By Igor Spaic
Most people associate bullfights with Spain. But Bosnia has its own bullfights each July at Cevljanovici – although there are no matadors, no killings, and the atmosphere is a lot more festive.
A cloud of dust covers the arena as Macan scrapes the ground with his large hoof. His eyes are fixed on his nemesis for the next few minutes, Garonja. His hind legs start to kick violently as he positions his horns. Thousands cheer him on from the field surrounding the arena. “Get him, come on, are you guys going to start already?”
Garonja is getting agitated as well, huffing and puffing as he sees Macan’s assumed position. It’s game on.
The bullfights are the conclusion to a two-day party in Bosnia’s Cevljanovici valley, some 30 km from Sarajevo, that has been gathering people from all over Bosnia for seven decades.
A sea of some 50,000 people filled the area to the brim throughout the weekend, attending the 70th annual bullfights organized at this site. For most of them, the event involves a lot of singing, dancing and alcohol as well as watching bulls.
People from all over the country have been gathering here since 1947, to test their bulls against each other – and party.
Today, many Bosnians from all over the world time their vacations so that their yearly visit back home coincides with the July event.
“I try never to miss this. Last year I couldn’t come but this year I’m here for both days,” Hilmija, who lives and works in Linz, Austria, told BIRN.
He says he has only missed this event two or three times in the 19 years that he has lived in Austria.
Even visitors from as far as the Ivory Coast in Africa are attending the event this year, organisers say.
“Here, you can do whatever you want. There is no judging,” a man holding a beer in a cowboy hat, tells BIRN. He did not wish to be named.
A mix of folk songs echoes throughout the valley, blending into each other, as they all have more or less the same beat.
Rows of tents are lined up from one end of the valley to the other, and a different band plays in each one. Inside the tents are long wooden tables, usually with a dozen beer bottles on each.
The crowd in one of the tents seems especially energized. A group called “The Sattelites” is performing.
In another tent, all eyes are on a scantily dressed woman dancing on the table while men throw money at her.
In front of the tent someone is dressed in a low-budget Masha costume, from the cartoon “Masha and the Bear”, taking pictures with children.
Between the tents are a number of market stalls, not particularly well organized in terms of what they are selling. The order of them when walking by goes as follows: 1.5 euro sunglasses, cevapcici, clothes, candy, hand cream and body lotions, and so on.
Hungry visitors can stroll up to one of the many counters selling meat – and only meat. You walk up to the counter and have the butcher chop off a piece of lamb and pack it into waxed paper and a plastic bag. You find any seat available in the valley and unpack your meat. The paper and the plastic bag are your plate. You eat with your hands.
“There is a lot of preparation to meet all the demand but it is more than worth it. These two days are great for business,” a busy trader tells BIRN, as he chops and hands out lamb to a queue of people in front of his counter.
A large circular patch of grass can be seen in one part of the valley. Some 50 people have joined hands, dancing a traditional Balkan “kolo” in a circle.
People jump in and out of the dance. Everyone is welcome – a stranger’s hand will always be extended towards anyone wishing to jump in. “Hop! Hop! Hop! Hop!” they yell as they jump in rhythm.
The entire area is secured by police – but they don’t seem to have much to do. They chat with the guests, enjoy the music and some sit down for some lamb. A smiling officer kicks back a soccer ball that wandered off from a group of boys.
Despite the huge amount of alcohol consumed, no trouble seems to break out. Ambulances are on standby, but their main job is to take care of patients suffering from the heat.
Many have set up camp at the outskirts of the site, partying throughout the past night.
At about 4.30pm, the bullfights begin and the guests gather around the arena. Many sit on the surrounding hills on blankets, watching the event from above.
“Would you look at the size of that thing! Man, imagine what it would be like having a ton of muscle running at you like that!” a young man tells his friend in the crowd, as the first bull, Jelenko, is led out.
The brown bull runs across the arena once, but focuses on his opponent, Baron, as soon as he is brought in. The animals are each the size of a car, and one can only imagine the collision that is about to take place.
“Aaand, here we go. What a cross, ladies and gentlemen,” the narrator’s voice echoes through the crowd.
A “cross” apparently is when a bull manoeuvres his horn in a manner like a cross-punch in boxing.
In reality, it is not nearly as brutal as it might seem. The bulls simply wrestle it out, pushing each other back and forth several times. Whichever one turns its back is the loser. The winner simply leaves him alone.
A lot of fights don’t take place at all. Sometimes, the bulls simply enter the arena, analyse each other, and then one of them walks away.
It is very different to the fights that occurred until about seven years ago, when the rules were changed. Initially, the authorities wanted to ban the whole event, but, due to the high demand for it to continue, a compromise was found.
Now there are no injuries. The bulls aren’t being fired up by beatings and their horns aren’t sharpened before battle anymore. Besides a doping test, inspectors check to see whether the horns are properly cut at the tip so no animal gets injured.
The fights are supposed to play out like they would in the wild – no brutal clashes, just a competition for dominance.
The value of the winning bull can double on the market. This year’s winner was Medonja. “My joy is limitless! It is not a minor thing to come back from the Cevljanovici bullfights with one’s head held high,” Medonja’s owner, Senib Bjelic Habibic, told the news portal Dnevni Avaz.
As the sun started to set, people started packing up and groups of them walked the uphill path towards the parking area.
“See you all next year,” the compere’s voice echoed through the valley once more.