Travnik is the capital of the Central Bosnia Canton and lies literally in the centre of the country.
Travnik has enjoyed a tradition of inter-ethnic co-existence going back to medieval times. The war, however, left it with a strong Bosniak majority. Thousands of Croats and Serbs – as much as half the pre-war population – left or were driven from their homes. Bosniaks, expelled from their homes in surrounding villages and towns, found refuge in Travnik. By the end of the war the population had shrunk by over 10,000.
In December 1997 people began to return to their homes. Given the huge tensions stemming from the war years, it took some time until the return process could really take off. Attacks on returnees were a major problem: in the municipality of Travnik 13 of them were killed between 1997 and 1998. When the Bosniak and Croatian police forces in the Canton were re-united in 1998, even they weren't safe from ethnically driven violence. Today, Travnik’s Police Commander is Slavko Lovric, a Croat. He recalls:
"When the war ended, there were two police forces in the Canton, Bosniak and Croat, with separate uniforms, insignia, offices, budgets and command structures. The police operated in areas that 'their' respective national group controlled at the end of the war.”
Initially, serious problems arose when the police was re-unified. On 12 June 1998 a Croat policemen was killed by a car bomb and his Bosniak colleague heavily injured. An explosive device killed another Croat policeman one and a half months later. 80 Croats briefly left the Travnik police force in protest. Another car bomb seriously wounded a Croat policeman on 9 February 1999. It later appeared that most of these attacks were linked to crime, and not to ethnic tensions.
After the unification of the police force, foot and car patrols were always undertaken by two officers, one from each ethnic group. Over the past year the police in Travnik have started to relax this practice, however. Commander Slavko Lovric explains:
"We don't see any more that people view police through an ethnic perspective. We have no complaints about discrimination because of ethnicity."
Crime rates in Travnik are low, far below the European average. There is practically no ethnically motivated crime.
Overall, inter-ethnic relations have improved considerably since the bitter days of the war. There is a big Catholic school in the centre of town, attended by Croats from the whole area. A few of Travnik's Serbs have also returned. "Not a single incident happened since I came (back) here in 2000," says Goran Zivkovic, the local Serb priest. "I do not feel that Serbs are threatened here.”
As people of all faiths gathered for the annual school event in his medresa (Islamic school), the Mufti of Travnik, Nusret Avdibegovic, told us about the links between the local religious communities.
"In Bosnia there was always a sense of bonding during religious feast days, no matter if it was a Muslim, Catholic or an Orthodox one. Whoever lives here will confirm this for you. Tonight we want to celebrate this unity and repeat it again every year."
Parents at the annual school event in Travnik's Medresa
From 1686 to 1850 Travnik had been the seat of the Ottoman Viziers, the Governors of Bosnia. Much of the town's rich cultural heritage dates from this period. Located on the gateway of the Ottoman Empire to Western Europe, the town experienced its "golden age" when France and Austria-Hungary opened consulates at the turn of the nineteenth century.
The time of the Ottoman Viziers is vividly described in the "Bosnian Chronicle or the Days of the Consuls", a novel which portrays the endless intrigues between French and Austrian diplomats and the Viziers. The author is Ivo Andric, Nobel prize-winner and Yugoslavia's greatest writer, who was himself born in Travnik.
Ivo Andric – Travnik's medieval fortress
Travnik did not experience the type of industrialisation seen in other Bosnian towns. Post-1945 Socialist-planned development deliberately bypassed the town – this, to punish it for having been a centre of the Croatian Ustasha fascist regime during World War II. When Marshal Tito's communist Partisans conquered Travnik, their forces were given a free hand to ransack the town for a week. In 1949 – to punish Travnik even further – Tito ordered the construction of an entirely new town, Novi Travnik, 20 kilometres away. “Old” Travnik received only light industries like textile and shoe production.
Ivo Andric has himself written about the dilemma facing multi-ethnic societies:
"That is the fate of a man from the Levant, for he is 'poussière humaine', human dust, drifting painfully between East and West, belonging to neither and beaten by both. These are people who know many languages, but none is their own, who know two faiths, but are steadfast in neither. These are the victims of the fatal division of humanity into Christians and non-Christians, eternal interpreters and go-betweens, but who carry in themselves much that is hidden and inexpressible; people who know well East and West, their customs and beliefs, but are equally despised and mistrusted by either side."
(Ivo Andric, Bosnian Chronicle or The Days of the Consuls, pp. 262-63)