since 2017 has been working for the party that has governed Vienna for the better part of a century. 

Still, he misses his visits to his other homeland. Due to the pandemic, he hasn’t been back for some time: “I can’t wait to eat ćevape at Mujo’s in Banja Luka!” he said with a smile. Even in Vienna, it’s just not the same.