In Gornja Maoca
In Gornja Maoca
Domenico Quirico

GORNJA MAOCA — In Sarajevo, you come to realize that all the essential things in the world have been affected by war, or rather, by the circumstances of war. You realize the economy's upheaval, the general misery and, above all, the turmoil in each individual life: embarrassment, uncertainty, anxiety.

"It's like being in a prison and knowing that you can't get out," says a friend of mine who works in television. "You hear stories you won't believe. It's such a small part of the world that you can't understand how it's so difficult to live."

Bosnia and Herzegovina is fertile ground for fundamentalism, and people say that many who go to fight in Mosul and Raqqa pass through here on their way.

What the people have been deprived of here is not just a united country. A year ago, people took to the streets, burning town halls and ministries, demonstrating their rage against chronic hunger and frustration about the country's paralysis and corruption. One year later, nothing has happened — civic committees have entirely disappeared or have been absorbed by political parties.

That's what brought me here to the small town of Gornja Maoca, where the ISIS flag has been raised and the people live as if they were in lands conquered by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's men. Just like in Mosul, black flags are flying — a mere hour's plane flight from Vienna.

"You're going to Maoca?" asks my friend smiling. "Save yourself the journey. All you'll find there is hypocritical silence. Did you know that you can't find vinegar in Sarajevo's supermarkets anymore? They're owned by Arab groups. This is supposed to be a multiethnic city, but men won't even shake my hand, and they lower their eyes when I speak. Because I am a woman, they won't look at me," she says.

Fights have broken out in the mosque in Nedjadici because new radical preachers want to abandon the old Bosnian prayer traditions, she tells me. "Don't bother going to Maoca," she says. "It's not worth the hassle. There are bad people there."

Bosnian TV channel reportage in Gorjna Maoca — Source: Skiljo expand=1] Kikas

A few weeks ago in Sarajevo the trial of Bilan "the Recruiter" Bosnic began. He went around the mosques, gathering the support of poor youth in small villages — and there was no shortage of listeners. According to official reports, 130 Bosnians are currently fighting with ISIS, and at least 30 have already been killed. But these are just the optimistic official figures issued to avoid spreading panic.

A different world

Maoca is near Brcko, on the northeastern border with Croatia, at least four hours drive from Sarajevo. Even as we pass through the smallest towns, we can see new minarets being constructed, funded by money from Saudi Arabia.

We stopped at an inn and met a group of boys, and when it became clear we were heading to Maoca, one of them took out his phone to show me a photo. "Look! This is Mirza Ganic, the martyr," he says, showing pictures of a bearded man holding his gun against the backdrop of a beautiful villa, built in the distinctive style of refined Syrian mansions. There's another photo of a group of guys in a pool, and the final one is of the same man wrapped in a blanket, dead, at the feet of his companions.

"He was born in Sandzak, and he got injured on his way here," the boy says. "It wasn't a mortal wound. He could have been easily saved. But he came here to die and become a martyr, so they left him to bleed to death."

Bairo "the Bosnian" Ikonovic is another who went over there; he's one of the bosses in the caliphate. "Some people decide to travel in space, but here in Bosnia this is how they hold on to a glorious past. In their minds, it will bring back the golden age of Islam," says the boy.

[rebelmouse-image 27088730 alt="""" original_size="640x853" expand=1]

Mosque in Sarajevo — Photo: Avrupa/GFDL

The small Serbian cemetery was moved away when the Muslims bought the lands. Wherever you stand, there are simple tombstones and crosses, most of the deceased unnamed. A group of children plays nearby, the girls with their heads covered. There is something wry and gentle in the way they look at you, like the smile of an old lady and sad child mixed together. The two biggest kids are lookouts, ready to warn when someone is coming.

The houses here are barns made of stones and mud, and the flags of the caliphate don't fly from the windows of the houses anymore because the police took them down. But the black and white lettering remains on the balconies of those who proclaim the "true faith."

Prayer and violence

We stop near the mezdid, the place of prayer — in Salafist Maoca, there is no mosque. Trousers, djellabas and niqabs all hang in the local shop. We arrive just before noon, prayer time, and women dressed in black niqabs traipse through the snow with their brightly colored plastic sandals. The men all have long beards, boots and warm layers piled on top of their djellabas.

The head, the "emir," is Nesred Imamovic, and he left for Syria months ago with his wives and children. He named Merset Cekic as head of the community. This is a man who hurries to prayer; he lost an eye and looks at us with the remaining one with hatred as he spits on the ground. "Go away. No one here wants to talk to you," he says.

It isn't easy to live here, says a man who finally agrees to speak with us. "We have come from different places in Bosnia. Many work as masons and laborers in Brcko. Some people have even tried to go to Germany and Austria for work, but the people at the border saw that they came from Maoca and sent them back, telling them they were terrorists," he says.

"When the flags were put up, around 200 soldiers came with their faces covered, terrifying all the children," says the man, who wishes to remain anonymous. "They smashed up houses and stole about 3,000 euros from me. You tell me, is this not terrorism?"

Asked about the caliphate, he replies, "Muhammad said the whole world will belong to Islam, and the cross will be broken. This is the sign that this time is coming."

But this holy war is killing many Muslims, I tell him. "Answer me first, foreigner: What do the Americans, the British, all you infidels do to the Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria? This is fascism. The Muslims in Sarajevo and other cities are the same as the Americans — they're false believers," he says. "I dream of a Bosnia where there's a mosque at every corner to pray."

He invites us to his house to show me how it was damaged by the police. One of his children is learning to read by reciting verses of the Koran, and black veils hastily disappear behind a door. He shows me the police report, which details the items that were confiscated: a gun, three bayonets and a sword.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

January 22-23

  • Navalny saga & Putin’s intentions
  • COVID’s toll on teenage girls
  • A 50-year-old book fee finally gets paid
  • … and much more!


What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Which two words did U.S. President Joe Biden use about possible scenarios in the Russia-Ukraine standoff that upset authorities in Kyiv?

2. What started to mysteriously appear on signs, statues and monuments across Adelaide, Australia?

3. What cult movie did U.S. rocker Meat Loaf, who died Friday at age 74, star in?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? 🇬🇧 👱 💬 💼 ❌ 🥳 🦠

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]


Toxic geopolitics: More than ever, we need more women world leaders

The world is watching the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening an invasion finds an ally in Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi, united against their common enemy: the United States. Back in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden — marking his first year in power with painfully low approval rates (higher only than Donald Trump’s) — sends his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Kyiv to reassure President Volodymyr Zelensky who worries that France’s Emmanuel Macron might undermine Ukraine. And we haven’t even mentioned Xi Jinping!

It’s an endless theater of world leaders beating their respective chests — and they have exactly one thing in common: they’re all men. It’s by now a decades-old question, but worth asking again: What would happen if women, and not men, were running the world? Would there be less conflict, more prosperity? More humanity?

In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study that showed that “only 4% of signatories to peace agreements between 1992 and 2011 were women, and only 9% of the negotiators.” The report shows that in several conflict zones in the world in recent decades, citing Liberia, Northern Ireland and Colombia, women have been instrumental in achieving peace.

In Colombia, where 20% of peace negotiators for the 2016 peace treaty were women, Ingrid Betancourt, herself a victim of the 50-year conflict, has announced her candidacy for the May presidential elections. Differently from previous bids, where she focused on fighting environmental abuses and corruption, Betancourt now is putting gender issues at the center of her political agenda. Bogota daily El Espectador questions whether the former hostage will be able to ride this important political wave, with feminist movements flexing their muscle around the region demanding more rights.

In Italy, next week’s elections for the head of state are monopolized by infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is hoping to be elected for the seven-year, honorary function. There is no official candidacy, but Berlusconi’s name and that of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi are the two getting the most attention. Italian feminist writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini writes in La Stampa that, yes, the very fact of electing a female president will be progress for the country — and by the way, there are plenty of women qualifed for the job.

There was also a woman politician making the news this week for actually getting elected: Maltese conservative politician Roberta Metsola, became the new European Parliament President after the death of Italy’s David Sassoli. And yet the election of the first female president of the EU’s legislature since Nicole Fontaine in 2001 has been widely criticized by female politicians — primarily for Metsola’s stance against abortion rights. "I think it is a terrible sign for women's rights everywhere in Europe," French left-wing member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry told Deutsche Welle.

The women who have risen to power in history (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?) don’t necessarily make the case that gender is the silver bullet to fix politics. Still, after watching all the toxic masculinity on the world stage this past week, we can rightfully demand fewer men.

Irene Caselli


• Record-breaking online concert of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”: More than 100 musicians from around the world will take part today in a performance of Mahler’s epic 8th symphony consisting of 1,200 elements, including a double chorus, children’s choir, a full orchestra and an organ. The event is a culmination of a year of work; all artists recorded their parts in isolation besides the children’s choir. Tickets can be purchased here.

Yearly Japanese festival will set a mountain on fire: Today, the grassy hillside of Mount Wakakusayama in Japan will go up in flames as fireworks go off in the background as part of celebrations for Wakakusa Yamayak. The origin of the festival isn’t totally clear, but might relate to border conflicts between the great temples in the region or to ward off wild boars.

• New insights into antiquities taken by the Nazis: Scholars are looking into how German forces during World War II looted artifacts such as on the Greek island of Crete. Nazi officials pillaged these valuables for their own personal gain, but many were also destroyed, which is why researchers around the world are hoping to gain greater insight into this often overlooked aspect of German occupation.

Exhibition of Beirut’s restored artwork: The Beirut Museum of Art has inaugurated the exhibition “Lift” featuring 17 paintings by Lebanese artists that had been damaged by the port explosion in 2020, and have since been restored as a result of a UNESCO initiative.

The world’s first vegan violin tunes up: Berries, pears and spring water are just some of the natural ingredients relied on for the construction of the instrument by English violin-maker Padraig O'Dubhlaoidh. Traditionally, animal parts like horsehair, hooves, horns and bones are used, especially to glue pieces together. The £8,000 instrument is sure to be music to some animal lover’s ears.


One year ago anti-corruption lawyer and politician Alexei Navalny was detained in Russia, marking the effective end of domestic opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the time since, more than half of the former coordinators of Navalny's headquarters fled Russia. Even Navalny's name is forbidden: Putin never says his name, calling him "this citizen."

At the same time, Navalny’s imprisonment and the de facto end of the opposition have changed Russia. The fear of persecution, the lack of alternatives and the total censorship and propaganda have caused Putin's ratings consistently downward.

An aging leader with no successors, no enemies and dwindling popular support is finding it increasingly difficult to explain why he must continue to rule forever. In such a situation, there’s nothing quite like an external threat to fuel the raison d’être of the authoritarian regime. In Putin’s eyes, the perfect threat right now is NATO expansion, and the perfect enemy is its neighbor Ukraine and its attempts to join the military alliance. Whether Russia's president is ready to engage in a real war is the great unknown, but its aggressive and uncompromising foreign policy — like his disposing of Alexei Navalny — is the latest legitimization of his increasingly absolutist rule now into its third decade.

Read the full story: What The Alexei Navalny Saga Tells Us About Putin’s Intentions On Ukraine


Íngrid Betancourt spent more than six years as a prisoner of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terror group in Colombia, an experience that is sure to play a role in her recently announced presidential campaign. Betancourt, who is 60, is running as part of the Verde Oxígeno and is the only woman in the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), a centrist alliance.

Betancourt could be a boost for the coalition and embody its goals of transforming, overcoming polarization and, as its name indicates, giving hope to Colombia. In particular, the centrist candidate who in the past has been largely focused on anti-corruption and environmental protection, has said she will make women’s rights a cornerstone of her campaign.

Read the full story: Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President


A growing number of studies around the world show that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions have prompted a disproportionate increase in mental health illness among teen girls. These include rising suicide rates among adolescent females in the United States, Germany and Spain and a higher prevalence of anxiety and eating disorders in Israel. But why are women being disproportionately impacted?

There’s a range of reasons. In India, for example, young women had increased difficulty accessing education resources when schools went online and shared a disproportionate burden of household tasks as opposed to their male peers. Around the world, social media also played a significant role; without access to in-person socialization and hobbies, young people spent more time online, often comparing themselves to others, impacting feelings of self-worth. The situation is particularly dire given the challenges of accessing mental health support resources during the pandemic.

Read the full story: Why The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Is Hitting Teenage Girls The Hardest


Norwegian mobility company Podbike has announced that Frikar, its four-wheeled enclosed electric bike, will soon hit bike lanes on home turf. The futuristic-looking vehicle does require the user to pedal, which powers a generator and drive-by-wire system that keep the Frikar running — with a speed limited to 25 km/h.


“Mãe De Bolsonaro” is the top query on Twitter in Brazil, after news that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s mother Olinda Bonturi Bolsonaro had died at age 94.


Photo of the new President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

New President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

Philipp Von Ditfurth/ZUMA

London’s legendary bookshop Waterstones Gower Street tweeted a photo of a letter from an anonymous user confessing to having forgotten to pay for their books some 48 years ago. Owing approximately £100 ($136), adjusted for inflation, they had sent through £120 ($163) to make up for their tardiness. Touched by the kind gesture, the bookshop reciprocated by donating the money to the largest children’s reading charity in the United Kingdom.


Dottoré! is a weekly column on by Mariateresa Fichele, a psychiatrist and writer based in Naples, Italy. Read more about the series here.

Bucket of tears

I’ve been thinking and thinking about a patient of mine since yesterday. His name is Giovanni.

Psychiatrists, you might not know, are quite often asked the same unanswerable question: "Why does one become insane?”

When I was younger, I searched and searched for an answer, losing myself in scientific explanations about synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters.

By the end of my studies, I’d realized that the only thing that was clear was that I’d been clutching at straws to justify my work and give it a semblance of scientific dignity. In the years since, I’ve forced myself, in defiance of the authority of my position, to reply with a laconic but honest: "Sorry, but I don't know."

So when Giovanni asked me that same question, he was not happy at all with my answer. “Dottoré, how’s it possible that you don't understand why I became crazy?”

When he tried to ask me again one day, I tried a different response:

"Giová, do you cry?"

"No. Why?"

"Imagine that the tears that you don't shed, that you force yourself not to shed, because that's what you've been taught to do, all end up inside your heart. The heart is an organ that pumps blood, which brings nourishment and oxygen to the whole body. But over time those diverted tears accumulate to the point that the heart begins to pump them instead of your blood. Slowly your body becomes sick, but the part that suffers the most is your brain. Because tears don't contain oxygen and nourishment, just sadness."

I expected a reaction to this fanciful explanation, but instead Giovanni kept quiet and eventually left.

The next time I saw him, he said: "Dottoré, I've thought about it. I know you told me about the tears to make me feel better, but maybe you’re right. Because sometimes I feel that I have a lake, more than a heart. But it takes a very powerful pump to pump out all that water, and my heart alone cannot do it. And now that you've explained to me how I became crazy, can you also tell me if I'll ever get better?"

"Do you want another story or do you want the truth?”

"This time, I’d rather have the truth!”

"The answer is always the same then. I'm sorry, Giová, but I don't know this either. But I can tell you one thing for sure. I'll help you slowly, slowly with just a bucket. Because the truth is, not even I have that pump."


• Italy's parliament will convene Monday to begin the process of voting for a new president to succeed Sergio Mattarella for a seven-year term.

• Qualification games for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 for South, North and Central America as well as Asia. Argentina’s national team will not be able to rely on superstar Lionel Messi, still recovering from COVID-19.

• Next Thursday will mark 100 years since Nellie Bly died. The American journalist is known for her record-breaking 72-day trip around the world in 1889, inspired by Jules Vernes’ book Around the World in Eighty Days

Keep reading... Show less
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Stories from the best international journalists.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
Already a subscriber? Log in