Travnik is the capital of the Central Bosnia Canton and lies literally at the centre of the country.
Travnik has enjoyed a tradition of inter-ethnic co-existence going back to medieval times, but the war left it with a strong Bosniak majority. Thousands of Croats and Serbs left or were driven out – as much as half the pre-war population. 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. 13 of them were killed during 1997 and 1998 in the municipality of Travnik. The Police themselves weren't safe from ethnically driven violence, when the Bosniak and Croatian police forces in the Canton were re-united in 1998. Today, the Police Commander of this majority-Bosniak town 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 there were serious problems 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 Croat policemen briefly left the Travnik police in protest. Another car bomb heavily 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 forces, foot and car patrols were always undertaken by two officers, one from each ethnic group. However, over the past year the police in Travnik has started to be more relaxed about this practice. 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 considerably improved since the bitter days of the war. There is a big Catholic school located in the centre of town, attended by Croats from the whole area. A few of the town's Serb minority has 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 links between the faiths in the town:
"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 to 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 in the town at the turn of the nineteenth century.
The time of the Ottoman Viziers is vividly described in the novel "Bosnian Chronicle or the Days of the Consuls", which portrays the endless intrigues between French and Austrian diplomats, and the Viziers. The author is Yugoslavia's greatest writer, the Nobel prize-winner, Ivo Andric, who was born himself in Travnik.
Ivo Andric – Travnik's medieval fortress
Travnik did not experience the industrial development of other Bosnian towns. Socialist planned development after 1945 deliberately by-passed the town as a punishment for the fact that during World War Two Travnik had been a centre of the Croatian Ustasha fascist regime. When the Partisans, Marshal Tito's communist forces, finally conquered the town their soldiers were given seven days of "freedom" to ransack the town. To punish Travnik even further in 1949 Marshal Tito ordered the construction of a new town, 20 kilometres away: Novi Travnik. The old city of Travnik received only light industries like textile and shoe production.
Ivo Andric has himself also 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)