From Roman Ruins to Bosnian Ruins
I have arrived in Sarajevo! Today is my second full day here in Bosnia.
Tuesday morning when I woke up at my friend’s apartment in Milan I realized
that the next time I was going to sleep in a bed was going to be in
Sarajevo, that was when I realized that this idea about going to Sarajevo
was no longer “a pie in the sky”, but reality.
On Tuesday afternoon, I took a train from Milan to Venice and spent about
an hour in front of the train station in Venice in awe at the beauty of the
canal and buildings while waiting for my overnight train to Zagreb. Once I
saw the Austro Hungarian architecture in Zagreb, I realized once again how
much I miss Budapest. (I lived there from August-December 1997.)
From Zagreb to Sarajevo
The scenery seemed really nice and I didn’t see any dilapidated Eastern
European Ladas or Yugos on the streets. Nice German cars, only. My friend Paula Goldman says that they old cars were destroyed during the war.
Once we crossed into Respublika Srpska, the Serb controlled entity of
Bosnia-Hercegovina, the signs were almost all in Cyrillic characters instead of
the Latin characters of Croatia. As Croatia is Catholic, it was influenced by
Rome and they use the Latin script. Serbia is Orthodox, from the Byzantine
period and thus they use the Cyrillic alphabet as Bulgaria, Russia and
other Christian Orthodox countries. The languages, Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian
are essentially the same. Just due to nationalist reasons, their names
change as you cross borders.
The houses were remarkably nice and the fields were full of crops. It was hard to
believe that there was a war here in the past decade. Everything seemed
normal until a couple of tanks rolled by and people in the bus awed in
disbelief. I had never seen a tank before with soldiers in it. Just the
monumental ones in front of the military buildings in Buenos Aires, Argentina. There
were no border guards between Respublika Srpska and Bosnia Hercegovina
(BiH) as they are supposedly the same country, just governed by different
ethnicities. BiH is the Croat-Muslim Federation.
From Roman ruins to Roman ruins
Seriously, I expected the road to be horrendous, with burnt and destroyed
villages, but it was an extremely pleasant ride through the mountains. As
we got closer to Sarajevo, I started to see buildings and houses with
bullet marks and huge parts of the exterior walls destroyed. One totally intact
house stood near another one in absolute ruins. We passed what I think was an
electricity plant, but the only thing that remained were these tall
columns which reminded me of the columns of the Roman Forum I had just seen in Rome on Sunday.
Near the bus station, I saw totally destroyed apartment blocks and
buildings, an absolute horror.
I am extremely indebted to Paula, because she got me an excellent apartment
in the old part of town near the historic Turkish part of the city. The
landlords are extremely nice and I have an amazing view of the mine filled
mountain range. Four years ago, an Armenian women made a presentation at
the International House at the University of California at Berkeley about the Armenian genocide (around WWI the Ottoman Empire, killed mass amounts of Armenians and the world stood by and let it happen. Hitler took this as a sign that he could have a Jewish genocide and nobody would care and he was right.) A few weeks later, I was on the roof of Barrows Hall contemplating the sunset on the San Francisco Bay and I ran into her and she recognized me from her presentation and she said to me “When you
see such beauty such as this (referring to the amazing view of the bay), it
is impossible to imagine horrible events can happen.” As I looked at my
window yesterday morning, I remembered her phrase. This place is in such a
gorgeous place and now with the landmines, you can’t walk everywhere you
The little I have seen of Sarajevo, with the exception of the destroyed
buildings, is seemingly normal and if I didn’t know about the history, I
would think that it was a town like any other. Western stores, markets full
of fruits and vegetables, butcher shops, all the normal elements of a town.
Young people dress extremely well. But I can’t stop wondering what drives
this economy? Is it the fake economy make by the international
organizations here? Bosnia doesn’t produce anything since many factories
were destroyed during the war. So, where does the money flow come from? By
the way, there are no ATM machines here and few places take credit cards or
travelers checks. Deutsche Marks are the currency of choice and I had to max
out on my bank cards in Italy and withdraw lots of Italian lira and convert
them to Marks before coming here. I have never carried so much cash
before, but I needed it for myself and for Paula.
This morning, my landlady was taking me around town and told me that it was
better for her during the war because at least then she had hope. Now
that the war is over and nothing is moving, there is no hope. It is
worse. Similar to what some Palestinians told me about peace and economic
development in the Palestinian Territories and Israel, they felt more hope
during the Intifada than now.
The Canadian guy who was sitting next to me at this internet place told me
that he read that this is one of the most heavily mined places in the
Every week people, mostly children, die from the mines. Even places which
are considered cleared, are not. The mines can be in forms of dolls, toys,
anything. Yes, I am a wandering soul, but I am keeping a leash on myself
and will not dare to wander off the concrete. I may be crazy, but I am not
stupid. It’s sad because I am an adult and can monitor myself, but kids
don’t understand the meaning of mines and keeping away from certain areas.
How can you tell a kid that he may blow up?
There are lots of things I could write as many thoughts have filled my
mind, but my tummy rules and I am hungry and my back hurts from sitting here.