Zarko Hrgic, a former steelworker from Bosnia, has been living in a small riverside cave near the town of Zenica for nearly a decade. He survives on food picked out of dumpsters and leftovers donated by kind souls as he waits to turn 65 and collect his due pension so he can hopefully turn his life around.
In his youth, Zarko worked as a steelworker in Zenica, but decided to try his luck in Germany after his marriage broke down 30 years ago. He worked odd jobs for many years, but 10 years ago he was deported back to Bosnia for staying and working in Germany illegally. Unfortunately, Zarko’s apartment had been destroyed during the Bosnian War (1992 – 1995) so he had no home to come back to. With no savings to buy a new place, and no one to turn to for help, Hrgic eventually ended up in a small mountainside cave on the bank of Babina River that had once been used by miners to store explosives. It was meant to be a temporary arrangement, but he has been living there for 10 years.
Zarko never asked for help from the state, and he doesn’t feel like he was entitled to it. He has survived on his own, and despite the obvious downsides of living in a cave for such a long time, he claims that there are benefits as well. “People always find something to fight about, so it’s better to live alone,” the 21st century caveman says, although he is not technically by himself. He shares his modest home with 13 stray dogs which he feeds every day with bones from the local butcher shop.
The thick stone walls of the cave also provide excellent insulation from the outside weather. This winter, temperatures in the area have dropped to -25 degrees Celsius, but Zarko Hrgic claims he hasn’t felt the chill at all. In fact, he claims to only light a fire when he needs to cook or brew coffee. In the hot summer months, the cave is always a cool place to escape the scorching sun.
The only huge downside to his unusual home is the proximity to the river. A few years ago, it was flooded and he scrambled to save himself and the dogs before they drowned. He has since built a cardboard hut nearby, where they can escape to should the water of the Babina river swell again.
Zarko starts his day by making and smoking a cigarette. He then tends to his 13 four-legged friends, preparing them breakfast and making sure they are in good shape. He then makes his first trip to the dumpsters around Zenica, looking for food and other items he can use. He usually checks the dumpsters three times a day, and almost always finds something to eat, but on bad days, he can buy himself some food with money he makes chopping wood for the locals.
The caveman claims he likes his home, otherwise he would not have stayed there for so long, but also admits that he looks forward to getting his pension in three years. Zarko is 62, and will be entitled to a pension when he turns 65. He says he is in good health and can definitely survive another three years, when he will actually be getting two pensions, one from Bosnia and another from Germany. He hopes to be able to finally afford a proper home.