Let Us Imagine How Melania Trump’s Bosnian Shoemaker Who Couldn’t Make the Inauguration Is Spending the Week
Walking, for a moment, in the shoemaker's shoes.
Marinko Umičević is a Bosnian shoemaker. More specifically, he is technical director of Banja Luka’s Bema shoe factory. He is a member of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), the Serb political party in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and an advisor to the leader of that party, Milorad Dodik, who is president of the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska (and was sanctioned by the United States on Tuesday for working to prevent the implementation of the Dayton Accords). And Umičević was invited to the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump by his wife, and Umičević’s loyal customer, Melania Trump.
But the Bosnian shoemaker cannot come to Washington, D.C., because he, like Dodik, was denied a visa to the United States. This, even though, per Umičević, “Everything was ready; tuxedo, bowtie, even gifts.” But it was not to be. And so, while Washington readies itself for the inauguration with party planners and protesters alike at their stations, let us imagine how Umičević, back in Bosnia, is spending this week.
Scene: A dimly lit apartment. Marinko Umičević stands in the kitchen, warming his hands on a hot cup of tea. In the next room, a television plays at a low volume. Umičević thinks back on the apology letter he sent to Melania Trump — the one in which he said he could not attend the inauguration after all — and sighs.
Marinko Umičević was weary. He spent time buying presents for the Trump family — for him, the slippers with embroideries, and a scarf with the flags of Republika Srpska and his local football club; for her, a comfortable nightgown with traditional embroideries. He had drafted, thought not yet sent, a heartfelt note to Ivanka, the daughter with the shoe line, that they might arrange some business deal together. He had felt ready.
But then, after his Sunday press conference explaining why he would not attend, he felt relieved. And surprise at his own relief exhausted him. He wanted to go, didn’t he? To be close to power? Isn’t that what he’d wanted? What he’d always wanted? And if so, why was he so happy that he would be staying in Bosnia?
He was also tired by his disgust with himself for even holding a press conference. Why had he held a press conference? He was a shoemaker! What shoemaker needs a press conference!?
There was a time when he wanted only to make shoes for people walking the halls of power. Now he sometimes finds himself trying to walk them himself. To walk in their shoes after so many years in which they walked in his. But once people got power — that thing so many many fought and killed for — did they even want it half as much as they once had?
Look at Dodik. Sanctioned by the United States for overseeing a referendum on celebrating “The Day of Republika Srpska” on Jan. 9, even though the Constitutional Court had banned the vote for discriminating against non-Serbs. Why had Dodik done it anyway? And then threaten a referendum on the court system and withdraw Republika Srpska from Bosnia’s military — what for? And why had he, Umičević, been his advisor while he’d done it? Who’s a shoemaker and a presidential advisor? Who does that?
Look at Melania, her nightgown now to arrive by post. How far she’d traveled to stand on stage. But did she want to be there?
Did he, really? He sipped his tea. It felt warm on his tongue, in his throat. There was a certain, simple pleasure in that. In being here, in his apartment in Bosnia. In a quiet life. Or a loud life, but far from power. Far from anyone whom he did not love, and from those who did not love him. Close to his country, his shoes, and his true self. In a life well-lived, and nothing more or less.
Umičević sighed. Perhaps next week, when Trump is in power, he will want to be close to power again, too. To sow more rancor and discord. But this week he was content, finally, to be just where he was.
He walked into the next room, embroidered slippers on his feet. His favorite soap opera was on television, his mug of tea still in his hand, and, at long last, a desire to walk in no man’s shoes but his own in his heart.
Update, Jan. 18, 2017, 1:05 pm:
Photo credit: DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images