I had a wonderful weekend with our students and teachers at our first annual autumn retreat. We stayed at the Sunny River (Sunčana Reka) Camp in Mali Zvornik. Mali Zvornik, which means “little bell” in English, is a small town located on the Serbia – Bosnia border, about 2 1/2 hours south west of Belgrade. The resort camp is on the Drina River and it was a very peaceful time, with beautiful sunshine and autumn colors all around. The landscape reminded me of the Appalachians, because of the forested hills.
The town is across the river from its sister city in Bosnia, Zvornik. I didn’t realize how close Zvornik was to the infamous Srebrenica, the scene of the biggest massacre of the Yugsolavian Wars of Secession. A lot of horrible and sick events happened in Zvornik also, but they are not as well known as Srebrenica. The town was once 60% Bosniak Muslim, but they were driven out and it is a majority Serbian town today. If the United Nations sponsored commission reports are accurate, so many bad things occured in the area. I only felt peace however, with quiet walks along the river, nice meals with friends and students, and sports on the grounds of the resort.
Serbia is always full of surprises and Mali Zvornik was no exception. The owner of the resort arranged for the local Serbian Orthodox Priest to show us two underground sites. The first was the Holy Cross Church (Crkva Casnog Krsta) which is a cross-shaped cave that is an ordained church. There is not electricity in the cave, but they hold mass there the last Friday of every month by candlelight. It fits around 100 people. The second site was more impressive. It was a secret, underground city constructed in the 1930’s for King Alexandar I of Yugoslavia. You can see us above in one of the 78 rooms of the 2 kilometer complex. The city was never completed because of World War II and the Communist Era. Today it is just light bulbs and cement walls. We toured a bit of it. Very impressive however, being that large. It would be a great place for a movie. I hope someday that they find the money to renovate the city how they had envisioned it during King Alexandar’s time. With the state of Serbia’s economy, I don’t see this happening for a while. The underground rooms and hallways can fit between 3,000 and 5,000 people. Very cool.
It would be nice if this area of Serbia and Bosnia could receive more tourists. It is a gorgeous, peaceful place for relaxation. I will definitely take my family back to the resort. For all the former areas of conflict, it will be good for them to develop their economies through tourism. There is lots of potential.