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Hidden in the woods: Zelenkovac, the Bosnian peace village (2)

Zelenkovac is an eco-tourist village in the Bosnian mountains, not far from Banja Luka, hosting artists and travellers from all over the world. According to his founder, Boro Janković, its beauty has a mission

14. Apr 2016. | 10:07 | Daniele Canepa
Zelenkovac Foto BRICE PORTOLANO

Around six feet tall, with big shoulders and a thick beard, from a distance Boro looks like one of those solitary mountaineers who seldom stop for a chat, but as soon as he approaches you to shake your hand you will be struck by his warmth.

His straightforward attitude makes his interlocutors feel comfortable right from the start: “Don’t worry, if something goes wrong I’ll see to it.” This is what he seems to be saying every time he slips his heavy arm behind your shoulders.

His big hands suggest physical strength rather than the delicate touch required by a painter. Indeed, in order to turn Zelenkovac into the pearl which it has become, a lot of strength and sweat have definitely been necessary.

Another trait which really strikes the listener is Boro’s honesty when he describes the darkest days in his life: “There were times in the past when my sense of solitude was such that I imagined that my house, the old windmill, was like a sinking boat at sea in the middle of a storm. These for me were the gloomiest moments.”

Another sad period coincided with the beginning of the war that raged across Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995. In those years, Boro was not even living in his homeland: “I had fallen in love with a Russian woman and moved to live with her in her country. But as soon as I knew about the conflict, I did not wait one single second to come back and protect the places where I had grown up.”

However, unlike others, he did not return to pick up a rifle: “I am against war. War is sh*t, there’s no other word for it. It’s not a matter of being afraid, I was not afraid, so it’s not about this. But I just don’t see the point in standing there for hours, days, weeks while you wait for someone to order you to do this or that… Where’s the meaning in all that? It’s just not something for me.”

And so, instead of wearing a uniform, Boro decided to use his experience as a cameraman and writer and started to work for a broadcaster in Banja Luka. Finally, after years of forced exile from Zelenkovac, the end of the war presented him with the chance of going back to the place that years of hard work had turned into an enchanted village – “reminiscent of Tolkien’s novels” according to Lonely Planet – in the wooded mountains of Bosnia.

We can only try to imagine the feelings of hope, dejection and trepidation which must have stirred within Boro’s heart on the day of his return. Considering that around 80% of the buildings in the cities and villages of the whole country had been obliterated by war, his concern for what could have happened to his beloved Zelenkovac is more than understandable.

But, when he arrived, the feeling became one of surprise and unexpected joy: “I really found it hard to believe, but there were no signs of destruction. Yes, okay, some weapons had been left here and there, but almost everything was in pristine condition. What makes the whole thing even more incredible is that all three armies involved in the conflict had stopped here: Bosnians, Croats and Serbs. If there has been no violence, if this place hasn’t been destroyed, it is due to the sense of peace and harmony with nature that has the power to stop people from becoming aggressive.”

(Excerpt from “Zelenkovac, the Bosnian peace village”, published in its entirety on balcanicaucaso.org)

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