First Look at Bosnia

This is the most spectacular view out of an airport terminal I think I’ve seen yet. The way the sun blazed over the mountaintops, highlighting the airstrip, it did not appear immediately to the eye or the mind that this country had experienced a war 25 years ago. 

Second thought: this small airport is so full of love. As I sat outside the airport, feeling so grateful that clothing arrived with me, I heard so much laughter. I thought something must be wrong, was everything laughing at the American wearing two day old clothing? Those around me who had also arrived had left the airport greeting each other, laughing, kissing, and smoking. From my vantage point it looked like everyone on my flight from Istanbul to Sarajevo knew each other and were getting ready for dinner, instead of returning from international flights. There was the sound of people truly enjoying the closeness of their relationships with others. This scene was so startling to me as many American airports have designated sections to say hello and then move off to the side, as if such Bosnian laughter wouldn’t be welcome there.

After being in Sarajevo for 48 hours, the fact that this country has survived a war is clear. In all parts of the city, holes from bullets still leave their mark in the elaborate architecture and modern buildings spread throughout the heart of the city. During a tour, the guide spoke nonchalantly about witnessing a massacre of 15 people as we pass her home, as one would discuss a new pair of shoes or a day at work. Coming back down from the hills that surround Sarajevo, the views of the city are breathtaking. It is also very quiet, as if they still remember the snipers that were there during the Siege of Sarajevo. The bobsled track from the 1984 Olympics that once shone, has been reclaimed by younger residents of Bosnia, rifle posts holes now patched and covered with colorful messages of peace for the future. The hardest part for me to take in was the second oldest Jewish cemetery, located in Sarajevo, with tombstones cracked and marred by bullet holes, as well as graffiti. For a place of such historical significance, it was difficult seeing it in such disrrpair.

Our group met with a Sociology professor from the University of Sarajevo who introduced a thought: Is Bosnia Herzegovina a failed state? The looks would be deceiving. A beautiful country with 60% unemployment  in the youth population and 126 political parties gives a better picture of great unrest in this country. Bosnia is a very complex place. It’s evident that the country has remained segregated in governmental practices, even if it may not be discussed around dinner tables. As each head of government recognizes one people, either Croatian, Serbian or Bosniak, it is extremely difficult to pass laws that will create change to better support those that live here. Schools in certain areas are heavily segregated as a result of the war and genocide. Some can be seen painted in two colors that split the building on the outside, in certain parts of the country, effectively stating which side is meant for those of Serbian ethnicity or Croatian ethnicity. It makes sense that many of the youth are leaving this country to seek other income opportunities elsewhere, as they want to be treated as equal to those around them. Though this is a beautiful country to experience, many still find that the war and Siege of Sarajevo is discussed differently. 

Schools in one part of the country may deny the genocide, if they were the perpetrators. While others may tell more, if that part of the country experienced genocide as a victim. I could only speculate what living in a country as a child, where you are reminded of war in daily reminders that your school may say didn’t happen the way your family tells you. The Sociology professor also brought up another point, that many of the youth here are also willing to kill in the name of their religion, from a study he discussed. If that happened once, could it not happen again? If you deny your country’s history, no mater how horrific, are you not doomed to repeat it? The city has seen war but has it fully recovered? Watching a film that showcased the human spirit and hope in the middle of the Siege when a rock band came to play, shows that there can be hope in times of darkness, if people are willing to come together.

I find that many of my questions are starting to be answered, I am still left with others. Though my first impression gives me a sense that love and laughter are alive in this country and all of its people, after a further dig into the history and current state, it seems that there is a deeper healing that must occur for the people to begin to trust one another to feel safe again for lasting change to occur.


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