On Leaving

It seems that once I have finally figured out Sarajevo, as much as is possible in two months, it is time for the trip to end and for all of us to head home. It took two months but I figured out my favorite places in this city to eat, have coffee, drink a few beers with friends, and engage in conversation with locals. I think it is going to be the various places I have frequented that will truly allow me to remember my time in Sarajevo. It is going to be hard to forget the substantial amount of time I have spent at the Fildžan viška talking with the employees about everything from soccer to Bob Marley to the 1997 Chicago Bulls or laying under the misters at happy hour desperately trying to stop sweating when it is 100 degrees in the city. It is through my memories of my “hangouts” in this city that I will be able to remind myself of all of the other things that happened during my time here.

I will also remain forever amazed at how friendly almost every person in this city is, except you Mr. Bean, and how willing they are to engage in conversation for an extended period of time. It is a far cry from life in the states where the waiter gets upset because you have been sitting at the table for 45 minutes and are not showing any signs of leaving. Here the waiters are more than willing to not only let you sit at the table for 5 hours, but to also share a little about themselves. After two months in Sarajevo, it is going to be incredibly hard to return to the pace of life in the U.S. I think the first time a waiter brings the check with the food I will get this dumbfounded look on my face because I don’t understand what is happening. Why is this guy rushing me out, when I have only been here for two hours? I’m sure I’m entitled to spend another three hours here since I paid $3 for this coffee.

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Contemporary Bosnian Politics

After conversations with both Bosnians and ex-pats with significant experience and knowledge regarding Bosnia, I have come to the realization that Bosnia is really at a tipping point. Despite all of the progress made in Bosnian society since the end of the war, there are still significant problems facing the country.  Almost twenty years after the war the government remains ineffective and the country is still deeply divided upon ethnic lines.  Bosnia is a decentralized state and due to the government organized by the Dayton Agreement one ethnic group will always be able to block any governmental decision that they disagree with. As a result very little is accomplished. The Bosnian economy continues to struggle and the politicians only seem interested in stuffing their own pockets, not improving the lives of their citizens. As a result, most of the Bosnians I have spoken to seem very uninterested in politics because they know very little will change as long as the current system in place. In reality, the best they can hope for is the status quo. When you combine all of the problems of the Bosnian government, such as the corruption, the politicization of the courts, and the recent rise in inflammatory rhetoric by politicians of all ethnic groups, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to worry about the future stability of the country. Unfortunately, one little spark, such as a referendum on independence for the Republic of Sprska that has been discussed in the past, has the potential to plunge the country back into war. Until the government can be reorganized and work for the benefit of its citizens, Bosnia will remain an unstable state that is rife with ethnic tension.

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The Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

Disaster Tourism

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As this photo taken by canyoumakezeeinternetzbettah illustrates, Sarajevo is still a city that is scarred by war. There are still buildings scattered throughout the city that bear the marks of the bullets and mortars that were launched at the city during the war. The damaged buildings make it impossible to go a day without contemplating the war and how it still effects the city and its citizens.

The citizens of Sarajevo must walk past buildings everyday that will likely trigger traumatic memories of sitting in basements while the city was being bombed or running through the streets trying to avoid sniper fire. The trauma still being suffered by the residents of Sarajevo is worsened when twelve American tourists jump out of tour van at “Sniper Alley” with cameras flashing and snap photos of every bullet-hole and mortar mark that they can see. “Grab your camera if you see a bullet-hole (sung to the tune of the chorus in 2Pac’s “Hit Em’ Up”).” Doing so allows you to forget what actually happened during the war and separates you from where you are. “Snipers Alley” was one of the most dangerous spots in the city where civilians were targeted by snipers while simply walking across the street. The fact that this location has now become a tourist location is appalling. A visitor’s perception of the city will obviously be influenced by the war’s effects on the city, but to allow the scars of war to become a tourist attraction is wholly disrespectful to the suffering of the citizens of Sarajevo during the four year siege and their continued attempts to recover and move forward. Perspective.

On Bosnian Culture

After a little more than a week in Sarajevo I have almost completely adjusted to the pace of Bosnian life. Everything moves significantly slower than it does in Denver and the United States. Work is interrupted by multiple coffee breaks a day, emails remain unanswered for days, and meals last hours. If you don’t have a significant amount of patience, coping with the Bosnian lifestyle can be a challenge.  Although it took a little bit of adjustment to adapt to the slower pace of life, it has been a welcome change from the day-to-day life in Denver because you never need to hurry or worry about being late. The Bosnian pace of life certainly keeps stress levels low, at least until you try to find a waiter when you need something at dinner.