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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
The "stone flower" memorial at Jasenovac has served for decades as a gathering place for people to pay their respects to victims of the fascist Ustashe regime. (file photo)

Judging by the correspondence between Belgrade and Zagreb in the past few days, one could be forgiven for thinking that World War II has only just ended.

The latest strain in relations between Serbia and Croatia is connected with the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the Jasenovac concentration camp, where around 100,000 Serbs, Jews, Roma, and anti-fascist Croats were killed by the Ustashe regime, a World War II-era quasi-protectorate under Fascist and Nazi patronage.

A "stone flower" memorial was built at Jasenovac in 1966, which for decades served as a gathering place for people to pay their respects to the Ustashe's victims and to reaffirm their commitment to ensuring that such crimes were not repeated.

However, for the third year running, the annual gathering has fragmented into rival commemorations. The Jewish community, antifascist groups, and the Croatian government paid their tributes to the victims on separate days, with the first two choosing to boycott the official event. Meanwhile, Croatian President Grabar-Kitarovic visited the site independently, a few days before the others' ceremonies.

The Serbian community, for its part, marked the camp's liberation in the village of Mlaka, near Jasenovac. The memorial liturgy and the consecration of the Church of St. Elijah were officiated by the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej and the metropolitan of Zagreb-Lljubljana, Porfirije.

Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin (file photo)
Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin (file photo)

Serbian Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin had meanwhile been banned from attending the event at Mlaka after claiming prior to the commemoration that his right to travel to Croatia was not up to the Croatian government but "would be decided by the supreme commander of Serbian armed forces, [Serbian President] Aleksandar Vucic."

That assertion was seen as incendiary by the Croatian government, which immediately sent a protest note to the Serbian Embassy in Zagreb to the effect that Vulin was no longer welcome in the country.

The decision to ban Vulin from the memorial event was made by the Croatian Foreign Ministry on April 21.

Diplomatic Incident

It followed another diplomatic incident between the two countries last week, when the controversial leader of the Serbian Radical party, Vojslav Seselj, allegedly trampled on a Croatian flag, prompting a visiting Croatian delegation to leave Belgrade.

The rebukes from Belgrade over the snub of its minister came swiftly.

Vulin called it an attempt by Croatia "to silence those speaking about the crimes committed there." He told Serbian state television RTS: "The most terrible truth about Jasenovac is not just what happened but the fact that Croatia today refuses to repent for the crimes."

On April 23, Vucic said that he "did not understand" Croatia's decision, adding, "Serbia will probably react with reciprocal measures." He added that the Belgrade would formulate its response on April 26 but that one option was to build Holocaust memorials in Serbia with lists of all the victims of the Ustashe regime.

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic (left) with President Aleksandar Vucic (file photo)
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic (left) with President Aleksandar Vucic (file photo)

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, also expressed her disappointment with Croatia's decision to deny Vulin the right to visit the country. But she struck a more conciliatory note. "These are not European values," she said, "but Serbia's main priority is regional stability, and for that reason we remain open to dialogue."

The exchange of diplomatic barbs between Zagreb and Belgrade has only turned up the heat on an issue that has been simmering for some time, reflected in the rival commemorations.

While the minister was banned from the Orthodox memorial service at Mlaka, Jewish groups have been boycotting the official event for three years.

Fascist Slogan

In an interview with the N1 TV channel, the president of the Zagreb Jewish community, Ognjen Kraus, cited the Croatian government's refusal to ban Ustashe symbols or the slogan "For the home[-land] -- ready!" ("Za dom -- spremni!")

"It's been getting worse for some time, because of a failure to do something that should have been done a long time ago," Kraus said. "The real significance of that salutation ["Za dom spremni!"] was never officially explained. It was never unequivocally acknowledged that all racial laws and other official documents issued by the NDH" -- the Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi puppet-state during World War II -- "were undersigned with that slogan."

He added that every order sending individuals to concentration camps also ended with that phrase. The words were effectively a death warrant for tens of thousands of people.

So, more than seven decades after the liberation of Jasenovac and the victory over fascism, the president of the Jewish community is forced to issue repeated requests for the government to ban the symbols of a murderous regime.

"We call on the government and parliament to pass legislation forthwith banning Ustashe symbols and slogans," pleaded Kraus. He also said that the Jewish community could not abide attempts to relativize the crimes of the Ustashe regime by invoking the actions of the partisan liberators of the country, or by claiming equivalence between the pro-Nazi NDH and the anti-fascist Socialist Yugoslavia.

'Not Good For Society'

The efforts by the Croatian government to combat the glorification of the Ustashe state have been criticized by some as too little, too late -- leaving it open to charges of hypocrisy from victims' groups.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, has pledged to do everything in his power to ensure that there will be no separate commemorations in the future because "it is not good for our society." He promised to work on bridging those divides. However, he did not seem inclined to defuse tensions with Serbia over this year's commemoration.

Serbian Prime Minister Brnabic said it was "unfortunate" that her Croatian counterpart had so far not returned her call, which indicated a lack of desire to resolve differences through dialogue.

She added that "nationalists on both sides are harming their respective countries" and that Serbia and Croatia needed to take a "time-out," and return to building the region's future, rather than dwelling on the past.

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

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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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