Sarajevo is a fascinating city; we began our day with a walking tour with a local guide. Our hotel in the city is the Hotel Europe, the oldest hotel in the city. We are right in the center of town, a block away from where the Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, the spark that triggered World War 1. Right beside our hotel are ruins from the 16th century. Two blocks away is the east/west marker that shows where cultures meet. To the east is the section of the city influenced by the Ottoman Turks; to the west is the Austrian-Hungarian influenced sector.
In 1984 the Winter Olympics were in Sarajevo; we were astonished to learn that to fund the games the locals voted in a referendum (87% of the electorate voted, with a 97% approval rating from those voting) to spend 2% their personal income for 4 years to pay the bills. Everything was built on schedule, and although the lack of snow gave the residents a scare, there was a major snowfall on the eve of the games.
About the war of the 90s: Serbia decided it needed to be "Greater" and what a horrible mess. It is all very complicated, but here is my current understanding. Croats are Catholic; Serbs are Eastern Orthodox. Both are Slavic people; the languages are the same although they can be written in either roman or Cyrillic scripts. When the Ottoman Turks rolled through, staying in the area for 400 years or so, some Serbs and Croats were converted (Bosniaks). Even though all that happened centuries ago, folks identify by ethnicity. So, after Tito died and Yugoslavia broke up, Serbia decided it would like to expand, and in the process a lot of really horrible stuff happened.
We spent the afternoon at Galerija 11/07/95 which had a sobering photographic and video exhibition about Srebrenica. The Dutch were the UN peacekeeping forces, but they did not do anything to prevent the Serbs from massacring the Muslim refugees who had fled to Srebrenica. The women and children were evacuated, but the men figured if the Serbs were able to capture them, they were goners. They tried to escape to Tuzla, but thousands were killed in the mountains. Others were rounded up, murdered, and buried in mass graves.
Sarajevo had been a city where all faiths lived together in an atmosphere of tolerance; there are Catholic, Orthodox, mosque and synagogue within a short distance of each other. The comment that stayed with me through the day's experience that it was not the people that were the problem but rather the politicians.
One of our guides explained to us that even though events happened hundreds of years ago, Serbians, Croats, and Bosniaks identify by their religion and origin. The genocide is mind boggling. One image that really sticks with me is that of a mother from Srebrenica standing outside the Anne Frank's house museum in Amsterdam; we thought the Holocaust would never be repeated. Yet here in the 90s we had a terrible genocide. In one of the exhibition's videos Liam Neeson gave an introduction; he said that the world watched as Srebrenica happened.
We also saw a film about the siege of Sarajevo. Bono was involved in its production, and the film brought powerfully the impact of the war on this region. Teens ran through sniper alley, people tried to live with some normalcy while in a war zone, kids described horrible events and the impacts on their daily lives. When you look through the pictures for this entry, notice the "rose of Sarajevo." These are places throughout the city where 3 or more people were killed by mortar fire in the city; the markers are in the sidewalk and painted red.
One more time we see the results when there is evil in the world and we do nothing to stop it.
On a lighter note, we had lunch in a local restaurant which was great fun. Our waiter (see photo) is an electrical engineering student who has visited Portland. He did not seem impressed, so I tried to ask him on the side what his experience had been like. Sit down, he tells me, and then regales me and the group with the story of his visit. He said the hygiene products were too expensive, that he did not enjoy everyone regaling him with chit chat, etc. It really was hysterically funny. One of the things he wanted to do was to go to McDonalds even though he said he knew it was crap. He also did not like it that we have no smoking areas; "give me a break," he says; "your food is modified, you have all these other problems and you are worried about smoking?" He told me he was blunt, that people in this region will tell what they think; I told him I honestly wanted to know what he thought. It was a standout moment. He was a great waiter, and I think he will make a good graduate school teaching assistant; maybe he will give the USA another chance.