Marketa Slavkova grew up in the second largest castle in the Czech Republic. After visiting Potočari several years ago, Srebrenica became her second home.
“There is extreme pain and sadness here, but also extreme joy of life which can rarely be felt on the West. People here gave me a lot of hope,” said Marketa in pure Bosnian.
The 32-year-old Maja, as locals call her, has lived for two years in that place known for the genocide and suffering. She replaced her home in a small medieval city Česky Krumlov, where she grew up in a castle, for life in Srebrenica.
It is the second largest castle in the Czech Republic, built in the 13th century on the Vltava River. The most powerful families after the royal family lived there and it is under protection of the UNESCO. Maja spent her childhood reading historical books about art, learning how to play renaissance music on ancient instruments, and visiting unique baroque theatre in the castle.
However, during studies and after several visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Potolari, Maja decided to change the topic of her PhD thesis and dedicate it to the life in Srebrenica.
“My parents still live in the castle, but that is not our castle. They got a job there when I was four years old and it is not that well-paid as many people think,” said Maja, explaining that castles in the Czech Republic are mostly in state ownership and they employ experts who live there and take care of maintenance.
Maja came to BiH for the first time when she was 20 years old.
“In Czech Republic people are fascinated with the Balkans. They think it is a place where you can relax the most, where there are emotions, where everything is wild but where there is soul. When you are there and compare that place with Western countries, even with the Czech Republic, people here do not show that many emotions. The Czech people rarely dance, but they relax when they hear Balkan music,” Maja said.
During master studies, she applied for student exchange program at the University of Melbourne in Australia. There she met a social anthropologist and professor from BiH Hariz Halilović, who is now her mentor, friend and inspiration.
Together with him and a group of students, she visited BiH and Srebrenica again in 2009.
“People were so nice and honest, so welcoming, I have never seen it before. An old lady always offers something to you, although she does not have much. That always fascinated me and kept my heart warm,” Maja said.
She visited Srebrenica again in 2012 and she spent three weeks there. That was the time she started working on her PhD thesis.
“That was the first time I attended the funeral on July 11 and participated in the Peace March. It was a difficult journey but it have us strength. It is horrible knowing that people were killed there and you are passing mass graves, and we also attended the process of victim identification in Tuzla. Then I decided to change to topic of my PhD thesis and dedicate it to the genocide,” said Maja.
That is how she moved to Srebrenica, where she lived for two years. She says that this life changed her entirely. For a while she volunteered for the organization International Solidarity Forum EMMAUS, which opened a daily center for children from impoverished families and remote villages.