Balkan War Madness In Bosnia.

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Where I stayed
Samm Seher Hotel Sarajevo
Read my review - 3/5 stars
What I did
Sarajevo War Tunnel
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina  ,
Saturday, May 28, 2011

Back in the 90's Australian media carried stories of the wars and atrocities committed between countries of the former Republic of Yugoslavia. We probably did not take a lot of notice – after all, these countries are a long way from Australia.

Our trip to Bosnia and Hercegovina, (pretty long name for a country – so I’ll just say Bosnia in this blog) plunged us into a history lesson of the Balkans. It is almost more common to see buildings pockmarked with bomb scars, than buildings without. Massive bombings occurred of precious heritage buildings and most famously a bridge, the Mostar Bridge, was destroyed. Also destroyed in Sarajevo was a library with tens of thousands historic books and manuscripts and of all things a Serbian Orthodox Church.  

This was happening less than 20 years ago. Whilst there is an uneasy peace everywhere at the moment,new feelings have stirred again with the arrest last week of Ratko Mladic. Mladic was a Serbian general who is charged with war crimes, including the murder of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995, leading forces in the Sarajevo seige resulting in the killing and wounding of thousands of civillians, and taking UN personal as hostages. This arrest has been lauded by the world press as an end of a chapter, but Bosnians are inclined to think their borders and country are not secure.  

The main perpetrator, Slobodan Milosevic, was arrested and sent to the Hague to be tried for war crimes, and committed suicide in 2006.

Mostar, our first stop in Bosnia turned on a warm sunny day for our look at the city. The famous bridge, built in 1566, was completely destroyed in the 1990’s conflicts by shelling from Croats. It has now been completely restored using the same materials and methods and looks magnificent, as it arches high over the Nevetva River. We enjoyed a lovely lunch at a little locals café overlooking the bridge, away from the tourist swarms.

After Mostar, we travelled through gorgeous countryside viewing rural Bosnia life until arriving at the Alpine looking city of Sarajevo, where we are to spend two nights. Sarajevo is famous for firstly being the home of the Winter Olympics in 1984 and secondly, just 8 years later, for being totally devastated in a siege by Serbs, lasting for more than 3 years. It seems incongruous that a city with facilities of a standard to host the Winter Olympics could suffer such a fate. The Olympic Torch stands for a spirit of international cooperation and peace.
Sarajevo is also famous for being the place where an assignation in 1914 of the heir to the Austrian throne, was the catalyst for the beginning of World War 1.

The siege between 1992 and 1995, devastated the city and its people. The Serbs, under Slobodan Milosevic, circled the city from the mountains. They told the concerned citizens it was just military exercises until all troops, professional snipers, tanks, grenade launchers and living quarters were in place. Suddenly one day they just turned the guns on the civilian population below. The Serbs believed the taking of Sarajevo would be swift, but they did not reckon on the tenacity of the Bosnians. The residents of the city, at first stunned, galvanised themselves into action. There was no way in or out and the Serbian plan was to bomb and starve the city into submission. Sarajevo’s people armed themselves with every weapon available in the city and fought off any attempted infiltration of the city in hand to hand combat. Often weapons were purchased from corrupt Serbian forces to be fired back at Serbian and Croatian forces. 

In absolute secrecy they built a tunnel out of the city under the airport, through a family home of which we were privileged to do a tour of.  Through this tunnel they smuggled in weapons, much needed food and supplies and later on fuel when the city ran out.   

Our guide for the tour Elsa was passionate and at times bitter. As a 7 year old she escaped with other children through the tunnel and then by bus up through the mountains. Many of the buses containing children were bombed and she lost many friends and family in the seige. Some 1,600 Sarajevo children were killed during the seige. The tragedy of it all was that the UN were flying in some outdated food and medicines but the planes were leaving empty. Elsa believes they could have successfully evacuated and saved many children using the empty planes.

All through the crazy, who was fighting who saga, a little humour survived. Someone one night graffitied on the Bosnian post office "this is greater Serbia" next morning a reply appeared "no fool, this is the post office".

We all felt rather stunned after our tour and so for a complete change of pace our guide Damo took us to an Austrian style brewery for the evening and a little bit of levity, after a heavy day of learning about war.

On the move again and now our tour will take us into Serbia to learn (maybe) another side to the Balkans War story.

Footnote: Old Bridge Area of the Old City of Mostar is UNESCO World Heritage listed.
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