Bosnia: The heart of the Balkans.
Bosnia is a beautiful country with a tragic and ever present past. In the early 1990s, as the countries that made up Yugoslavia began to breakaway from Belgrade, war blossomed. Slovenia’s war lasted days, Croatia’s months, and Bosnia’s years. The reason why Bosnia was engulfed in such a long civil war lay in part in the ethic/religious makeup of the country, and in part in Slobodan Milosevic’s military support for the Bosnian-Serb minority, which quickly began expanding across the country, dislocating and occasionally purging the Bosniak and Croatian populations that had lived in the area for centuries.
Although peace was reestablished in 1996, it has been a temperamental one. Throughout the country, war survivors now must stand in lines at the market intermixed with men they know to have massacred their family and friends. The population remains tensely divided between Catholic Croats, Muslim Bosniaks, and Orthodox Serbs, each, more or less, with its own government. As a result, the civil war seems to have simply shifted from the battlefield to the political field. The recent spread of partisanship in US politics has nothing on these guys.
The cities remain scared by signs of war. In Sarajevo, many buildings are potchmarked, a legacy of the four year siege in which the Serbs surrounded the city, cut off its access to water and food, and rained death in the form of mortar shells and sniper bullets on the civilian population. Around the city are the “Sarajevo Roses”, which mark places where a mortar shell resulted in the death of a resident.
Perhaps because of this recent and lingering history of death and destruction, everything seems more intense and alive in Bosnia. The cities of Sarajevo and Mostar are stunningly beautiful and attest to a long and fascinating history of Ottoman and Austrian rule. In Sarajevo there is a sharp dividing line. Face one direction and it feels as if you’re in Vienna, face the other and you’re in Istanbul. Whats more, the food is amazing, the best in the Balkans. And the country feels surprisingly safe. I was able to wander the streets of Sarajevo at 4AM alone without feeling threatened, and on my final night I climbed into the mountains to watch the sunset. Try doing that around a major South American city. I couldn’t recommend a country more.