Beautiful, crazy, sad Bosnia
From Zablak we crossed the border into Bosnia and by mid arvo we were in Sarajevo the capital. We’d booked into a ‘hostel’ and the guy had sent us a very average map with a warning that it can be difficult to find. 3 hours and 2 buckets of sweat later we agreed with him. The most frustrating part about finally getting a taxi driver who knew were it was was that we had been about 1 street away several times.
That evening we went out to explore the old town where we are staying. Sarajevo has a beautiful old town with lots of winding cobbled streets, filled with traditional restaurants, shops, beggars, colours, mosques, churches and ottoman architecture from the 15th century.
Sarajevo is a city well on its way up the path of recovery post the 90’s Bosnia War. If you don’t know much about the Bosnian war here’s a very brief synopsis thanks to wiki.
“At the outset of the Bosnian war, Serb forces attacked the Bosnian Muslim civilian population in eastern Bosnia. Once towns and villages were securely in their hands, the Serb forces – military, police, the paramilitaries and, sometimes, even Serb villagers – applied the same pattern: houses and apartments were systematically ransacked or burnt down, civilians were rounded up or captured, and sometimes beaten or killed in the process. Men and women were separated, with many of the men massacred or detained in the camps. The women were kept in various detention centers where they had to live in intolerably unhygienic conditions, where they were mistreated in many ways including being raped repeatedly. Serb soldiers or policemen would come to these detention centres, select one or more women, take them out and rape them. The Serbs had the upper hand due to heavier weaponry (despite less manpower) that was given to them by the Yugoslav People’s Army and established control over most areas where Serbs had relative majority but also in areas where they were a significant minority in both rural and urban regions excluding the larger towns of Sarajevo and Mostar. The Serb military and political leaders, from ICTY received the most accusations of war crimes many of which have been confirmed after the war in ICTY trials.
Most of the capital Sarajevo was predominantly held by the Bosniaks. In the 44 months of the siege, terror against Sarajevo residents varied in intensity, but the purpose remained the same: inflict suffering on civilians to force the Bosnian authorities to accept Serb demands. The VRS surrounded it (alternatively, the Serb forces situated themselves in the areas surrounding Sarajevo the so-called Ring around Sarajevo), deploying troops and artillery in the surrounding hills in what would become the longest siege in the history of modern warfare lasting nearly 4 years.
Numerous cease-fire agreements were signed, and breached again when one of the sides felt it was to their advantage. The UN repeatedly, but unsuccessfully attempted to stop the war and the much-touted Vance-Owen Peace Plan made little impact.”
Sarajevo is a narrow city nestled in a valley surrounded by steep hills. From these hills the Serb army commenced a campaign to keep the civilians and army of Bosnia well and truly stuck. ‘The seige of sarajevo’ was long and bloody, no one was safe from the snipers, artillery and constant mortar fire. It wasn’t until NATO finally intervened with air strikes that the citizens of sarajevo experienced their first casualty-free day in 22 months.
As no one could get out, the bodies of men women and children had to be buried in any available space. The Olympic stadium from the 1984 games in the centre of town was filled with bodies. Parks became cemeteries and buildings and lives were destroyed.
The attacking armies MO became: enter a town, ransack and destroy apartments till everyone out in the streets. Separate men women and children. Beat men and send them to a forced labour camp. Rape women and send them to a forced labor camp. Kill anyone who didn’t comply.
I can’t believe it happened in my life time. Did people in the west just not realise what was happening? I don’t understand how so many atrocities happened.
We went to an exhibition to commemorate the Srebrenica genocide housed in ‘Gallery 11/07/95’. We spent hours in there. It was about the genocide that occurred in a town called Srebrenica in north east Bosnia. The photos were chilling and the truth was worse. This town was stuck right in the middle of the Serbian controlled area so NATO designated it a ‘safe area’ and both sides agreed there would be no fighting troops within the boundaries and people would be safe within the enclave. NATO sent Dutch peacekeepers to guard it and persecuted Muslim Bosnians flocked to seek refuge there.
Towards the end of the war General Mladić ordered the supplies to the town to be cut off and troops started to surround the borders over several months. The people and the peace keepers started to starve. There were 450 peacekeepers guarding 60000 civilians. Even though NATO was fully aware of the situation no one seemed to envision what was going to happen. No one believed that the Serbs would actually break the agreement and harm unarmed civilians. On the 11/07/1995 troops from the Army of Republika Srpska attacked the enclave and took the UN peace keepers hostage. They rounded up the citizens and sent the women and children away. The Muslim boys and men who were of fighting age were lined up and shot dead. They culled around 8000 men in a few days. They men were buried in hastily dug mass graves. As the war drew to a close these graves were dug up and the bodies moved to secondary graves further away from the town so the world would not find out what had happened. Sound familiar? Sound like something else that happened last century that the world hoped they would never see again?
Walking down the Main Street of Sarajevo the buildings and pavements still bear the scars. So many buildings still in use are riddled with bullet holes and have chunks of concrete missing from artillery fire. There are Sarajevo roses all around the city. Where mortar shells fell and exploded on the pavement they have left a distinct pattern. Where the explosion is known to have killed one or more people the dents have been filled with red resin as a memorial.
On a lighter note we loved walking by the river, we tried some amazing food (Ćevapi) and walked to the white fortress above the town for a beautiful sunset.
We caught the bus to Mostar and arrived midday to be picked up by Nina. We were staying in Hostel Nina right near the old town and it was so lovely!! As we drove through town from the station Nina pointed out to us where the front line had been from the war, which destroyed buildings used to be what and talked a bit about what it was like living here while the war was on. She said she still doesn’t understand what the point of the war was, she said she is a catholic and lives in a Muslim neighbourhood. She shrugged and said we still all live together now.
The old town of Mostar is small but pretty cool and the rebuilt ‘old bridge’ is a beautiful example of Islamic architecture. The original old bridge survived hundreds of years only to be destroyed in the war. It was reconstructed exactly the same.
There is a world famous diving club at the bridge and for a certain fee you cam jump it too. Jono has been super keen to participate for months so first arvo we headed over the bridge and got sorted out.
Next thing you know Jono’s up there and the crowd is watching! I stood down the bottom and filmed it. It’s a 24m high bridge and the River Neretva is freezing. They make you wear wetsuit pants to protect you (??) and coach you on how to jump safely. I found it pretty funny that the final instructions for landing are ‘straighten into a pin and grab your noolies tight!’ Bit they take it very seriously. People have died in the past from landing on their back or front! Ouch!
Jono’s jump was great, if not graceful. He flapped like a duck to keep his body upright and looked like he was doing the running man mid air. ..when he gets out of the river he goes did I wave my arms at all? In his mind it was a lots smoother. Got a pretty awesome video! He’s so brave 🙂
That night we went out for drinks with a whole bunch of other people from the hostel – most of whom are Australian. For a country with so few people we certainly dominate travelling.
Next day we walked into the newer part of town and found the snipper building. Not hard to notice really, it’s the highest building in town, has a huge mortar hole in it and is completely gutted. We climbed up it which was pretty freaky and it felt completely unsafe. I wasn’t keen for the last climb of a dodgy ladder to the hole in the roof but there’s still bullet casings around the sniper hole. Crazy.
It’s been around 40 degrees both the days on Mostar so after lots of sweaty wandering we bought some beers, cheese and crackers and headed down to the river. What a beautiful spot to spend a Saturday arvo.
Next stop Croatia to pick up JEREMY!!!!!!!!