Star Date: July 2016
"Zdravo" (Hello - Bosnian)
"We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make
peace with ourselves."
New life from old. The first thing we noticed when gazing out over the ancient old quarter, Bašcaršija, of Sarajevo were the bullet holes and shrapnel wounds in the sides of the buildings. On the stone wall of our terrace a small yellow flower timidly peeked out of its bullet hole filled with dirt. A sign that love sprouts from hate. A reminder to never give up hope in mankind. Mankind is full of greed and hate and violence but also full of love, kindness, and new beginnings. And thus mankind just sort of muddles along century after century.
People remember the 1984 XIV Olympic Winter Games, in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, in present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina. Proudly the Olympic torch was lit and the momentous games played. A mere 30 years later, abandoned and left to crumble into oblivion, most of the 1984 Winter Olympic venues have been reduced to rubble by neglect or war. When a country is fighting for survival, chaos wins.
Bosnia was part of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire until 1878 and then of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the First World War. As the borders of the Ottoman Empire began to shrink in the 19th century, Muslims from elsewhere in the Balkans migrated to Bosnia. Bosnia also developed a sizable Jewish population, with many Jews settling in Sarajevo after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. However, through the 19th century the term Bosnian commonly included residents of all faiths. A relatively secular society, intermarriage among religious groups was not uncommon.
After the war it was united with other Slav territories to form Yugoslavia, essentially ruled and run by Serbs from the Serbian capital, Belgrade. In 1980 Yugoslavia's communist president Tito died. His rule had held the federation together. The war was part of this breakup of Yugoslavia. Following the Slovenian and Croatian secessions from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, the multi-ethnic Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina - which was inhabited by mainly Muslim Bosniaks (44 percent), as well as Orthodox Serbs (32.5 percent) and Catholic Croats (17 percent) passed a referendum for independence on February 29, 1992.
This was rejected by the Bosnian Serbs, who had boycotted the referendum. Following Bosnia and Herzegovina's declaration of independence (which gained international recognition), the Bosnian Serbs, led by Radovan Karadžic and supported by the Serbian government of Slobodan Miloševic and the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), mobilized their forces inside the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to secure Serb territory.
War soon spread across the country, accompanied by the ethnic cleansing of the Bosniak and Croat population, especially in eastern Bosnia and throughout the Republika Srpska. 'Ethnically cleansed'! This was the Serbian term accepted by the USA and other members of the UN Security Council to avoid any reference to 'genocide', which would by international law demand their intervention. It had become clear that what was happening in Bosnia was no longer a civil war fuelled by 'ancient feuds', if it ever had been.
I was raised under the wings of my dear "little Croatian Grandma, Mary." She immigrated from Croatia on the last ship before WW1 broke out. I vividly remember her stories of the "Old Country". She was sad with homesickness for the mountains of Croatia for many years, until she started a family with my Austro-Hungarian Grandpa, Emil, and got on with her life in the "New Country" of America. A hard working, sweet, loving little Babushka, she never hurt or bad-mouthed anyone. Except for Serbians. She held fast that Serbians were mean! Remnants of 'ancient feuds'? She would have been heartbroken to know what atrocities took place in the Bosnian conflict.
Bosnia was the
victim of one group's determined wish for political domination,
which it was prepared to achieve by isolating ethnic groups and if
necessary exterminating them. In the
Srebrenica massacre a reported 8,000 plus men and boys were rounded up
and shot. Over 10,000 women and girls were raped. The
international courts found 45 leaders of these atrocities guilty and
sentenced them to life in prison. 2.2 million people
were displaced during the 4 year conflict. The effects on
human suffering are the worst since WWII. Joseph Heller
wrote in the book
Catch-22, “It doesn't make a
damned bit of difference who wins the war to someone who's dead.”
In April 1992 the city of Sarajevo fell under attack from Bosnian Serb military groups with the backing of the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, who were against Bosnian independence. The Bosnian Serbs encircled the city and placed Sarajevo's 500,000 citizens under siege. Sarajevo was bombarded by artillery and snipers picked off residents as they walked in the streets. Sarajevo was besieged and on the brink of annihilation.
The war did not
begin to wane until NATO stepped in, bombing Serb positions in
Bosnia in Aug. and Sept. 1995. Serbs entered the UN safe havens of
Tuzla, Zepa, and Srebrenica, where they murdered by the thousands. About
250,000 died in the war between 1992 and 1995.
peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, led to an agreement in 1995 that called
for a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serb entity within the larger
federation of Bosnia. Sixty thousand NATO troops were to supervise
its implementation. Fighting abated and orderly elections were held
in Sept. 1996. President Izetbegovic, a Bosnian Muslim, or Bosniak,
won the majority of votes to become the leader of the three-member
presidency, each representing one of the three ethnic groups.
In 1961, President
John F. Kennedy said in a speech before the United Nations, “Mankind must put
an end to war - or war will put an end to mankind."
Walking the maze of alleys in old town Sarajevo one is reminded of the recent war torn history; shelled out buildings, Tito's Cafe, Snipers Alley, the old statue of Tito in a park, and the famous Tunnel Museum. The only way in or out of the city for the defenders was through a hand-dug tunnel beneath the airport runway, the battle-scarred house in which the entrance was hidden, forms the Tunnel Museum. While walking watch for ‘Sarajevo Roses’, splotches of red concrete dotted here and there in the pavement, filling holes left by deadly grenade or mortar rounds that fell during the 1990s siege.
Resilience. This area has once again, like the Phoenix, risen from the ashes. Sarajevo, has a delightful Ottoman-era center surrounded by Moorish Austro-Hungarian architecture, all set deep within a mountain valley. Red-tiled roofs and minarets dot the landscape. It’s a photogenic, quaint, friendly city and it is a joy to wander through lanes wheezing with history. Our first evening there we headed up into the mountain valley, and were welcomed by the warm, smiling residents. Intrepid Travel rates these folks as some of the friendliest on earth. Hungry from a long day of travel we were hoping to find a little ethnic cafe but instead discovered "krumpirusha" in a little bakery, a pie made of potato in flaky pastry. Nicknamed potato intestines, as they are rolled in circles and baked, we searched high and low through Sarajevo for the "Best krumpirusha" during our stay. We became 'krumpirusholojists'. This brought us to many charming outlying areas, nooks and crannies of the old town. Ottoman-era Latin Bridge is the site of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which ignited World War I. This seems to be conflict central through the ages.
Amidst enjoying the sites of mosques, cathedrals, the renovated library building, historic bridges and medieval walls we would find a little local bakery, select our latest krumpirusha and plant ourselves on a park bench enjoying visiting with locals and discussing the warm flavorful delight; which we devoured with a broad smile on our face. Nothing bonds you quicker with the little Babushka on the other end of the park bench than offering a steaming sample of their famous pastry.
One evening while taking our walk we heard angelic music reverberating amid the buildings of downtown. A choral/gong group from the U.S. was performing in front of the cathedral. Like moths to flames we followed the sound and soon were talking to the excited members of the group. Their aim was to spread peace amongst nations through music. Next stop were the pyramids of Bosnia, just outside of town. Supposedly the 'World’s Biggest Pyramid' rests in Visoko. A great controversy surrounds whether these are in fact enormous pyramids or just natural rock formations. Personally we have found the strangest anomalies and places in our travels to be fascinating. Keep questioning. Keep learning! History would have to be re-written and most historians and scientists fight tooth and nail to hold on to old beliefs. And so the battle rages. Excavating and hypothesizing the Visoko’s Pyramid of the Sun Foundation can't find backing to do proper research. Their central claim is that the hills surrounding the otherwise forgettable leather-tanning town of Visoko, are in fact, the world’s biggest pyramids. "The main ‘pyramid’ is even said to have an energy beam emanating from its apex. And beneath town is a labyrinth of tunnels that they claim to be well over 10,000 years old. Volunteers are busy digging out these tunnels, revealing rune stones, ‘energy rocks’ and water claimed to have special ‘happy’ properties."
Driving in the area offers beautiful views and a feeling of good energy but no answers. I'd say, given the history of this war torn region, its about time for some Happiness!
And so it goes.........................................Next Croatia, home of my ancestors (half of them that is) and the beautiful scenery of the Dalmatian Coast and islands. Until then let's remember to work on our inner peace, knowing that it will radiate to the world around us. Take care and Thanks for keeping in Touch! We love to hear from you.
Love, Light & Laughter,
1 US Dollar equals 1.74 Bosnia-Herzegovina Convertible Mark
Our recommendation is to stay in the old quarter. It is quaint with alleyways to explore and everything within walking distance. Our guesthouse was unique but not recommendable.
We flew into Sarajevo as the airplane tickets were
less costly than Zagreb. We traveled by bus to
Croatia. A lovely journey through the mountains to
the coast. Sarajevo is not to be missed.