Sarajevo, Bosnia - War, Schmar, Fave City Yet

Trip Start Apr 27, 2006
Trip End Apr 01, 2008

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Sunday, June 4, 2006

I got behind on these things when I got to Croatia because I was with a friend and never had time to write, but I will catch up.

When last I wrote, though, I was on my way to Sarajevo, Bosnia, home of the 1984 Winter Olympics, but last remembered for being besieged in the wars for independence for the former Yugoslavian territories in the early 1990s. I wondered whether the ethnic tensions would still be present and what sort of evidence of the war would still exist. The short answers are: (1) not really that I saw; and (2) absolutely.

Bosnia is primarily Muslim and it shows, with the presence of mosques, markets selling more Eastern/Turkish wares, skin coloring, and in the types of food. However, it has/had a significant Catholic Serb minority. When Bosnia declared independence from Serbia (after Croatia and Slovenia had already done so), the Serbs sent in their army to "protect" the ethnic Serbs. They did so by encircling, shelling and sniping Sarajevo for 3 years, killing 11,000. The only relief (food, ammunition, supplies) for the encircled Sarajevans was a mile-long tunnel dug under the airport (which was occupied by U.N. forces, but they were neutral in the affair) until the Dayton accord was signed in 1995. 8000 EUFOR troops remain in Sarajevo, but the Bosnians want them gone because they did nothing to help them during the war.

Sarajevo itself is a neat and mostly beautiful city - my favorite so far in terms of feel, geography and architecture. It sits in a valley between snow capped mountains, has a funky cobblestoned Old Town, a very Turkish feel at times, a feeling of clean mountain air and water, and it mostly walkable. THat said, there is a lot of damage and rubble that has not been repairs (for lack of money). The Bosnians are very proud of their resistance, and the leftover Serbs are somewhat segregated into their own area of town (although the presidency rotates among a Serb, a Croat, and a Bosnian every eight months). Nevertheless, I found people to be friendly, helpful, open and smiling.

I also met a lot more tourists than I had in prior cities. I think that is because the Old Town was small, so the tourist population was concentrated - it felt more like the typical backpacker scene at times. I met and hung out with a couple Aussies, a sports photographer from California, a group of German university students studying Eastern Europe, and a girl with dual Iranian and U.S. citizenship who had lived in San Diego for 13 years before selling her condo and moving back to Tehran (when not traveling) 7 months ago. I even met a bunch of ex-Cal water polo players who were on some sort of club team touring around playing games.

Also, my second sense for locating all the cool bars returned. I found five the first night, including the mandatory "Irish" pub, and our tour guide for the Olympic museum a couple of days later recommended only places I had already found. Speaking of which, the Olympic tour was very interesting. The bobsled, luge, and ski jumps were all damaged in the war and aren't used. The museum itself was damaged, and some of the exhibits were lost or looted. Still, Edvin, the guy who showed us around was great. His father took him to London two weeks after the war started and he lived there for 10 years, so everything out of his mouth was "fucking" this and "shite" that, but with a Bosnian accent. He played fullback on the Bosnian rugby team (also club, meaning they paid for everything themselves) and said they sucked.

Otherwise, I mostly just wandered around, sat at cafes reading my book, and went on a couple tours (the surrounding area, including where the Serbian snipers used the Jewish cemetery as their attack point, the Olymics, the Jewish museum). The most interesting thing, kind of, was that I had dinner with all the Germans and they had arranged a guest from OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe - in charge of peace and election monitoring in Bosnia). However, he wasn't seated near me and they were conversing with him in German. My end of the table drank beer and wine and the Germans were nice enough to mostly speak English.

Next Stop: Dubrovnik, Croatia
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