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Bosnia And Herzegovina

Stunned Silence in Sarajevo

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You are my Witness - Srebrenica 11.07.1995

Warning: the content of this blog may be distressing for some

Foodie moment

A night out in the old town we had slow-cooked rolled chicken with cheese and ham inside, and a beef stew (sorry, we've forgotten the details!). Both were nice (but a bit overpriced). The interesting element was that we were sitting outside the restaurant, but when we wanted to order wine with our meal we were moved to the other side of the restaurant. The reason we were given was that the tables we we're at before were too close to the mosque, therefore we weren't able to drink alcohol there... that's all fine but the strange thing was you could still order beer at the tables we were out - apparently Muslims don't count beer as alcohol? Hmm....unlikely! More like a loophole!

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Cultural moment

Today we visited the History museum. From the front of the museum we thought it may be closed down. It was falling to pieces, paint peeling off and splattered with bullet holes, but we got to the door and found it was much nicer inside! This seems to be a common problem in Eastern Europe, as many museums have been shut down or are falling into disrepair, this is due to the government not valuing cultural spending within their budgets. I think that with the recent history of Eastern Europe, you would think that sharing and learning from history would be the most valued thing of all!!

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Anyway.... the museum included an interesting photo exhibition by a photographer who took photos in 1994 after the war ended and the same photos more recently to compare how the city as been rebuilt.

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The main part of the museum though was focused on the war of independence from Yugoslavia, and in particular the siege of Sarajevo. It was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, lasting almost 4 years (1992 - 1996). The Bosnian-Serbs encircled the city, and attacked it with machine guns, rocket launchers and snipers. Up to 14,000 people were killed during the siege, including up to 5,000 civilians. Some of the worst attacks on civilians included bombings of people whilst lining up for rations and water, as well as attacks on known school houses. The biggest single loss of life was the first Markale marketplace massacre on 5 February 1994, in which 68 civilians were killed and 200 were wounded whist doing their shopping. NATO finally intervened after the Markale marketplace massacre, and their air strikes managed to finally break through the Bosnian Serbian troupes surrounding the city. The most uplifting part of the exhibition displayed what happened after the war. This followed the aftermath of the war particularly in regards to the identifying and capturing of the war criminals involved in all these monstrosities (including those that occurred later in Kosovo). The uplifting element was the statistics, 161 people indicted and an amazing 0 fugitives unaccounted for. It doesn't change anything that has happened, but at least some justice should be served now.

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Wow moment

The old town of Sarajevo is a great place to explore. Each trade has a different area to sell their wares, so there are whole alleyways filled with copper ware for sale. As always restaurants and bars line the cobbled streets in the old time, and it is a really lively place at night.

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What we learnt today

The 11th of July is an important remembrance day for Bosnians, we were here during this time and saw banners which read 'Remember Srebrenica 11.07.1995'. We had to find out what it was all about, so we visited 'Gallery 11/07/95' in Sarajevo. What was inside were moving and emotional photographs and videos, which told the horrific story about the one day that the Serbian troupes conducted mass genocide on the Muslim men, who were residents and refugees living in the town of Srebrenica. It was the worst case of genocide in Europe since WWII.

The United Nations had declared the area as a safe and protected area, so Muslim refugees flooded into the town hoping for security. Unfortunately, it was inadequately protected by Dutch peace keepers, and the Serbian army easily took the town. Knowing the danger, many of the Muslims ran to the hills, trying to make it to a safe town nearby - most were caught and executed. The men and boys that did not run, were rounded up and taken away in a bus, where they sat on-board watching others in their group being systematically killed. A tragic and horrific day in history, which still continues for the women who saw their sons and husbands leave, and still do not know what happened to their loved ones on that horrible day.

We couldn't believe that we didn't know anything about this event, we were young when it occurred, but I was just surprised I had no prior knowledge at all.

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Posted by travellinglise 13:43 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

Historical Reality Check in Mostar

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"Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind." - JFK

Foodie moment

We arrived in Bosnia and decided to delve straight into Eastern Europe's love of meat, so we decided we had to try the Bosnian National plate. It included japrak (stuffed vine leaves), dolma (stuffed onions), bosnian cookies (mini burger-like meat patties, but better!), Cevapcici, Duvec (meat and vegetable stew), boiled potatoes, rice, sour cream and flat bread.

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Cultural moment

One of the most poignant moments during my trip occurred in a cemetery in Mostar. I knew that Bosnia had a recent war torn history, but it wasn't until we came here that I got a true understanding of it. In 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia. As a response the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) attacked Mostar. This lead to the beginning of an 18 month siege on the town. It started with the Croatian defence council helping the Bosnian army defend against the JNA, but after a time they also turned on Bosnia and started their own takeover of the town. 1993 was the worst year for Mostar, with thousands of its inhabitants being injured or dying, and much of the town bombed and flattened. This was never more obvious than when visiting the cemeteries in the town centre. Every grave stone, as far as the eye could see displayed the same date, 1993. The sheer number was unfathomable, majority were men and the ages ranged from babies to the elderly.

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Wow moment

The main tourist attraction for Mostar is its spectacular old bridge (Stari Most). The Stari Most is hump-backed, 4 metres wide and 30 metres long, and dominates the river from a height of 24 m. It connects the two parts of the city, and was essential for trade when it was built. When it is reflected in the bright blue river below, it is quite amazing to see. An added bonus is seeing the locals, who after collecting enough money from onlookers, dive (well, the one we saw actually went feet first) from the very top of the bridge into the rushing (freezing) river below.

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What we learnt today

The Stari Most that stands in Mostar today is not the same one that was built in the 16th century. It stood for 427 years until the Croatian army destroyed it during their attack on Mostar. They used tank fire on the bridge, and over 60 shells hit it before it crumbled. A spokesman for the Croats claims that they destroyed the bridge on purpose for strategic reasons, but academics have argued that it held little strategic importance and was instead purely an act of deliberate destruction of cultural property. Perhaps another blatant act of racism, it is an Islamic built bridge and the Croatians were fighting against Muslims. In 2001 the Bosnians decided to rebuild the bridge as similar as possible to the original, using the same technology and materials. The bridge was built with local materials and done with absolute precision. It was reopened in 2004, and is held as a symbol of hope and reconciliation by the residents of Mostar.

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After what we learnt today, we can definitely add to our understanding of the conflict and resentments that you can feel still exist between the countries of the former Yugoslavia. After learning about the Dubrovnik siege, the common perspective was that Serbia were the 'bad guys' but learning about Croatia turning on the Bosnians showed us that nothing is ever that simple in war. Bosnia has impressed us, they have faced conditions worse than a nightmare but they are still a friendly and welcoming country.... and the scenery is unbelievable!

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Posted by travellinglise 10:51 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina Comments (0)

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