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No Cakewalk: Final Farewell For A Neighborhood Institution In Sarajevo

A Sarajevan novelist said the real reason for the closure of the famed pastry shop was the "broken chain of remembrance" of a city whose defining characteristic had been an effortless blending of traditions.

It encapsulated Sarajevo's post-World War II boom -- the icing on the cake, so to speak, of an expanding, prosperous, and confident city that was always multicultural and increasingly cosmopolitan.

In its window displays, Viennese tarts jostled with baklavas of Middle Eastern origin alongside the owner's original, delectable creations. The war that began in 1992 forced its proprietors into exile, but its reopening in 2016 had seemed like a sign of a city recovering some of its prewar cheer and sophistication.

Now, as the Jadranka cake shop closes its doors for good, many argue that something essential about the city is being lost along with it.

Growing up in the same neighborhood in the second half of the 1950s, I remember the Sachertortes and mushroom-shaped cakes, among other things; the best chestnut puree in the city was served in winter. But above all, I remember the pastry shop's owner, Nikola Bukvic, who invariably let us kids sample the cookies for free as a reward for good grades in school. Birthdays, weddings, funerals -- no important occasion was complete without Nikola's cakes.

It was the first successful "family business" in the Grbavica neighborhood, which was then -- in the mid-1950s -- a giant construction site. Grbavica was a typical socialist housing project, made up of five- to six-story apartment buildings that passed for "high-rises."

The architecture of the new urban landscape of Grbavica was not particularly inspiring, but people came from all corners of Sarajevo for Nikola's cakes. Like so many others who drove the city's postwar recovery and growth, Nikola came from elsewhere -- in his case, he and his family had moved to Sarajevo from Kosovo. Yet his pastry shop brought a decidedly Mittel-European ambience to Grbavica, a neighborhood being built for the new Yugoslav elite.

Sarajevan novelist Miljenko Jergovic wrote in his requiem for the Jadranka pastry shop:

"Although the multiculturalism of the Sarajevan pastry makers of yesteryear -- the end of which is marked by the closure of Jadranka -- was rooted in the fusion of the oriental and the urbane, Jadranka was a blend and not merely the coexistence [side by side] of various ethnicities: The baklava was no more a Muslim symbol than the cakes and tarts were Christian. In any case, the city's inhabitants who had brought the tradition of cake-making belonged to all faiths and ethnicities, and those who had brought baklava with them from the orient belonged to all faiths and ethnicities."

Jergovic said he felt that the real reason for the closure of the famed pastry shop -- which shut its doors in the first week of April -- was the "broken chain of remembrance" of a city whose defining characteristic had been an effortless blending of traditions.

From Sugary Dreams To Nightmares...

Sasa Bukvic, the son of Jadranka founder Nikola, explained that business had been slow for the past three years and that the time had come to admit defeat. From his father he inherited a talent for baking cakes, but sculpture is his second great passion.

Sasa Bukvic
Sasa Bukvic

One of Sasa Bukvic's artistic creations in the realm of pastry-making that remained in popular memory, albeit for the wrong reasons, was a cake he made not long before the war in the shape of Yugoslavia, topped with red gelatin and strawberries. Photographs of the cake appeared on the cover of the Sarajevo magazine Lica (Faces); because of the conflict that soon followed, the image of Sasa Bukvic's cake was interpreted as presaging the war and the bloody disintegration of Yugoslavia.

As propitiously chosen and happy as the surroundings of the Jadranka pastry shop had been in post-World War II Sarajevo, in the midst of a booming urban neighborhood that housed the new country's elite, so in the Bosnian war of the 1990s Grbavica became a place of death and destruction, a sort of prison camp for its inhabitants.

Jadranka was located in the only part of the urban core that was under Serbian occupation in 1992-95 (Serbian forces were mainly entrenched in the hills surrounding the city) and 500 meters from the front line between Serbian forces and the Bosnian Army. Some of the worst atrocities perpetrated during the conflict were committed in Grbavica -- against its non-Serbian inhabitants but also against Serbs who tried to defend their Muslim neighbors.

Sasa Bukvic managed to escape from Grbavica at the start of the war, and emigrated to Canada with his family. Even though he was able to renew both his great passions in his new home -- pastry making and sculpture -- he returned to Sarajevo in 2007. He reassembled Jadranka's original staff, renovated the old space that had been damaged by the fighting, and reopened for business. He also revived another tradition -- that of using the profits of his pastry business to fund a group of which he was a founding member, called Zvono, dedicated to the promotion of art and culture.

The reopening of Jadranka in 2016 was hailed as a sure sign that wartime divisions had been bridged, that life was returning to its prewar patterns, and that Sarajevo was in the process of renewing its civil society and urban values.

Now, with its second and seemingly final closure, Jadranka may serve instead as the most poignant testament to how much easier it is to repair buildings in the aftermath of the war than it is to rebuild society.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

About This Blog

Balkans Without Borders offers personal commentary on contemporary Balkan politics and culture. It is written by Gordana Knezevic, senior journalist and former award-winning editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje, as well as the director of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service between 2008 and 2016. The blog reflects on the myriad ways in which the absurdities of Balkan politics and the ongoing historical shifts and realignments affect the lives of people in the region.


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