In the wake of the 1995 Srebrenica Massacre, in which more than 30,000 Bosnians were killed, and the Bosnian War, in which 200,000 people were killed and 2 million forced to flee their homes, many Bosnians were relocated to various United States locales, including the East Bay.
Every year Bosnians in the U.S. get together on the East and West coasts for a day of reconnecting with their culture, catching up with friends and family, playing soccer, drinking, eating Bosnian food, dancing and partying to a live band playing Bosnian hits. One of the reasons Jack Roddy’s 2,100-acre cattle ranch in south Antioch was chosen for this year's event is that it does not require the usual midnight curfew. “We can stay longer if we wanted,” said Scnad Kasumovic. “If we rent somewhere else it would probably be 1 o’clock or 12 o’clock it has to be clean and you’ve got to be out of there. The best time is after 12 o’clock.”
They were expecting about 1,000 people in the course of the daylong event. Several hundred were on hand for the opening ceremony, in which they were welcomed by Roddy, Mayor Jim Davis, Councilwoman Martha Parsons, Police Chief Jim Hyde and Chamber of Commerce CEO Devi Lanphere, all of whom stood on stage and applauded, albeit without the benefit of initially understanding what they were applauding during a lengthy speech in Bosnian by event organizer Ismet Sefic, until it was translated.
“We are thrilled to have this event,” Roddy – a Hall of Fame rodeo cowboy who has become the Max Yasgur of East County – told the crowd. “Working with these folks has been really nice. They are a hard-working people.”
The event was being simulcast via the Internet to Bosnia and a similar celebration in Chicago, which prompted Lanphere to note, “The world is often said to be very small. In Antioch this has definitely been an international week. We’ve had the sister city of Chichibu, Japan. And here we are celebrating Bosnian culture. And I think that it’s a reminder that everywhere people are very similar. And we are very honored to have you start your first West Coast event here.”
Mayor Jim Davis sounded a bit like Lawrence Welk as he addressed the attendees, using the word “wonderful” three times in his first three sentences: “It is a great pleasure and honor to welcome everyone to our wonderful community, the city of Antioch. It’s a wonderful, beautiful day at Roddy Ranch. I hope everyone has a wonderful time enjoying the festivities.”
Davis then read a proclamation declaring Aug. 7, 2010 West Bosnian Citizens Day in Antioch, noting the celebratory nature of the event but also citing the August, 1994 relocation of approximately 30,000 west Bosnian citizens to refugee camps. A refugee camp was the site of the Srebenica massacre.
Kasumovic declined to discuss the war, saying, “It’s a long story. I don’t want to get emotional.” Asked what Bosnia is like, he said it “is a small country. Nice people. They like food, they like beer, like everywhere else.”
One big difference between there and here, though, is the climate. Bosnia has all four seasons and its hills stay green year round, said Almir Sahnic, who was dressed in a traditional Bosnian costume topped with a fez. Both Kasumovic and Sahnic started out in Oakland and moved to Antioch – two of about 20 Bosnian families in the city. “Most of the Bosnian population is in the San Leandro, Hayward, Oakland area,” he said. “When we came, that’s where we were placed. Through the years people are spreading out and moving.”
Through events like the one at Roddy Ranch, the Bosnian community is becoming more visible. “This event is great in the way that it invites everybody,” said Sahnic. “It’s open to the public, invites the American public to come and see us. We also want to tell them we are here and we would like you to see us as neighbors and friends. We are here and a part of this great community. We are a small part but we are a part of it.”