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Osman Topcagic (I)
Osman Topcagic (I)

My mother came from an old Sarajevo family. Her father was a big merchant, who did business with Vienna and Budapest and Istanbul. He had a big house, opposite the library and my mother still lives there. He also had many shops and other properties but these were confiscated by the communists. My father was born in Visoko and his ancestors came from Uzice in Serbia in the nineteenth century.

I went to the First Gymnasium school, which is the best in Sarajevo. We were a religious family but you did not show this in public at the time. So, I was a Pioneer and at 18 I was proposed for membership of the Communist Party, but I refused. My teacher understood.

In the first census I took part in 1971, I expressed myself as a Yugoslav but later I said I was a Muslim.

When I was young I travelled with a Yugoslav folklore orchestra. We were people from all over Bosnia. I very much enjoyed that. As a student I went with them to France, Belgium, Corsica and Marseilles. I played the cello. In 1974 I took one month off in Paris. I could afford it. We were a whole group there and we organised a football match. Yugoslav versus the rest of the world!

I studied mathematics in Sarajevo and then my first job was in Zenica, at the metallurgy institute. Then it was not part of the tradition to go away for work. Everyone stayed at home, so even Zenica was considered far away! After that I returned to Sarajevo and was programming NCR computers for big projects. I was travelling to Belgrade, to Pristina to Istria to Zagreb… .

I got married in 1980. We rented a nice apartment in Ferhadija street. Friends came over to see us. It was a time of decent living standards. I had a car and we could travel. We had holidays in France and Italy. I travelled a lot on business, to Germany and the Netherlands for example. There was social equality, quality education and health insurance. I was for those things.

We were worried about what would happen when Tito died. We would ask: "Will there be war? Will the Russians come?" We were all in favour of defending Yugoslavia.

In 1991, when the wars began in Slovenia and Croatia, I didn't believe it would happen in Bosnia. I was involved in big projects on the Yugoslav level. The Croats said it would come. I said everything was fine here. I was working at the UNIS institute. UNIS was a big Bosnian company.

At the time of the referendum in Bosnia, in March 1992, I was offered a big job in Slovenia. I hesitated. The weekend of the referendum we thought of going to Maribor in Slovenia. After the referendum, the barricades went up. My daughters were aged ten and eight. I suggested they leave and go to Croatia, which they did in May. But, I wanted to be here.

Bosnia was about to be an independent country and we wanted to know what we could do for it. Now I was not in the frame of mind to move. I did not realise it would be so bad.

My family stayed in Croatia until 1993, when the Croatian-Bosniak (Muslim) war broke out. Then they left for Sweden and ended up somewhere above the Arctic Circle!

My job, in Sarajevo, was to save the UNIS computers. We had a new $1m computer and the UNIS towers were burned, but we managed it. I was also trying to save data. We were trying to continue to work as normally as possible but there was not much we could do.

Of course I felt very Bosnian and Sarajevan then. My sister was killed in September 1992 at the door of her house. She was giving food to the dog. In February 1993 my mother was wounded and my young niece was killed. It was really a time of complete destruction and 1993 was a time of no perspectives. It was a disaster, because we were also at war with the Croats.

In mid-1993 I got a job to run the computers at the Ministry of Interior. Then I was moved to Foreign Affairs. In Sarajevo we were only 30 in the ministry. I stayed in Sarajevo until 1998 when I became ambassador in London. Then I went to Brussels for a year.

When I was a child sometimes I had the opportunity to go with some of my friends to play in the garden at Tito's villa in Stojcevac. It was very luxurious, which was not so common for the late 1950s and early 1960s. There was me - a Muslim, a Serb, one Jew, one Roma and one Montenegrin. That was typical of the time.

Today, I like to go out and drink coffee with my friends and chat with them. Since the war though Sarajevo has not been mixed like it was. It has not reconstituted itself like before. But, in other ways it is more interesting than it was, because of the embassies and international organisations. Now it is a European capital. Bernard Henri Levi, the French philosopher was once asked about what Europe should look like in the future and he said it should be like Bosnia "which is a little Europe as itself. " I like that very much.

January 2007
Tim Judah

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