Welcome to Sarajevo
Trip Start May 15, 2006
21Trip End Aug 03, 2006
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I had become wildly lost after walking out to the train station to book my overnight train back home to Budapest for that night (of course, there's not a booking office anywhere in town) and was strolling along a pleasant kind of boulevarde when I noticed, in all it's bright yellow glory, the Holiday Inn, sticking out like a shag on a rock in the middle of the rest of the drab city.
I recalled that my trusty guide book had said this street was once known as "Sniper Alley". It was the road linking the city to the airport, and it was one of the deadliest areas during the Balkans War last decade.
Anybody attempting to come in or out of the city, (I'm guessing you'd only come in if you were with the UN, but you'd have every reason in the world for getting out) would be shot by long range snipers. Literally picked off by guys in the top floor of apartment blocks they'd requisitioned, using guns with sights on them. And at the Holiday Inn, all the foreign journalists sat perched, watching it all going on below them.
So, in shock, I paused, appreciated the fact that I could now walk relatively safely around this city, and got the hell out of there.
The signs of the war are still all over Bosnia and Hercegovina. There are signs posted on ever power pole (interestingly, these are not so much in the tourist areas) that act as a memorial to people who died in the war - including photographs, names, date of birth and death, where they were killed, and I'm sure a little tribute written in the local language that I couldn't understand.
In the areas where mortars fell, holes in the concrete have been filled in with red cement as a reminder. Every third building has trees growing inside it (no, this is not some new Phillippe Starck design concept), with signs warning people it could fall down any moment and don't park your car next to it.
But, while the people seem to be trying to move on, the people who perpetrated the most horrendous war crimes, are either treated as "war heroes", or if they, by some remote chance, end up at the criminal court for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague, they get next to nothing. A former bodyguard to Slobodan Milosevic, who was a mid-range commander who ordered his men to help overrun UN forces and kill 8000 Muslims in Srebrenica, today got two years jail, despite the prosecution asking for 18 years. The court said the testimony of his mates that he was a good guy swayed the decision in his favour.
It will be interesting if we are reading about the "second Balkan War" in 20 years time, provoked because this situation has been left so wholly unresolved.