I was young when the war started, and while I remember bits and pieces, I couldn't quite understand who was who and why people were fighting each other. Now that I've been there, things click in my head a bit more. I've heard a couple sides of the story, and it doesn't all make sense, but I'm so curious how the oppressors managed to carry out such destruction of Sarajevo and the rest of the country. Until I can return, my Netflix queue and library stack are full of books about this region.
We had a couple hours drive from Mostar, and we were aiming to arrive in time for a tour that we'd booked at 11am. I'd been in touch with our Airbnb host, Samir, and had good directions to his place. Unfortunately as we got onto the street, the police had blocked off the area where we need to go, and made us turn off. I was trying to explain and show my phone to the guys, but they weren't having it. Miraculously, right then, Samir and his friend drove up and talked to them, and we were able to go down the street and get into the apartment building. I'm so grateful!
We parked behind the building, Samir and his friends showed us the place, gave us the keys, and then we sprinted down the way to catch our tour.
We found the meetup place easily and got in a van with a few other people on the tour. Our driver and guide was Nermin, who was a veteran of the of the war from 1992-1995. I so appreciate getting to hear his first-hand experience. He said that it's still difficult to talk about, though he does it for a living now. Corruption and a poor economy have led him to doing tours.
Our first stop, we drove up a hill on the east side to the White Fortress and the lookout point. I'll mention here that I never felt unsafe anywhere on this trip, but our guide did tell us not to leave anything in the van as we walked a few yards down the way to the viewpoint. He said we'd lose our bag and he'd have a broken window. Something to look out for when you're in these parts.
From the fortress, looking east. The Bosnian Serb army came through this area and the siege lines were all around the city on these hills. From there, they bombed and used snipers to take down Sarajevo.
From here was headed down the hill towards a cemetery view, then over to the Olympic sites. The 1984 Winter Games were the pride of Sarajevo. All the white areas below are graves.
The Olympic Torch.
From here we drove west of the city, towards the airport and the Tunnel of Hope.
The city was surround by the Serb army, except for the area around the airport and just to the west. The airport was under UN control.
In 1993, the Bosnian army figured out a way to build a tunnel to get food, aid, and war supplies into the city, since it was completely surrounded. The western entrance in the free Bosnian territory started under this house. Even though you can see that it was damaged with artillery, the Serbs didn't know the tunnel started here. Millions of people passed through here during the war.
In front you'll see a Sarajevo Rose - where a bomb fell and killed people. The scatter of the bomb looks a bit like a rose, and they were later filled in with red resin. You can find them all over Sarajevo.
The height of the tunnel varied, and people had to carry very heavy packs of supplies through the tunnel. Poor air and high waters were a problem. This is a must-see if you come to Sarajevo. The site also has a couple videos that we watched.
We drove back into the city for a bit more of a tour through Sniper Alley.
You can easily see all the damage that's still on these buildings, mostly from snipers in the surrounding hills.
I didn't get a photo of the Holiday Inn, but it was built for the Olympics and was the site for journalists during the war. I think it was the only hotel that managed to function. Though it was near the front line and was hit, it was mostly spared during the siege.
Our three hour tour had turned into about four and a half, and I wasn't complaining. But it was time to eat! We found a strip of outdoor cafes and grabbed some Bosnian sandwiches. I think mine had a smoked meat of some sort. Poor economy means everyone my age hangs out in cafes and watches sports, as we saw around us.
We took the time to relax and chill for a bit. We'd just heard a lot of stuff. I was taking notes while Nermin shared stories with us. The quick version of his story and what has happened:
Bosnia and Herzegovina has been occupied over the years by the Ottomans and the Austro-Hungarians and has a mix of peoples and religious backgrounds. As the country of Yugoslavia was formed and ruled under Tito (the Tito, as Nermin said), things were good. They had the 4th largest army in Europe and people were united, including in mixed marriages, and it wasn't a big deal.
The Tito died and there was no Plan B. He had kept things together. Milosevic in Serbia wanted to keep the head government in Belgrade, but Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia didn't get on board with that. Slovenia broke off first, Croatia next. There was a referendum in March 1992 to see if Bosnia could be independent. The Muslims and Catholics voted yes. There was propaganda from Belgrade to get the Orthodox Bosnians to say no and remain under Milosevic/Serbia.
The day after the referendum, the Bosnians Serbs (Orthodox) put up barricades and stopped normal life.
At some point the leader of Croatia and Serba met and made a deal to split Bosnia and Herzegovina. The GNA (Yugoslav People's Army - mostly Orthodox) arrested the leader of Bosnia. As Nermin said, the Catholics could always go to Croatia, the Orthodox to Serbia. The Muslims of Bosnia had nowhere to go. He just wanted to stay alive and defend his family.
The siege of Sarajevo is the longest siege of a capital city. An average of 300 bombs fell per day. The worst day had 3700 bombs.
Even today political parties are aligned with religion, and it causes problems. BiH has 3 presidents, and they rotate turns every 8 months. How do they get anything done? The peace treaty (Dayton Agreement) stopped the fighting but isn't a way to live. You must be connected to the government to have any way of middle class life. This last election had 100 political parties and 3700 candidates.
Nermin talked about how most people used to be able to take their families to the beach in the summer, over to Croatia or Montenegro. But now the middle class is disappearing. He lost his job as a policeman, but had the opportunity to work at a post office. However, first he'd have to pay 10,000 euros as a bribe, with no guarantee of a job after the next election. He is now leading these tours instead.
Okay...that's some heavy stuff.
After lunch we walked back over to the tourist agency to catch the free walking tour of the city. It was destroyed during the siege and rebuilt, opening in 2014. Also, Franz Ferdinand was at a reception here, and when he left, that's when he was shot, triggering WWI.
Next we walked through the old city of Sarajevo, with markets and mosques.
I meant to ask someone about this, but these obituaries were posted in many places around Bosnia.
During the war, heavy sheets of plastic were used in place of windows. You still see a lot of it around.
And the Orthodox one.
These guys are always out. It's a game of many against many.
The Eternal Flame - a memorial to WWII soldiers.
AMEX logo on the window. Cool.
The official walking tour wrapped up, but Meghan and I went to explore a few places we'd passed earlier while driving through the city.
The Academy of Fine Arts
This was just a normal house with cool art.
Here is one of the Olympic sites. There are some shops around, and I think they still hold some events here.
Still can't escape selfie sticks.
Memorial to the children who died in the war, made of glass.
We were walking back to our apartment and I saw this sign. Couldn't read it, but I knew that's where my church was. It was on the same street as our apartment, and I sure wish we'd be there on a Sunday.
Here's the place where we stayed. Great location.
Another Sarajevo Rose near our place.
Meghan manged to figure out the washing machine and do some laundry.
We ventured towards the old city for dinner.
Time for burek! You order by the kilo. I watched the woman through the window, cutting and weighing so well for the time I sat there.
Stuffed with burek, we strolled home.
The next morning we had a long drive ahead to Dubrovnik. Gina the GPS wasn't being the best, so we followed some signs and had a Google maps route saved on our phone, so we thought we were set.
And then we realized we were on a side of a mountain, on a narrow dirt road, in the rain. Um. No. Not happening. We were on R433 heading towards Ulog and we backed up. A truck pulled up behind us, and they stopped to see if they could help. It was a couple and their teenage son, with no English between them, but we showed them our phone and told them Dubrovnik, and they said Foca! So we figured that out on the map, and turned a long way back around to get to Foca.
We had to turn our rental car in by 2pm and there was no way we were gonna make it, but at least we were safe.
We hit some heavy rains and a couple places where it looked like the road was washed out or maybe just covered in dirt, but our little Opel handled it. I had to pull over a bit to let the rains pass, but thankfully we were safe on these curvy mountain roads.
I thought it was funny when you left a town, they'd cross out the name. Just so you'd know. We mostly drove through Republika Srpska, so you'll see Serbian Cyrillic on the signs.
Don't take this way.
Bye, Bosnia, I love you! More Croatia, Montenegro, and Albania coming up!