One year after more than million refugees and migrants came to Europe, escaping the war-torn and unstable countries of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, a Croatian man decided to make the same journey.
Goran Blažević set out from Jordan in 2016 on more than a 3000-kilometer-long walk back to his home country of Croatia.
“Since the Balkan route was closed in 2016th, we stopped talking publicly about the refugee tragedy. With this walk I wanted to return attention back to that,” explains Goran, a travel writer from Umag, the north-west city in Croatia.
His five-month long walk was driven by this desire to, at least symbolically, highlight the suffering of millions of people trapped behind the borders, but also to demonstrate a positive side of Islamic countries he passed through.
“For many years now, the media has portrayed Middle Eastern countries and Muslims in general, as big critics of the west. They are showing images of raging masses inviting people to go to war against the west. And it is sad that the great part of the audience believes that all Muslims are like that,” Goran pointed out, explaining that he wanted to focus on something else: “I wanted to speak about the 99 percent of Muslims who are not like that, but who are left out from the conversation. I wanted to show their kindness and their hospitality towards strangers and I am happy that I succeeded in that.”
During the course of five months, Goran walked, without any sponsorship and with a very limited budget through Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, and Croatia. As he explains, he was travelling at around 4 km/h which is an average walking speed of one person.
Having literally walked the same path millions of refugees walked in 2015, Goran had the opportunity to talk with people who are still living in uncertainty and in the hope that one day they’ll cross the border and find refuge in Europe. “The differences between me and the refugees are great. The only connection was the uncertainty we were living through. But there’s a great difference in that as well. I choose my uncertainty. I enjoyed it, while for the refugees that wasn’t the case. Besides that, I could’ve ended my journey at any point. Sadly, they can’t. And they don’t even know where are they going,” Goran has told the story of his experiences in a travel book named “Svilim – 3.300 kilometers by foot on the refugee route” he is currently promoting in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.
In his book, Goran writes about his fears, about prejudices and about the ways he overcomes them, but also about his experiences from the road and the people he met along the way.
“Quite often, I would end up in the villages without hotels, and I was forced to seek help from the locals. Particularly on winter days. But on a daily basis, people would open the doors of their home for me. For one night, they would host, feed and save a complete stranger. I think that was the most positive side of my journey.”
Having experienced hospitality and kindness during his trip, Goran says that when it comes to Middle East, the tradition and family are at the core of everything, something which, by his opinion Europe has lost and can learn again from the Arab world.
Today, Goran travels within Western Balkans region, sharing his experiences, talking with people and hoping that at least some of them will break their stereotypical attitude towards the Islamic countries. For this travel writer, walking is a tool which he can use to point out on the tragedies and problems that are being left out of the media and the publi, and as he said, Goran plans a new walk in his near future. But what Goran also hopes is that his book will help to defeat the prejudices and to promote hospitality and solidarity in the countries he walked through.
Text: Una Čilić Photo: Goran Blažević