'Big Brother' Goes to Bosnia

Only one thing marred TV viewers' enjoyment of the Bosnian version of 'Big Brother' - nobody took their clothes off.

'Big Brother' Goes to Bosnia

Only one thing marred TV viewers' enjoyment of the Bosnian version of 'Big Brother' - nobody took their clothes off.

A Bosnian version of the 'Big Brother' television show has riveted audiences and for once driven ethnic and political prejudice out of peoples' minds. The main complaint was an absence of those shower scenes which so roused such attention in Britain.

It was Bosnia's first 'reality show' and viewers, accustomed to a diet of sterner TV fare, lapped it up eagerly. The producers sought to show that Sarajevans want to catch up with Western ways and enjoy themselves in the process.

None of the five young participants - Mima, from central Bosnian town of Travnik, Jana from the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, Lav from the Croatian capital Zagreb, and Slaven and Aleksandra from Sarajevo - engaged in anything like erotic behaviour.

But their activities in a rented attic were discussed breathlessly all over the country. The audience divided into two clear camps. Older people mostly hated it. Younger viewers loved it. Just about nobody seemed to be indifferent.

The 'Big Brother' participants remained under the TV spotlight for 60 hours. Their adventure was wound up recently with typically loud Sarajevan party.

It was so noisy that neighbours called the police. One young officer turned up but the partygoers thought he was a spoof policeman sent along by the producers. They ripped off his hat, seized his club and pushed him into the middle of the dancing crowd.

The officer took it all in good part and joined in the fun. People afterwards wondered what might have happened if the assignment had fallen to an older, less good natured cop. 'Big Brother' might have ended on a less happy note.

The event drew huge interest. There were more then 90,000 visits to the website that broadcast the show simultaneously as it went out on the independent OBN television station.

Hundreds of messages were recorded on the Internet, most of them commenting on the appearance of the participants. "The Slovenian girl has the best breasts" or "Mima is the cutest" were typical samples.

But occasionally politics and ethnic hatreds did creep in. "Slaven, Aleksandra, all the Serbs are with you, kill the Ustashas (derogatory term for Croats) while they are sleeping," read one message.

Another said, "Hey people, did you notice that the Muslims sit only on the green (colour of many Islamic flags) sofa, and the others on the white one?" There was some suspicion these messages were tongue-in-cheek.

Most of the attention focused not on nationalities but on the refusal of participants to display themselves naked. Six months ago, a girl from Zagreb, Andrea, had a shower in front of the cameras during a similar show in Croatia. She won the hearts of Croatians but later lost her job as a salesperson.

On the morning after the Sarajevo show ended, the five performers found they had become stars. When they went into the city for breakfast, they were mobbed by viewers. Almost everyone in the crowd seemed to know who they were.

The marketing agency Fabrika (Factory), which helped organise the show, was deluged with applications from young people seeking a part in the next 'Big Brother'. So far no follow-up programme has been planned.

Weeks after it ended, the show remained a hot topic of conversation. Most older people still like to talk about the beautifully decorated attic where the show was staged. They criticised the "futile life which modern youngsters lead".

One elderly women complained on a radio talk show that "three of them turned their back to the camera and chatted over the Internet, while two others just played video games. They spent 90 per cent of their time like that.

"There was no intelligent discussion, no joke, not even one mature or interesting remark. It seemed that the five of them hadn't read more than 10 books in their lives."

Younger people had no such complaints. They talked approvingly about the choice of music, the clothes and the tattoos. Haris Pasovic, a well-known movie director from Sarajevo, said he hated the reality show concept which he sees as yet another attempt to make TV the most important element in people's lives. However, even Pasovic took comfort from the fact that Bosnia is, at least, following world trends.

Ozren Kebo is a commentator for the Sarajevo weekly Slobodna Bosna

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