Peckerhead in Bosnia

Epic Bosnia













By Steve Korver


Who would have thought it? Within hours of arriving for my first visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, I was already sitting in a former army barracks in Mostar after spending the morning being driven from Sarajevo through epic mountain landscape, while being chilled to the core with views of what’s locally referred to as ‘convertible villages’ (convertible because all the roofs had proved detachable by bombs), and while listening to The Professor providing a non-stop litany of despair. My Ladyfriend had warned me that he was “completely crazy”. This proved to be an stunning understatement by the next day after we had come close to dying a few times.

Bosnian Bug

But at this point I thought I was just getting educated, and so I looked and listened, trying to get my head around what exactly happened in these parts during the War. Some heavy shit is what happened. And so I felt like inanity personified as I sat in these bullet-pocked army barracks, now reinvented as Mostar University, in front of an American History class of Moslem students while I awaited my turn to pontificate as guest speaker. (I made a mental note not to employ the term “pontificate” with a people who had until very recently had been enemies with the Pope-loving Croats across the river.) I was there because The Professor had decided we would be more educational than him droning from a textbook about the Civil War. I disagreed: mostly because I equate public speaking with the public shitting of my pants. But there I was waiting for my turn to talk – About What? About What? – while the Ladyfriend did her talk.

mostar ruins

She had no problem holding their attention. Her native tongue was their native tongue and she spoke of the horrors of Srebrenica – something they could surely relate to as dwellers of a destroyed city – which as a historian she had been researching for the last three years in the hopes of uncovering the facts behind Europe’s worst massacre since World War II: the systematic killing of 8000 Moslem men and boys. She was used to talking to victims, generals and war criminals. Meanwhile I can barely negotiate the voices in my head arguing about, for example, whether my spaghetti sauce needs another twist from the pepper grinder. And while she knows of concentration camps, I just know how to be Camp without concentrating…

Mostar Street Lamp

So what was I going to talk about? In the midst of the hypnotic hum of Yugo-speak, my bloated brain floated back to what had happened right before the class. The Professor, while driving us around the bomb and bullet pocked campus, had hinted while looking at the direction of my wallet at how a few measly millions could make it all very nice again. I’m sure it could. But while I may obviously be a Canadian middle-class suburban boy born with silver spoon in mouth and horseshoe up ass, it does not mean that I actually have my cash act together on that level. We then walked through the medieval streets of Mostar whose ruins would look romantic if it had been achieved by natural decay and not machine guns.

Mostar building

Via a temporary walkway, we crossed the remains of the famously bombed ancient stone Stari Most (“Old Bridge”). Built in 1566, this Ottoman architectural miracle formed a 20-meter arch with the aid of not cement but lead and eggs. Apparently the general who had destroyed it betrayed an infallible logic: “We will build a nicer, stronger and older one”.


And indeed now seven years later, bridge bits were slowly being brought up one by one from the green depths of the river. Here we also bumped into one of The Professor’s students who attempted to be a tour guide: “I show you the theatre… Oh ah but the theatre is destroyed. So I show you the cemetery… Oh ah but the cemetery is still mined…”

So we all drank coffee instead.


Ah shit: it was now my turn to address the class. They seemed intent and focused – on my Nikes or on what I was about to say, I was not sure. I suppressed the urge to be honest along the lines of “Hi my name is WesternBoy and I am ah oh a complete fucking peckerhead. Oh am I allowed to say ‘fucking’?…Oh and do you need ‘peckerhead’ translated?…”

Instead I ended up improvising a stuttered summary of the “Multiculturalism” I had grown up with in Canada where any fierce nationalism when not diluted by the sheer number of nationalities, was expressed in the voting booths. A student asked how Canadians felt about what happened in the former Yugoslavia and I answered that the vast majority of them were too distracted by the fluffier stuff broadcast on their 1.4 TV sets to have much of an opinion.

This is Croatia

With my ordeal over, we began cruising through Bosnia with taped music coming from the car’s speakers. The Professor defined the optimum volume as that point where the “doors are shaking”. He showed equal precision in the tunes he chooses: in Croat sections the doors shook with Serb partisan songs, while in Muslim sections they had shaken with Croat hit parade.

The Professor

This DJ’ing style proved to be an efficient way of getting pulled over by local police – as was his driving technique of randomly jerking between 40 and 100 kph. Admittedly, this pendulum effect may have been caused by the erratic passion with which he had been telling stories about BASTARDS, FASCISTS and the general assbackwardness of these parts: How the Bosnian people failed by falling for self-serving politicians… How a veterinarian hospital we passed failed when confronted with a dead animal by thinking it first to be a radiation-swollen rat, then as some tiny variety of the dinosaur family, before someone finally recognised it as a skinned fox… How the UN failed because they had not taught the local police how to button their shirts or tighten their belts… By this point, I had begun to respect these scruffy law officers for their ability to sense a lunatic when they saw one coming towards them at 100 kph.


The Professor is bitter. He has had the tragic life. As an ethnic Serb who fought for a united Bosnia, his heart was in the right place. For years in Sarajevo, he had dodged Serb snipers. When not teaching or acting as a ‘negotiator’, he had sorted body parts. When the war ended, he then got fucked over a few more times – most notably when he returned from a short lecture tour of the States to find that his position at the University of Sarajevo had been given to a Moslem. You’d like to cut some slack and you do.

But then at one point – say after a two-day roller coaster ride – you just want to sleep. And by the time we finally re-entered Sarajevo, the only image I could retain was that of a hotel bed. But then an innocent question about the name of a famously destroyed neighbourhood, motivated a careen to the right and wham-bam we were in the charred heart of this very neighbourhood. While I accepted the accompanying rush of emotions as good for my development away from pure peckerhead (variety: spoiled brat Westernboy), I saw no potential in personal growth when he then pointed the car upward towards the midnight mountains surrounding Sarajevo. Oh so this pitch blackness is the Srpska Republic… Oh so from this pitch black point, the nationalist Serbs shelled the city… Oh so that shadow was their headquarters where you, The Professor, had come to ‘negotiate’… By this point, I began to irrationally suspect that The Professor has been filled with bile since birth, and that his Basil Fawlty-esque attempts to ‘negotiate’ a peace was what directly led to the siege of Sarajevo lasting three years instead of three days…

I was very tired.

Tito's Bridge

No Replies

Feel free to leave a reply using the form below

Leave a Reply