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