Friday, August 14, 2009

Berets in Bosnia

One country very dear to me is Yugoslavia, or, more specific Bosnia, for a variety of mixed emotional reasons.
During 1993 and 1994 I worked for Médecins Sans Frontières in the "Republica Srpska", the self-proclaimed Serbian Republic in what was once the multi-ethnic Republic of Bosnia - still a rich source of material for my novels.
Great memories of lovely people, trying to continue living their lives the best they can, amid the worst possible atrocities imaginable. Not the right place to write about that here...

There were many berets too, in Serbian Bosnia; the army, the para-militaries, the hooligans with guns, but also the old intellectual elite and the farmers who used the beret for what it was: a means of protection from the sun and rain, the heat and the cold.
I remember the old jewish professor Mrkic in Banja Luka with his small black Basque beret and Dr Dragan Rakic, wearing a brown beret following the tradition set by his father. It was a small group though, the Basque beret wearers in the Republika Srpska...
More common to wear a Basque beret was it with the muslim population of Bosnia. I'd like to see how many there are worn today in Sarajevo...
They are beautiful, but not pretty - these pictures I found. A senior man reading the Koran by a grave in an instant cemetary, or this gentleman walking through a deserted street.
What comes to mind, looking at these pictures, are the famous words of Dutch Commander Karremans, who, after handing the safe haven of Srebenica over to General Mladic, said: "there are no good guys or bad guys here..."


  1. I never thought about origin of the tradition among Bosnians to wear beret, and I still can't find good lead or starting point - not online, anyway. I mean its not just few person wearing the hat now and then, its real custom over here (in Bosnia) and its exclusively connected to Bosnians (sometimes called Bosniaks), but not to Bosnian Croats or Bosnian Serbs ...

  2. Hi Santa,
    Maybe this helps, quoting from my post:

    The Basque beret was indeed a symbol for the intellectual elite in multi-cultural Bosnia, but dominant among the Muslim (Bosniak) population.
    For the intellectuals it signified culture, 'belonging to Europe', affiliations with writers and artists; for the Muslims there was a more practical reason: when the communists came into power after 1945, the traditional Muslim fez was not outright banned, but it's use was very much discouraged (to say the least).

    Bosnian Muslims, not known for religious fundamentalism, adopted the Basque beret as a practical hat to cover their heads, suitable while performing prayers and the added bonus of keeping the Partisans happy (the beret was, of course, a partisan-symbol as well) and the percentage of Partisans among Muslims was the highest in Bosnia during WWII.

  3. Thanks Daan, I read through your blog and its quite fascinating, I was really interested. Thanks again and cheers from Sarajevo, Santa

  4. Thanks for the comments, Santa, especially regarding Fadil Jahić (at the Beret and the Spanish Civil War post). I'll look into him further and surely post about Fadil Jahić in the future.