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ubrovnik was the last bastion of the west. From there, I took a bus eastwards into the former Ottoman Empire: Bosnia. Mostar was founded in the late 15th century and was the chief administrative city for the empire in the Herzegovina region. The city's name is derived from the name of the famous bridge over the Neretva, the Stari Most (old bridge). In 1878, Bosnia was captured by Austria-Hungary and formally annexed in 1908. Centuries of imperial rule ended in 1918 with the demise of the major European empires and the birth of Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In 1991, the country broke down in civil war as its mini-states declared independence. Peace came in 1995, though a conflict between Serbia and Kosovo flared up in 1996 ending with American intervention in 1999.
Bosnia is ethnically 48% Bosniak, 37.1% Serb, 14.3% Croat, 0.6% other according to the 2000 census. Needless to say, ethnic tensions remain high despite hostilities having ended. Today's Bosnia, having little history as an independent state, is plagued by division, unemployment, organized crime and a myriad of other things. International troops still maintain a presence there. Though Bosnia has made it a good 10 years without lapsing back into civil war, the possibility cannot entirely be ruled out, though after the four years after civil war, the likelihood goes down considerably. I was unsure of what Bosnia would be like before I arrived. I'd heard horror stories of destruction though mostly found very few people who'd visited, even in Croatia where tourists were more common. Outside of what history I knew about the region, Bosnia stayed out of the news, tourist books and public discourse. Everything past the Croatian border was a shrouded in mystery. I bought my ticket and headed for it.
Below is the Neretva river which flows through Mostar. Astoundingly, it didn't seem too polluted. All the other rivers I saw were downright filthy. Mostar is a relatively quiet town and a mix of Muslim and Croat. Upon arrival, there weren't as many old ladies shouting "sobe" (room) at travellers and of course there weren't really any travellers, just one other, but I did find a small room for 10 bucks (an outrage) and later switched to another for 5.
Walking through the town, I was taken aback at the damage. Though life moved on as usual and a city is still a city, there wasn't a single building not riddled with bullet holes, collapsed buildings on every block, rubble on the ground and steel cables sticking out of walls everywhere. The people weren't as open and seemed a bit more suspicious of foreigners.
Acting on a good tip and with the help of a nice Bosnian woman who lived in Germany and was visiting, I took a bus south-east to the town of Blagaj which was previously the regional capital but was overtaken by Mostar. There was a small Islamic monastary at the end of a river which had a small restaurant. Strangely enough, there was a Norwegian fishery nearby. While enjoying my .25c Turkish coffee and Turkish delight (a type of sweet), I noticed these two SFOR tourists, ahem, I mean soldiers, looking through a few things for sale.
After three days in Mostar, I headed on to Sarajevo. At the bus station, the usual band of old ladies accosted me and I found a cheap room in the old Turkish quarter which is on a hill overlooking the city, but close to everything. Speaking only a few words of English and German to my few words of Serbo-Croat, I gathered her husband was killed in the "Rat," the word for war. Her house was small but fantastically decorated.
I wasn't blessed with very good weather during my stay, but still spent a great while exploring. The suburbs looked like they had been shelled yesterday and I was told not to walk around there due to land mines. SFOR troops were everywhere, especially Italians. There were craters in the streets from mortars, bullet holes in everything and graveyards smack in the middle of public parks. But still the city was lively, had a number of internet cafes and seemed to be rapidly improving.
The picture below is a common site in Sarajevo. This one was on the main pedestrian street. The red you see is liquid rubber poured onto the spot where someone was killed by a sniper as a kind of memorial. They were everywhere and quite disturbing. Would constantly seeing such things help deter people from future fighting or only remind them to get revenge one day? I met two nice Bosnians at a cafe downtown and they told me a number of stories about crawling through the tunnel to the airport to get food and supplies during the war for example. One was a Serb who couldn't return to Serbia as he was dodging the military. Though they spoke little English, they understood most of what I said due to a strong passive English picked up from tv. They invited me to meet the the next day for a tour of downtown. They brought me a few books on the city to keep, showed me around and pointed me to a fabulous restaurant with the best Cevapcici in the city.
No series of photos on Sarajevo would be complete without the picture below. Needless to say, it didn't make me feel all that welcome.
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