Risen from the Ruins

Saturday, April 28, 2018 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Balkans & Beyond, Days 32-34:  Belgrade, Serbia, to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Where were you in 1992?  1993?  1994?  1995?  Those of us who are old enough can probably recount many events that took place in our lives over that span of time.  For the people of Sarajevo, those four years were spent under siege.

Just eight years after athletes from a record 49 nations competed in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo—the first winter Olympics in a Communist location—the city became the victim of the longest siege of a capital city in modern history.  When the former federation of Yugoslavia disintegrated in 1990, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a republic in the Yugoslav federation, were divided fairly evenly among Bosniak Muslims, Serbian Christian Orthodox and Croat Catholics.   The ethnic Serbians wanted to ally themselves with Serbia, but Bosniaks and Croats voted to declare independence in April, 1992.

After European nations, the United States and the United Nations recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina's state of independence, Serb forces began shelling Sarajevo.  Trapped in a valley surrounded by the Dinaric Alps, Sarajevo, a Bosniak stronghold, was soon encircled by at least 200 reinforced Serbian artillery positions looming on the encircling hills.  In early May, the rebellious Bosnian Serbs clamped down a complete blockade of the city.  Major access roads were blocked, cutting off supplies of food and medicine.  Utilities—water, electricity and heating—were shut down.
A 25-meter section of the tunnel preserved at the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum
A year after the siege began, Bosnian government forces built an underground tunnel to link the beleaguered city, strangled by Serbian forces, to Bosniak-held territory on the other side of the UN-controlled Sarajevo airport and outside the siege zone.  About five feet high and a little more than three feet wide, the Tunnel of Hope, as it came to be called, extended for a half a mile beneath the airport runway, connecting two Bosniak neighborhoods and establishing a lifeline for the transfer of food, war supplies humanitarian aid, and people.
Tunnel Museum in the former home whose cellar was the entrance to the Sarajevo end.
About a year after it was built, a makeshift railway system was installed to facilitate the transfer of materials and people.  Communication and electric cables inserted through the tunnel allowed Sarajevo to reconnect with the rest of the world.  On average, three to four thousand people and 30 tons of materials passed through the tunnel daily.

Meanwhile, the shelling continued, and snipers constantly threatened Sarajevans.  Over the course of the next three years—until the intervention of the UN and NATO forces finally broke the siege in October, 1995—virtually every building in Sarajevo suffered some type of damage.  Almost 65% of buildings were heavily damaged, and in excess of 35,000 buildings were completely destroyed, including civilian and protected targets such as apartment buildings and hospitals.  More than 11,000 Sarajevans died in the siege, including at least 1,500 children.
At a 20th anniversary memorial, red chairs represented the Sarajevans killed during the siege.  (Photo by AP)
In the last 25 years, Sarajevo has made a substantial physical recovery, though abandoned shells of buildings can still be seen, as well as scars where buildings were peppered with bullets.  Of course, the victims can never be restored, and, tragically, the restoration of the city's pre-war harmonious relations between ethnic groups has been all but impossible.
Still pockmarked after 25 years
Though visitors are well advised to be aware of Sarajevo's history, events of the past 25 years are not nearly all that define this city founded in 1461 when the area was ruled by the Ottoman Empire.  In the following year, a Turkish style bazaar was established to serve the commercial needs of the city.  By the 1600s, more than 1,000 tiny shops lined its dozens of narrow streets, each dedicated to a single craft.  The bazaar remains quite active today, though one wonders how so many shops selling identical wares–now probably made in China—can survive.
Shops on this street all seemed to be offering the same merchandise.
Before the Bosnian War in the 1990s, Sarajevo was a haven of religious tolerance.  Sometimes called the "Jerusalem of Europe" due to its diversity, the city is Europe's only capital to house a mosque, a synagogue, a Christian Orthodox church and a Catholic church in the same neighborhood.
Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque 
Sacred Heart (Catholic) Cathedral
16th century synagogue, now a Jewish museum
Congregational Church of the Holy Mother (Serbian Orthodox) 
Because of its location on a hilltop overlooking the city, Sarajevo's Old Jewish Cemetery, established in 1630, became an attractive military position during the Bosnian War.  Held by Serbs, the cemetery became a front line position and was hit by considerable artillery fire from both sides.  By war's end, the cemetery had also been saturated with land mines.  More than 70 were removed after the war.
These headstones are just pockmarked by bullet fire; many others lay on the ground.
One of our favorite places we visited in the Sarajevo area was a star of the 1984 Olympics and is becoming a popular tourist attraction, though the tour buses don't seem to have put it on their route yet.  We did not expect to enjoy it as much as we did.
The 1.3-km bobsled track was built on Mount Trebević for the games. After the Olympics, amateurs were allowed to race down the track in rubber dinghies. During the Bosnian War, it became an artillery position, and much of the track was destroyed. Today, it lies abandoned, but talented graffiti artists have brought color and life back to the concrete structure. Brave bicyclists and skaters occasionally race down the track as well.
The track winds its way through an evergreen forest.
With a population just below a half million, Sarajevo is a compact city but it carries a deep history.  Despite its recent tragedies—experienced firsthand by most of its current citizens—we found the city's resilient people to be incredibly friendly, helpful and welcoming.  We enjoyed our time here immensely, but tomorrow it's time for us to hit the road and drive to Mostar, another popular Bosnian city.

3-Day Stats
    •  Started in:  Belgrade, Serbia
    •  Ended in:  Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
    •  Miles flown:  130
    •  Miles driven:  52
    •  Miles walked:  17.08
    •  Weather:  46° to 80°, sunny to partly cloudy
    •  Car washes in town:  46
    •  Cuckoo birds heard in forest near bobsled track:  2
    •  Trams with more than full capacity:  100%
    •  Shop windows being washed in early morning:  79
    •  Hostels in Sarajevo:  56

Loved:  Despite the fact that Sarajevans older than 25 all might have lived through a brutal four-year siege, the city has an energetic and positive vibe.

Lacking:  Earlier action by the UN or western powers during the siege.  UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated:  "The United Nations' experience in Bosnia was one of the most difficult and painful in our history. No one regrets, more than we, the opportunities for achieving peace and justice that were missed. No one laments, more than we, the failure of the international community to take decisive action to halt the suffering and end a war that had produced so many victims."

Learned:  That people of different ethnicity and religions who have previously engaged in a vicious war can peacefully coexist.  Though the same level of acceptance and tolerance that existed before the war has not returned, there was no evident hostility between the various groups, even a short 25 years later.  This stands in contrast to the "Forget? Hell, no!" attitude that still festers among some Southerners in the U.S. more than 150 years after a conflict that involved no deep-seated religious or ethnic differences.   

One Last Serbian Surprise:  When we arrived at the airport for our flight from Belgrade to Sarajevo, we went through our usual preparations before a security screening (emptying pockets, removing watches and belts, tossing bottles of water, etc.).   After we joined the line, we noticed a kid ahead of us spilled some water and wondered if Serbia had different rules and we had ditched ours unnecessarily.

As we wound our way through the crowd control stanchions, it became apparent that we were queued up for passport control, not for a security screening.  Moreover, it was clear that on the other side of the immigration desks was an ordinary concourse, not a security screening station.  Needless to say in 2018, we found it exceedingly odd that passengers didn't seem to be undergoing an examination of their belongings before boarding an international flight.
Gateside security screening—not exactly economy of scale
At a kiosk on the concourse, I pulled a couple of cold bottles of water out of the cooler to replace our discarded ones.  "Be sure to drink them before you get to the gate," the helpful cashier warned.  Finally, two and two became four and we realized that the Belgrade airport has equipped gates with their own security screening stations, which open 30 minutes before the flight is scheduled to depart.  Until that time passengers stand around waiting as the available seating is extremely limited.

Yes, everyone and their bags were screened before boarding, but the economics of so much duplication of equipment, sitting idle most of the day, left us scratching our heads.      

More Photos from Sarajevo
Love a specialty shop—shoelaces in every color and length imaginable 
Great product name of the day 
What a tease for a Target discount store fan!  This Bosnian version of the same name sells video games.
Not exactly the image Coca-Cola tries to cultivate in the U.S.
Caption:  "Fall in love with the new taste of lemon.  0 sugar, 0 calories"
Puzzling store display trend of the day:  Mannequins often are barefoot with shoes nearby.
One wrong turn can take you on a lengthy journey through cramped two-way streets of one-way width.
Be still my heart.  Washer and...TUMBLE DRYER!! (unheard of for consumers in Europe) at our Marriott hotel!!
Street chess in Liberation Square:  definitely a spectator sport!
Another view of Liberation Square, not quite as manicured as other cities we've visited but still lovely.
The old bazaar
Old market again
Old market area is full of sidewalk cafes.
Called Sarajevo Roses, craters left by shelling were filled with red when a casualty occurred there.