Sarajevo

Sarajevo is the birthplace, heart, and spirit of everything we do at Čuvaj Se. Our mission began there in a city under siege, whose citizens refused to give in to nationalism, surviving the longest siege of a capital city in modern warfare: 1,425 days of shelling, sniper fire, and starvation perpetrated by Serbian ultra-nationalists, targeting defenseless civilians, Muslims, Croats, Serbs, Roma, Jews, and atheists alike. Sarajevo was the center of resistance to fanaticism and extremism, and many artists, writers, filmmakers, and musicians came to Sarajevo to stand in solidarity with all people who believed in a multi-ethnic, democratic Bosnia.

That spirit continues today in the city itself, even in the midst of persistent threats and challenges from nationalism and foreign interference. Beyond the city limits, Sarajevans see themselves reflected in the people under siege in Aleppo, Syria, and in people fighting for democracy and against rising nationalism and authoritarianism in countries all across Europe and the world. And that spirit of resistance remains in the Bosnian diaspora in the United States as we witness our own struggle against nationalism and authoritarianism.

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Photo: The Sarajevo Haggadah

The Sarajevo Haggadah is believed to have been originally smuggled from Spain by Sephardic Jews who were given a safe haven in Bosnia during the Ottoman Empire.  It was then hidden from Nazi shelling by a Muslim cleric who hid it under the floorboards of a mosque. It was again rescued and kept safe in an underground bank vault during the Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990’s. It remains an enduring symbol to Sarajevans of the human spirit of survival and resilience.

 

Pictured below: Poetry Reading with Heather Derr-Smith, Amila Kahrović-Posavljak, and Ferida Duraković.

amila and ferida

 

LGBTQ Poetry Workshops in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina

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Cuvaj Se was in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina back in October 2016 doing LGBTQ Poetry workshops in coordination with American Corner Bih and The Tuzla Open Centre, an organization that partners with the Sarajevo Open Centre, supporting LGBTI students in BiH. Much of Bosnia-Herzegovina remains a traditional culture resistant to LGBTI rights, but there are pockets of support and advocacy like these open centers doing their best to foster tolerance and equal rights. The U.S. Embassy has been working in recent years on strengthening LGBT rights in BiH and you can read some more about that work at a fact sheet here at USAID. 

A dozen or so students showed up at the American Corner located in the Tuzla University library. I brought poems from a wide range of Bosnian and American poets, many of them LGBT or allies and we had a focus in our session on trans rights in particular. Students were really interested and well-informed and we had a great discussion about both trans rights and poetry. The students wrote their own work and we shared and encouraged each other in poetry and in support for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression.

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If you would like to know more about the work of Cuvaj se, supporting writers in post-conflict BiH and the rights of LGBTI folks in the region contact Heather Derr-Smith at hsmithwdm@gmail.com or Heatherderrsmith@cuvajse.org

Workshops in Zaporizhia, Ukraine

zap workshop

 

It was a beautiful evening sharing poetry with IDP’s, students, and soldiers from Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhia in eastern Ukraine. The participants were so open-hearted and supportive of one another. Poems were written in Ukrainian, Russia, and English and shared willingly and joyfully. There was such a strong sense of resilience and the celebration of life, even in these trying historical times for the Ukrainian people.

 

Human Rights and Poetry Workshops in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina

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In October, 2016 Cuvaj se organized a Human Rights and Poetry workshop in conjunction with the US Embassy’s American Corner at the Mostar Gymnasium. Fifty high school were in attendance along several area poets. Heather Derr-Smith presented works that focused on LGBTQ, feminist, and human rights themes, reading and discussing works by Salmaz Sharif, Max Ritvo, TC Tolbert, Oliver Bendorf, as well as Bosnian women poets. The students were excited by the diverse American contemporary works and the works of Bosnian poets as well. After much lively discussion, the students did several creative writing exercises and shared their own work with the group.