Understanding Sarajevo

What did I really know about Bosnia before I came?  I didn’t even know it was technically Bosnia and Herzegovina, which took me days to learn how to spell.  I walked into a world I didn’t expect.

A beautiful train ride and a world away from Hungary.

Bosnia evokes images of a brutal war not so very long ago and I didn’t know it had destroyed a rather metropolitan city.  It helped that I had a guide in this town.  I highly recommend going on a free walking tour here with Neno.  He wants you to understand and love his city as much as he obviously does, to see that their is a long history to love and a more recent one not to be forgotten.

Sarajevo is nestled in a lush green valley with a river winding itself through the middle.

I did not know about the 400 some years of Turkish rule bringing hundreds of mosques, strong coffee, and prosperity.  You can scarcely look around without seeing a minaret towering majestically in the skyline.  While the modern tragedies are quite prominent there are reminders all over the city of the more distant past.  Of old caravans and markets that hinted at the spice trade’s passing.

This is a centuries old Turkish cemetery in front of a more modern war cemetery. The Turkish gravestones are meant to look like little people wearing turbans.

I didn’t know about the 40 years of Austro-Hungarian rule that was the precursor to Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination on a bridge in town.  The short rule brought whole districts worth of buildings and modern conveniences like electricity and trams.

The Latin Bridge seems so mundane now. It is hard to imagine it sparked one of the bloodiest wars ever.

It is always interesting to see things from the other view, where the assassinator was a hero for fighting for independence rights.

It is impossible to avoid the impact of this most recent year.  It was not bringing foreign invades as much as an explosion of the various ethnic groups in the city.

A Sarajevo Rose is a mortal spot where more than three people died so they memorialize it by filling it in with red resin.

You can see the marks on the walls as well. Bullet holes are still visible on many walls. The Sarajevo Roses are disappearing as twenty years later, things are getting repaved.

One of the most tragic attacks occurred at the market, where people still went despite the danger as they had to eat. Today there’s a memorial in the back and it otherwise just looks like a normal market.  The high number of civilian casualties of this bombing at the market helped finally end the war.

Life has returned to normal in the last twenty years.  Walking down the street with luxury designer stores and trendily dressed youth going about does not exactly scream tragedy.  Yet people still carry with them their years of fear and hiding.  Of living off awful international aid rations and being in bases for years on end.

This group of old men played chess despite the oncoming rain. I appreciate the guy wearing a plastic bag on his head as a defense.

The strangest thing I saw in town was something from home.

The US Embassy put up the flag huge on a few trams to celebrate July 4th. Three months later, the trams still look rather oddly garish. If we followed what Eddie Izzard says, does that mean we own the tram by sticking a flag on it?

There is a mix of the modern as one could easily be confused that they were in any other major city in the shopping areas combined with the architecture of so many eras past.  Fancy cars mingle with rather old trams and even donated train cars, relics others were done using.

There are a lot of people living in Sarajevo. They live in a mix of the old, the slightly less old, and the traces of the not nearly old enough wounds just starting to heal.

One of my favorite things that I saw is a photography exhibit called “See New Perspectives” featuring all Balkan artists showcasing how they view the region they live in.  There was a mix of the depressing realities of pollution, current economic woes, and wars past mixed with the strangeness of different cultures and topped with some optimistic views on life improving.  There was a display of heavy metal fans, university students discovering their world and themselves, and how a country like Macedonia deals with 10% of their population describing themselves as gay but being rather oppressive and hateful as a culture towards gay rights.  There were stories of whole Romanian villages that work menial jobs in Western Europe, scrounging every last euro so they can come home once a year to build gigantic mansions and drive luxury cars, showcasing a fake wealth.  In the brief time I am in Sarajevo, the exhibit perfectly captures my feelings on observing the myriad factors of so many different groups of people and different politics making this region so fascinating as it continues to evolve.

1 comment
  1. jenn said:

    Loved this post. Must have been interesting to see that chess game after reading the vonnegut story.

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