Caught out once again by the semantics of this country. I was out and about near the east of the Bosnia, very close to the border with Serbia. This part of the country is a part of the Republika Srpska, the Serb half of Bosnia, usually known as the RS. It is very beautiful; forested hills, green valleys and the stately Drina River. This time of year there are cornfields and fishermen. The temperature is cooling to very pleasurable levels, it is really pretty Garden of Eden perfect like.
I'd been having a coffee with some very nice people, who had been more than welcoming and had offered me vast quantities of food and drink leading to us all having a very convivial time. They asked me where my children were, and I had said, in Bosnian, that the boys were at nursery. They asked me how the boys were coping with the language and I had replied that I thought they understood everything and that now they were actually starting to speak Bosnian.
There was a silence and then one of the men looked straight at me and in that sort of voice that says do not even think of contradicting me said that they weren't learning to speak Bosnian, they were learning to speak Serbian.
I forget sometimes about the realities of this country. If I had been to the south or the west of Bosnia, the men would have looked at me and told me that my children were learning to speak Croatian. The fact that these 'different' languages are as different as American and Australian are to English is neither here nor there. Nor was the fact that I struggle to speak any of them well, so to have to worry about who I am talking to and to remember to say Bosnian, Serbian or Croatian is way beyond me. It was important to them that I knew and that I understood that the language we were speaking was not Bosnian.
It is not restricted to the language. If you are in the RS when Bosnia are playing football you would never know it. Noone is watching. Their football team, the team they want to go to the World Cup, is Serbia and they are passionate about that. In the Croat areas of the country, they support Croatia (must remember not to say 5-1 at inappropriate times, the Croats are devastated, their media is imploding with grief in a way that I thought only the English could really do).
It is only the Bosniaks (also known as the Bosnian Muslims) who really identify with Bosnia. They speak Bosnian, they support Bosnia, they understand themselves to be Bosnian. They will do whatever it takes to keep the country together and at the more extreme end of the scale this involves trampling all over the sensitivities of the Serbs and Croats in the country.
The Americans say that they speak English. Chucking the Brits out of their country didn't lead them to insist that their language is American. It really doesn't matter what they call their language, noone is going to get upset about it. But, when the conflict here is so recent it becomes obvious that this tiny thing, a foreigner mistaking the name of the language they are trying to speak, is unbelievably important.
Suddenly I feel that 14 years after the conflict ended, Bosnia still has a long way to go before it can really function as a normal country.