Bosnia: The heart of the Balkans.
Bosnia is a beautiful country with a tragic and ever present past. In the early 1990s, as the countries that made up Yugoslavia began to breakaway from Belgrade, war blossomed. Slovenia’s war lasted days, Croatia’s months, and Bosnia’s years. The reason why Bosnia was engulfed in such a long civil war lay in part in the ethic/religious makeup of the country, and in part in Slobodan Milosevic’s military support for the Bosnian-Serb minority, which quickly began expanding across the country, dislocating and occasionally purging the Bosniak and Croatian populations that had lived in the area for centuries.
Although peace was reestablished in 1996, it has been a temperamental one. Throughout the country, war survivors now must stand in lines at the market intermixed with men they know to have massacred their family and friends. The population remains tensely divided between Catholic Croats, Muslim Bosniaks, and Orthodox Serbs, each, more or less, with its own government. As a result, the civil war seems to have simply shifted from the battlefield to the political field. The recent spread of partisanship in US politics has nothing on these guys.
The cities remain scared by signs of war. In Sarajevo, many buildings are potchmarked, a legacy of the four year siege in which the Serbs surrounded the city, cut off its access to water and food, and rained death in the form of mortar shells and sniper bullets on the civilian population. Around the city are the “Sarajevo Roses”, which mark places where a mortar shell resulted in the death of a resident.
Perhaps because of this recent and lingering history of death and destruction, everything seems more intense and alive in Bosnia. The cities of Sarajevo and Mostar are stunningly beautiful and attest to a long and fascinating history of Ottoman and Austrian rule. In Sarajevo there is a sharp dividing line. Face one direction and it feels as if you’re in Vienna, face the other and you’re in Istanbul. Whats more, the food is amazing, the best in the Balkans. And the country feels surprisingly safe. I was able to wander the streets of Sarajevo at 4AM alone without feeling threatened, and on my final night I climbed into the mountains to watch the sunset. Try doing that around a major South American city. I couldn’t recommend a country more.
Only people who read and learn about happenings in Bosnia from tourist brochures can call it civil war. Something in me dies every time I see that. War means both sides were equal, equiped with weapon. In Bosnia, one side had weapon of JNA, means one of the world’s strongest armies, and Army of BiH. Army of BiH in first years was formed by people from houses who ran down to protect their cities. Taking whatever they could, a kitchen knife, hunter gun… Later on, they had weapon they managed to steal. When army of BiH was finally equal, they decided to make Dayton. What happened here is aggression, not war. And no, it weren’t only Muslims who were in army of BiH, my father’s best friends were 2 Catholics and both were in it. There was even a whole Orthodox brigade. Army of BiH had all people who wanted Bosnia, and not big Serbia or Herceg-Bosna. Regardless of religion.