When people talk about Europe nowadays they mostly mean the construction of the EU. Through the breakdown of the Soviet Union and the decreasing US influence, Europe entered a new stage where there are neither colonies (at least not in the former sense) nor occupying forces against which it needs to define and establish itself. Due to these facts Europe was ‘forced’ to redefine its identity by turning to itself as a ‘center’. In the past decade Europe has been going through this identification process that includes geographical landscape as well as the peoples and their cultural values. To support this, following elements have been introduced: A European flag, a hymn, stamps, passports, student exchange programs like Erasmus and Socrates, and last but not least European History Books.
The content of established history books is something that Semir Osmanagic doesn’t take for granted. He is rather interested in ‘rewriting’ them. After all, he was the one who stated the unbelievable hypothesis of the existence of the most remarkable man-made structures: The first European Pyramids. In the year of 2005 the Texas based businessman and pyramid researcher of Bosnian origin climbed on top of Visocica Hill (now also known as the Pyramid of the Sun) and made the discovery that has become a life changing matter for the inhabitants of Visoko – recently known as Pyramid Town located 30km north of Sarajevo.
A centre in the shape of a pyramid
Thematically speaking, Visoko has had a history rich in being a center: A center of the Bosnian kingdom during the Middle Ages or a center of trade and commerce in the centuries after. It used to be told that a Visoko tradesman has a power to sell anything to anyone. One local joke goes, “If Jesus came upon Visoko he would, thanks to the cunning skills of the Visoko people, be buying nails.”
Nevertheless, in the course of the Civil War (1992-1996) and, in the period that followed, the once glorious town spirit has faded away. The aftermath of the violent conflict has been reflected in the form of a depression effecting all spheres of life. Consequently the economy of the once famous trade and commerce area has stagnated and so did the mood of its people. The feeling of resignation and of exclusion – from success, economic wealth and much more – could be smelled in the air.
After a period marked by such high unemployment rates it was as if everyone in the town had just been waiting for something or someone to appear and change this. And it appeared in the shape of a pyramid. Many Visoko inhabitants voluntarily joined the excavations-project lead by the Pyramid of the Sun Foundation and its Indiana Jones (nicknamed by Visoko people), Semir Osmanagic. The interesting point is that the local landowners are eager to participate in the Pyramid project too. They have put their land at the foundation’s disposal. And they benefit from the project by working on the site and getting some compensation. Thus, the town has become livelier and has reawakened its true spirit from the past.
According to Osmanagic, the time period for the pyramid project has been estimated at ten years. In this period the area should develop a more sophisticated infrastructure by means of the increased tourism. This would contribute to providing more workplaces and improve the quality of life. In the recent months there has been a completely different atmosphere: “One wasn’t even aware of the changes. Everybody is in a better mood now, especially young people, but also the older generation. It’s been ten years now since the war ended, and finally something good is coming up,” says Tarik from Visoko.
The future in the shape of a Pyramid Centre
Peter Bürger, an economic commissioner who has been assigned here by the German government as part of a project for the reconstruction of Bosnia, has seen the enormous potential that exists in this country, but has also noticed that the foundations for the redevelopment are missing: “One of the foundations that is missing are the so-called European industry standards. With my old companies I always manufactured in emerging markets and so I saw that in Portugal, here in Europe, or in Asia, in Korea or China, it looked just as bad as it does here. It’s a completely normal path, in terms of business, back to recovery. It’s just a matter of time, the potential is here. And one of Bosnia’s biggest potentials is tourism. But of course, nowadays tourism needs some foundations.”
Some of those foundations are transportation infrastructure as well as the hotels and accommodation options. Foreign investors like Peter Bürger started setting up certification for institutions and businesses in all sectors – such as manufacturing, administration and of course tourism. In order to make quality tourism possible the locals are keen on learning how the western people ‘function’. The tourist agency recently named Pyramid Travel will organize language courses for the locals who don’t have any experience with tourism. “And that would of course be the tip of the iceberg, in a positive way. The pyramids would attract a lot of people and trigger all the projects: better roads, better hotels, better food etc. A huge boom could take place,” claims Peter Bürger enthusiastically.
Similar as with the introduction of the EU elements I mentioned before, the trade of pyramid souvenirs has also had both a uniting and a motivating effect. The feeling of cultural, political and economical exclusion from the EU constructions has influenced life visions and opportunities of the people in Visoko. Nevertheless, they also find themselves in the middle of a similar process of redefinition and new identification. In this case they are actively setting the boundaries of a new center themselves – the Pyramid Center. Thus, they form their own inclusion-exclusion construct.
What you can make out of the Bosnian Pyramids
Whereas other areas in Europe started to experience progress, improvement and most importantly inclusion Visoko, for many years, had shifted the opposite way. Eventually, the hypothesis of the existence of the Bosnian Pyramids has had an awakening effect on the town and its people. Everyone started making something out of it: Selling t-shirts and souvenirs, triangle shaped pizza, etc. The local motel changed its name to The Pyramid of the Sun Motel. The subject matter sneaked its way into the entertainment sector as well: Songs that relate to the pyramid-hopes are being made. For his last album Dr.Zo – a rap musician located in Visoko – wrote a song called Reality that tells about young people leaving Bosnia. It describes the post-war situation of the country.
What’s so interesting about Zo’s new single, released after the hypothesis of the existence of the Bosnian pyramids, called Grab the Shovel, is that people start coming back to Bosnia because of the discovery of the pyramids: “Back then (in 2005) the whole thing didn’t seem so important yet. There wasn’t any turmoil about it at all. But with time it all got structure, and so we produced the song Grab the Shovel. It’s about all the good things the discovery of the pyramids brought with it. It tells the story of the Bosnian people who emigrated, and that there is no longer any reason for it, because better times are coming now. We all see a kind of light at the end of the tunnel. There is finally something good happening also to Bosnia and Herzegovina. You can feel the positive change already, although it hasn’t really started yet… but it’s going somewhere” (Dr. Zo).
Due to the consequences of globalization and the shifting power relations European countries, both the EU and the Non-EU ones, find themselves in the process of reinvention and redefinition. Whereas the EU-members are establishing a strongly guarded political and economic center of their construct, Bosnia – and Visoko in particular – is playing with a hypothesis, which if it proved right, would put all center and periphery definitions ever made at stake. What I find remarkable, however, is not the hypothesis of the first European pyramids, but the charmingly strong will and bravery to make something huge out of something very little. And I don’t mean the Pyramids.
Visit the website and check the movie-trailer:
Text and photos by Ira Hadzic