Garret Kelly

Balkan and Irish people have very similar mentalities!

Irishman Garret Kelly is a journalist with the Irish Times and Director of the SEE Change Net Foundation, which he founded in 2012. He started the Sarajevo Irish Festival in 2016, and this year it will run from March 16 to 18.

Garret first came to this part of the world in 1989 as a BBC journalist, when he visited Croatia and Slovenia. He recalls how his interviews with the band, Laibach, and Slovenian Prime Minister, Janez Janša, a dissident at the time, helped familiarize him with the turbulent political scene in the Balkans.

- I came to BiH in 1996 as an election monitor, but I liked the country so much that I stayed on for three and a half years as a UN volunteer. I started a family here in 1999 and made a permanent move in 2009, when I went back to being a journalist. I also established the SEE Change Net Foundation which, among other things, deals with air quality improvement, something much needed in Sarajevo.

Various interests in Sarajevo

Garret served as a producer for Oggi Tomić’s film, Finding Family, which opened the 2013 Sarajevo Film Festival’s Documentary Film Program.

- The mentalities of Balkan and the Irish people are very similar, just like the mentalities of all small, once-colonized nations who have a complex history and a mix of religions. We equally love to have a good time, hang out with friends and enjoy the arts.

Five years ago, Garret started the Belgrade Irish Festival with his friends in Belgrade and this led to the realization of the first Sarajevo Irish Festival in 2016, which hosted human rights advocate, Rory O’Neill, and the film, The Queen of Ireland.

- Rory took away some great impressions of Sarajevo. He often talks about it and will be coming again in March.

Garret is regularly visited by friends and they enjoy taking walks together along Wilson’s Promenade, going to Skakavac Waterfall and the Olympic bob sled track, as well as sampling the rich culinary offering of our city.

In love with Bosnian food

- It is not cliché when I say that here tomatoes and peppers taste like vegetables, but in Northern Europe they taste like plastic. I usually treat guests to lunch at Mala Kuhinja and Dveri, to ćevapi at Željo and we are very fond of ASDŽ Aščinica and its sogan dolma, mashed potatoes and okra, which is unknown to most foreigners.

He says tourists should visit Sarajevo museums and other attractions and he insists that the cemeteries say a lot about the people who have lived here.

- One should definitely visit Gallery 11/07/95, a memorial gallery that, in addition to the main exhibit on the killings in Srebrenica, also has a section on war-related topics by Ziyah Gafić and Šejla Kamerić. Here one can see Bill Carter’s film on U2’s visit to Sarajevo and the famous war-time beauty pageant, Miss Sarajevo.

Garret usually gives friends Herzegovinian wines (Žilavka, Vukoje, Nuić) and bags of mixed nuts from Badem Butik as gifts. He says the perfect souvenir is a t-shirt with “Sarajevo” written in the Coca-Cola font, a logo that the famous design team, Trio, came up with during the war and which is a symbol of Sarajevo resistance.

Garret ends our conversation with the following:

Sarajevo is a festival town and this is the very reputation it needs to promote!