I just happened across this quote from Vincent D’Onofrio, of Full Metal Jacket and Law and Order fame this week and describes Bosnia in a perfect way. These past six months leading up to Sarajevo I have been asked, ‘Why?’ each time I said I would be spending the summer here. ‘Why would you spend your summer in a ‘war-torn’ country?’ ‘Are you going to be safe?’ ‘What about the landmines?’ The negative questions and statements were endless.
My answers consisted of: 1. Bosnia is not ‘war-torn.’ And 2. Why not?
People’s first impressions are often a big mistake. Our grandparents and parents remember the news during the 1990s: the Siege of Sarajevo; the concentration camps of Srebrenica, and the mass exodus of people to neighboring countries, and many still view BiH as a war-torn society. The news reels of Sniper Alley is stuck in their heads but Bosnia has changed since 1995 and changed for the better. We see the physical scars of shelling on buildings but the healing is happening inside those buildings.
Coincidentally I had this conversation with my internship supervisor today. Throughout the day I was looking for tourism articles about Bosnia that they could post on their social media sites and I became increasingly discouraged. Every article I read mentioned the war and atrocities committed or landmines in some way, and most of the time in the first paragraph. I have to ask, do these journalists think constantly mentioning the war will help bring visitors to BiH? It’s not. People are still scared away at the mention of the war.
I took a slightly different angle with this blog post. I try to not come into situations, especially while travelling, with preconceived notions of how life is. I also feel like I’m in a unique situation. My housemate in Denver (who is also here with the program) traveled to Bosnia a few years ago and I have heard so many stories from her that I feel like I’ve already been here. Also, being in the International Development program I have to know histories and Bosnia is one of the histories I know well. So I feel I have both modern impressions of Bosnia and historical impressions of Bosnia which my mind has combined.