Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bosnia

I thought Serbia was strange because it was in cyrillic and has tons of ads and signs in our alphabet too so it is essentially multialphabetical. Bosnia is wierder because half the country uses cyrillic and half uses ours.
The first thing you'll think of when you hear Bosnia is probably war. Yeah, it was a mess and as far as I can tell, all these recent wars in the Balkans were completely pointless and stupid. Shame on them for being tricked into it. Bosnia is the most beautiful country we've seen in Europe so far. The mountains and forests are great but so far it is completely unexploited for tourism; risks of land mines and all that. The big thing now is still war tourism. The war lasted from 1993-1995 but they are just recently refacing the buildings in the centre of Sarajevo. The country is still divided into two halves, one, the Republic Sprska, the autonomous Serb part in the north and east of the country based in Banja Luka, and the Croat/Muslim part run from Sarajevo. They've just had elections with votes following along ethnic lines with Serbs still favouring separation and the Muslims and Croats supporting reunification. For now it looks like that won't happen any time soon. We saw a few UN peacekeepers in Sarajevo but they are scheduled to leave in another year or two.
Sarajevo is in a beautiful valley setting surrounded by green hills. I can't imagine Bosnian Serb troops putting the city under siege for years and dropping shells into the centre or picking off people with sniper rifles just for fun. They won't let you forget it though because there are numerous new cemetaries scattered around on the hills, and in places in the centre they have filled in some of the shelling holes with red rubber or concrete to remind us of the blood spilled there. They look really wierd as these red pools with little red dots radiating out from them and then serious damage on a wall nearby. Crazy.
Sarajevo has a huge Muslim population and there are little mosques with their minarets sticking up all over town. Unlike the way we think of most muslim places (dusty, dirty, chaotic), the people are not all covered up (though there are some running around) and people seem to be getting along quite well. It's like looking at the living example of a moderate western muslim city, but then I guess it's actually more accurate to say it's an Islamified European city as the muslim population has dramatically increased since the war brought them all in from the countryside.
We were staying at another home stay (excellent place) and one of the nights I went out with them to a pub night quiz. It was part of a charity thing and there were 21 teams of 5. They needed an extra person so I was elected to go. Lots of fun but the trivia questions were brutal. Great way to make yourself feel stupid. We thought we were getting destroyed but came in 7th in the end.
From there we went south for a day in Mostar. Bosnia is actually "Bosnia and Hercegovina" but those two aren't as clearly defined and independent as say, Serbia and Montenegro such that Montenegro just split. Hercegovina is some part of the south of the country can't separate but then the Republic Sprska just might try instead! Mostar is the main town of Hercegovina and is famous for its old single-arched bridge across the river in the middle of town. The bridge was rebuilt a couple years ago as it was toasted (along with the rest of town) during the war. The old pictures are crazy and there is tons of damage still out there. Bullet holes, crumbling ruins, and huge chunks missing from structures all over the place. It's totally a war tourism thing with people running around taking pictures of the damage. It's fascinating but at the same time disgusting that there are so many of us that think it is so cool. It's not cool, it's tragic and was so pointless. Mostar was divided into Muslim and Croat sections during the war, with each side living on either side of the river from each other and fighting all the time. There is one main street that acted as the front line during the war and to walk down it now you'd think the war just ended. Most of the buildings are still destroyed and abandoned or in use but completely riddled with holes. They've rebuilt the old town area around the bridge and it is more touristy than in Sarajevo. You can definately tell you're in a touristy area when the beggers are out in force. Haven't seen any for a while but there they were, following the package tourists around.....
I liked Bosnia though and wish it well on the road to recovery.
Ammon

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