May 17, 2019
|BOSNIA HERZEGOVINA. Bosnia is the northern area and Herzegovina the south. They became one nation in the 14tth century
Bosnia Herzegovina where do I start? We flew in to Sarajevo from Belgrade so the change was abrupt. Sarajevo is smaller than Belgrade with only 400,000 people. We had no preconceived idea about the city other than the war stories from the 1990s. The architectural influence is moorish/austro hungarian and the houses are really charming. A river runs through the old city outside our hotel and the old city has small narrow streets with food areas and artisan shops where the copper merchants make all sorts of items from metals including old cannon shells and bullets used in the war. This city was destroyed in 1995. Their city hall burned for 10 days destroying their history-over 2 million books and documents. Our guide is from Mostar, the second largest city and he was 15 when the war ended. His tales have been sometimes gruelling and always sobering.
But we weren’t here for long. There was a two hour tour with more history and we are now starting to sort out in our minds what happened here from 1980-1999. There is a lot of ptsd here our young psychology student guide told us. And yet one of the guides travelling with us is Bosnian and rubbed along happily with our Serbian guide for the two days. They tell us that the people are again intermarrying and living harmoniously but their governments are still made up of remnants of communism and nationalism and are in it for the money they can make and the power they can achieve.
Last night we found our own dinner and ended up with a small crowd sitting outside with rugs on our knees-it was cold. But plum slivovica and local wine soon warmed us up. It was fun and tasty food. Really nice little hotel but funny beds-very firm and almost felt like we were sleeping in Japan.
This morning we learnt about the siege of Sarajevo that lasted almost 4 years =1442 days. Their territory was surrounded by Serbian tanks that pounded the city 24 hours a day for that time. We were told about the snipers that killed over 1600 young children. Ethnic cleansing is mentioned openly. These people talk very openly about the war. No doubt the story is different depending on who tells it but it is quite confronting to hear from these men who lived it. Our guide is about 6’4” and at 15 weighed 50kg! less than he does now. There were food rations from the US dropped in to the surrounding hills where they had to trek up and then break up the huge drops into carryable packages. He spoke of icky tasting vacuum sealed packets of food left over from the WW II and Vietnam US stores. There was no power, no water and no gas. All were cut off when the siege began. We were taken to an area where the people dug an 800m tunnel to enable them to get out of the city and begin to smuggle back food and arms. It was an amazing thing they did in plain sight really and were never discovered. The tunnel was dug from the middle of someone’s house, under the airport runways to the countryside on the other side. It is called The Tunnel of Hope (or LIfe)
The Cold War was bothering Tito in 1953 and set out to construct 3 huge nuclear bunkers in different locations. One to hide planes, one to hide ships and submarines and one to house military command near the town of Konic. We visited this bunker. It took the 26 years to build and of course was never used. It was not even discovered until 2011! although some people were I. The know because the raised it during the 1990s war for food and medical supplies. It was amazing to see a bunker so big that it could house 300 soldiers and they could be there 250m underground for up to 6 months. So it was fully air conditioned, full communication by phone and teletext. The teletext machines are all still there and all functional but we’re never used. What an incredible waste of money when there was still poverty in Yugoslavia.
Kojnic also has one of the coldlest rivers in the world- and is a beautiful emerald colour and popular for rafting and winter sports. There is still snow on these mountains and they are called by the locals the Herzegovina Himalayas.
Our guide Selmir who is with us for the whole trip is from Mostar.
Leaving Konic and driving to Mostar was jaw dropping. Think green green mountain passes, beautiful river valleys, craggy snowy peaks and red roofed villages. Mostar is on the river Neretva.
A few facts about Mostar:
Pre war Mostar was thriving.
There was 100% employment.
It is an old town dating from pre Roman times (so lots of lovely old buildings)
There are predominantly Muslims but also Jews, Christians and Eastern Orthodox.
Pre war 80% of marriages were ‘mixed’
In the Balkan wars:
90% of buildings in Mostar were destroyed (including Selmir’s house)
The economy was totally destroyed
All factories were destroyed
All the city’s 9 bridges across the river were destroyed. Last was the famous Stari Most bridge built in 1566.
The city has been rebuilt but is still very much a work in progress. Money and corrupt governments slow the process. But it is an attractive city again with buildings scattered on the surrounding hills.
Unemployment is now 12% but improving.
More about Mostar in our next post.