After arriving with slightly less luggage than I had brought to the airport it became quickly apparent that language incompatibility may be an issue – while the luggage was soon found and returned quicker than I have had happen in the States, the inquiry about its location and the resulting response were not particularly confidence-inspiring. The first night was quiet, with most of us exhausted from travel and so on. The next day was the first of many with gray skies and rain, but this was not a deterrent that kept us from exploring the city as planned. The old city was immediately quite beautiful and it wasn’t until I glanced up from the awnings and windows that I noticed the scars from shelling and machine gun fire that still plague nearly every wall. It is apparent that life goes on and the conflict is not likely at the forefront of the minds of locals, however to foreigners such as myself, it is all but impossible to ignore what has happened when the architecture remains a constant reminder. I think that the gloomy weather experienced the first several days in the city inspired a greater degree of recognition of these scars, as the sunny skies and warm air that followed seems to have dissolved the constant sadness that initially seemed inescapable.
Living with a group as a whole has provided insight into the situation greater than I would have been able to experience individually, as each member of the program has their own experiences, insights, and knowledge to share about the past and present state of Bosnia. I’m sure these varied perspectives are only likely to broaden as we spend more time together; something that I am looking forward to.
Thursday we began our internships, some more brief than others. Personally, my experience as Atlantic Initiative (for the thirty minutes I was there) was exciting and slightly overwhelming, though I also experienced the laid-back nature of the people of the Balkans, even in the context of an important security analysis firm. The first task assigned will certainly test my research skills, and after a couple days of research I find myself becoming increasingly knowledgeable on the region, Russia, Serbia, various members of the government, and the issues that locals are likely quite familiar with but as an American I had little-to-no knowledge of. I think that it’s a really cool scenario to be placed in as my assignment is two-pronged; firstly, I am able to assist in security research which may have significant influence in meaningful work (a first for me), and secondly, I am able to broaden my knowledge base. In short, I am both providing, as well as gaining a lot of information for and from Atlantic Initiative. My first impressions of the think tank are extremely positive, and I hope that I am able to provide for them something equivalent in value to what they are providing for me.
Outside of the requirements and the program as a whole I have had the opportunity to explore the mountains and neighborhoods surrounding Sarajevo by bike. Nearly every direction I go, the blue and yellow national flags of Bosnia become quickly replaced by the red, white, and blue flags representative of the Serbian population. While the people look the same and speak (essentially) the same language, it is clear that their sense of identity falls with their Serbian heritage rather than BiH as a whole. To be able to experience the geography by bicycle is unlike by car and I think that it is the best way to experience an unfamiliar area. The steepness of the roads here is unlike anything I’ve experienced in America, and that says a lot, coming from Colorado. It made it immediately obvious that the roads were note designed for bicycles, or anyone who wishes to get anywhere quickly, but also is a reminder of the difficulty of the mountains that Bosnians had to pass by one means or another during the war. To quote Ernest Hemingway, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and can coast down them…. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motorcar only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”