Thursday, July 06, 2006

Last night my family and I had the pleasure to attend a concert of Sephardic Jewish music at the Embassy of Bosnia and Hercegovina in Washington, DC. The concert featured Sarajevo-born Flory Jagoda. Here is a link to a story about her:

Short story about Flory Jagoda

Also, she received a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Here is an interview from the NEA website:

Interview with Flory Jagoda after receiving National Heritage Fellowship from the NEA

It was a packed house and a wonderful concert.

Afterwords, we stayed around for drinks and some delicious food. I ended up in conversation with a Bosnian man and his American wife, and naturally I was asked "What is your connection to Bosnia"? Whenever I go to the embassy I generally encounter this question at least once (naturally enough, of course). And it's a tough question to answer. Especially because the people who are asking me generally have strong reasons to be there--they are either Bosnian themselves, or are Americans who are doing or have done substantive, important work either in Bosnia (as the American woman had done from 1996-2001; I believe for UNESCO, although I could be wrong) or in government positions here in Washington. And last night, once again, I found myself attempting to articulate my reasons for taking such an active interest in Bosnia and its history some ten years after the war has ended. As always, the question was posed by people infinitely more familiar and involved with Bosnia than I can claim. Not for the first time, I felt a bit silly and presumptuous.

After four months, I still haven't articulated a unifying theme for this blog. Last night, listening to an American citizen (Jagoda has lived in the US--married to an American--since after World War II) who was born a Bosnian Jew, the descendent of Ladino-speaking Sephardic settlers from Iberia, I might have opted to answer the question by gesturing towards the featured performer. She was a Bosnian by birth, despite being Jewish, despite the fact that her ancestors came from Spain. Now she is an American, even though she treasures her Bosnian and Judaic heritage.

Speaking Ladino in Bosnia, speaking Bosnian in the capitol of the United States, Flory Jagoda is a living example of the American ideal of citizenship unhindered by blood, creed, or nationality. Just as in Bosnia, there were--and remain--Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians. All Bosnian. Despite the best efforts of petty nationalists to drag the country back to our tribal past, there is still a Bosnia.

A little over a decade ago, a war was fought in the former Yugoslavia between the forces of secularism, individual rights, and cultural, ethnic and religious inclusion on one side; tribal loyalties, collective identity, and noxious notions of 'purity'--ethnic or otherwise--on the other. If you are an American and believe in the ideal and values this country stands for, you cannot help knowing which side of that fight is your own.


Owen said...

Kirk, to commemorate 11 July I found this rather gentle but moving memorial at Tuzla Daily Photo Blog:

Katja R. said...

BiH always had a lot ot ethnic diversity, and religious diversity. There are some funny points in common between BiH and the U.S. due to this fact.

Shaina said...

I read the interview you linked to, and Flory Jagoda sounds like a remarkable woman.
Thank you for telling her story, and that of others who represent a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional, multi-national Bosnia. :)

Owen said...

Is Sevdah music the same as Sephardin? I heard the London Sevdah last year and they were really beautiful.

Kirk Johnson said...

owen, I have no idea. To be honest, I didn't even know what Sephardic music sounded like before going to the concert. I'd be curious to know.

Mirza Basic, BSc, MSc said...

Hi Owen,

Thanks on your positive comment about the project (London Sevdah) which I happen to be leading.

Please also note that I am maintaining a regular blog about that project now here on Blogger.



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