The Marina on the Drina?

VISEGRAD, BOSNIA—Those familiar with Emir Kusturica’s films—including the award-winning movies like “Underground” and “When Father was Away on Business”—know he loves to give historical events a Surrealistic bent. But the director, musician and actor’s latest project might be his weirdest idea to date. Andricgrad, named after the famous Yugoslav writer Ivo Andric, is currently under construction in the Bosnian town of Višegrad and will house everything from a hotel (based on the design of the Ritz in Paris) to a Renaissance theatre, a marina, an art academy and a replica of western Kosovo’s Decani Monastery.

While those constructions may seem incongruous but intriguing, the odd part is his idea behind this village within a town (it’s being constructed on the western bank of the Drina on a former sports field). According to the Tourist Organization of Visegrad (TOV), the idea is to build a medieval town inspired by Nobel winner Ivo Andrić (1892-1975) and his writings, which include “The Bridge on the Drina.” A town, “that would probably exist in Višegrad if there was not a 450 years rule of the Ottoman empire in Bosnia,” wrote Branislav Andric (presumably no relation), from the Tourism and Marketing division of TOV, in an email to me. “During the Renaissance in a rest of the Europe, Višegrad was under the rule of Turks, therefore except the old bridge all other objects were poor (sic) constructed with no intention to make some important settlement.” Different buildings and constructions in the town will represent various
dodik-kusturica-andricgrad-kamen-temeljac-1328585176-94386histories of the city-a caravanserai (roadside inn) from the Islamic period, a Byzantine palace, the monastery (to mark the medieval Orthodox period), a town square from the Austro-Hungarian days and a shopping mall from modern times.

So, in other words, if the Turks had not ruled the area, this could be whatVišegrad could have looked like over the centuries based on chapters from Andric’s “Bridge of the Drina” novel. It’s unclear why Kusturica –who will own 51% of the project while the town of Višegrad and the government of Republika Srpska (one of Bosnia’s two entities) will own 49%–wants to create a revisionist history of Višegrad, especially given Andric’s belief that bridges brought people from all walks of life together. Because of this, Andricgrad—which reportedly will be where Kusturcia plans on filming both “The Bridge on the Drina” and “Pancho Villa”—has been a controversial subject since construction began last year. Not only are critics questioning his deletion of Ottoman and Islamic history (Kusturica was born Muslim in Sarajevo but moved to Belgrade during the war ) but also are questioning if the Republika Srpska (RS) violated public procurement laws. According to a piece on the Balkan Insight website, the joint venture of Andricgrad LLC with the RS’s investment of 3 million Euros, “exempted the company from the normal obligation to respect the public procurement law.” There is also the issue that during the war here in the 1990s, hundreds of Bosnian Muslims were executed in the town and many thrown from the bridge into the Drina—and there is yet to be any kind of proper memorial to them.

This isn’t Kusturcia’s first foray into the village-building game; about 30 minutes away across the Serbian border is Drvengrad, an idealized Serbian village he built for his 2004 film “Life is a Miracle.” The town, where the film director spends most of his time when in Serbia, hosts the Kustendorf Film and Music Festival that takes place every January. Last weekend, I tried to meet up with the director while he was going to be surveying construction on Andricgrad (I was told by a local security official that he usually comes every few days to check on the builders’ progress). His PA said that he would probably meet me, so I drove the two hours from Sarajevo in hopes that he could explain a bit more
visegradabout the project. I had a good look around—the hotel and chapel are zipping along and Stage One is expected to open this September—but no luck with Kusturica, who has said this is the, “the biggest, most spectacular project of my life.” (I have sent him questions but, as of yet, no answers from him). Andricgrad, which will also feature art galleries, a Slavic language center, an art academy and heliport, is expected to be completed by the end of 2014. There will also be next to—but not part of—Andricgrad, the Novak Djokovic Stadium and tennis complex. Djokovic is said to be paying for construction of the stadium and the three other courts in the complex, which could feasibly hold a Masters tennis tournament. I wonder what Andric would think of all this hullabaloo…

“Of everything that man erects and builds in his urge for living nothing is in my eyes better and more valuable than bridges. They are more important than houses, more sacred than shrines. Belonging to everyone and being equal to everyone, useful, always built with a sense, on the spot where most human needs are crossing, they are more durable than other buildings and they do not serve for anything secret or bad.” –Ivo Andric

1st graphic rendering of Andricgrad (courtesy of TOV), 2nd photo of (Milorad Dodik and Emir Kusturica), 3rd photo (author’s own)