“Cities of my heart”
Photo by Boxed Water Is Better via Unsplash
Historically seen, multiethnic societies have been more the rule than the exception in Europe. Especially in the cities, where people from different ethnic communities and religions have mixed, as in my own birthplace, Teslic in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Just over five years ago, I visited Teslic, in northern Bosnia. That was the last time I was in the Balkans before the pandemic. In retrospect, I’m happy about the opportunity to visit my grandmother’s grave.
My grandmother was born into a Serb and Orthodox Christian family but rarely cared about aspects of ethnicity or religion for most of her life. Traumatic childhood experiences during World War II, such as seeing her parents murdered by pro-Nazi Serbian radical nationalists, probably contributed to her willingness and interest to explore the world. As an art enthusiast, she used to talk about her travels to Paris and St. Petersburg, to the Louvre and the Hermitage during the 1970s.
Kohen, Moretti and Leifmeister
When I visited the grave, I was in the “other” part of the cemetery, which is generally divided into a Christian and a Muslim part. Among those buried among the “others” are atheists and other ethnicities than Serbs or Bosniaks. When I looked at surnames like Kohen, Moretti, and Leifmeister, I realized that the rest of them directly reflect the city’s multiethnic history.
It can be said that Teslic was founded after a decree from Vienna at the end of the 19th century in connection with the establishment of various industries. The city’s first inhabitants were Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians, Italians, Jews, Hungarians, Austrians, and others. After the First and the Second World Wars, old inhabitants could refer to Teslic as “Little Europe”.
After the war in Bosnia, one could hear more liberal-minded people say things in the style of what happened was “a war between the city and the countryside”. There is some truth in this because the cities were generally more mixed compared to the villages, where ethnonationalist rhetoric and politics about nation, religion, and tradition could more easily prevail. In the “red city” of Tuzla and in the capital Sarajevo, for example, none of the nationalist parties gained status as the largest party. That is one of the reasons why it is tragic with everything negative and disgusting that happened in the city during the war in Bosnia.
Diversity and openness
My emigration from Teslic to Stockholm in 2003 made me more aware of what it means to live in a big city with aspects such as diversity, dynamism, and openness. It made me understand Stockholm’s role in the EU and global development and historical conditions, such as Stockholm’s cooperation with Hanseatic cities such as Wismar and Rostock in the 14th century, before the territorial state and later the nation-state became normative.
There has recently been a lot of discussion about city and country, immigration and identification, nationalism, and globalism in the Swedish debate. Here too, as elsewhere in Europe, there is talk about progressive and cosmopolitan elites in the big cities and local patriotic and conservative rural residents in the smaller towns. It can be said that the previous debate, which was more optimistic and forward-looking, has been replaced by a more pessimistic and nostalgic political debate after 2016 and the processes of refugee reception.
This is not least noticeable given the popularity that the left-wing conservative and nationalist author David Goodhart has gained among many right-wingers. His populist division of people into “anywheres and somewheres” (in Swedish, it became everywhere and somewhere) is today popular among many bourgeois who were previously for globalization, openness, and individualism. Those who previously saw themselves as liberals now promote a “post-liberal” view of migration, economy, and humans.
Creating the future
Nationalists and right-wing populists like to emphasize the importance of history and culture. But what for example the far-right populists as Sweden Democrats really mean is national mythology and romanticized views on the concept of culture. Scientifically proven history can easily be experienced as boring, arduous, and complicated compared to myths and romanticizations. For example, the fact that multiculturalism and multiethnic societies throughout history have been more the norm than the exception in Europe.
History is important to know to be able to orient oneself forward, and the best way to predict the future is to create and design it. Contemporary development, characterized by technological changes such as robotization and decentralization, offers both large and small places opportunities to change. It is about being able to organize oneself ecologically, technologically, and institutionally in relation to the overall global development.
United World Planet
As the acclaimed intellectual and world historian Yuval Noah Harari claims, phenomena such as Brexit and Trump will not prevent the unification of humanity. One day we will live on United World Planet, based on the world and local patriotism. Therefore, urbanization, climate change, and new scientific advances should be acknowledged. The more people who can be involved and benefit from prosperity and progression, the more people will be able to live with peace, success, and freedom.
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