As I type this we are driving into Bosnia. We are actually in Republica Srbskia, a breakaway part of Bosnia Herzgovinia that is Serbian majority. We are basically driving through a war zone. The change was immediate when we came through the border. Croatia is not a wealthy country but the difference was still obvious in both the state of homes and the materials. It reminds me a great deal of my visit to the Soviet Union in 1988. This area was ethnically cleansed of all its Muslim and Catholic inhabitants during the war in the 1990’s. Broken shells of homes and barns are side by side with newly built homes and businesses. We passed a functioning hotel with newer construction at the front and the shell of a building in the back. We have passed two memorials to fallen Serbs and many cemeteries full of new headstones of a similar age. The land is not well cared for and the fields are small and not well tended. Homes, both new and demolished, are spread out and often in the middle of a field. The mood on the bus is somber and we are all aware of the history of the ground over which we are driving. Ed Serotta has given a number of short lessons on the history of this area as we proceed from Zagreb to Sarajevo and it is not a pretty story. The nationalism and, primarily religious, ethnic hatred in the area has resulted in tremendous loss of life over the past 100 years.
Last night Slavko Goldstein spoke about his experiences as a young person during WW II. The Ustasha – who were Croatian Catholics – were put in power by Hitler and Italy and proceeded to try and cleanse the country of Serbian Orthodox. Jews were also singled out for extermination as part of the deal with Hitler to prop up their weak government. Slavko’s book goes over in great detail the horrific mass murder carried out during this time. The unresolved issues of that time are part of what led to 1991’s ethnic battles.
Many of the decaying houses we pass have fronts riddled with bullet holes. Ed pulls no punches in his descriptions of what occurred here and speaks of “waking up and being convinced your neighbor of 20 years was actually a Turk who was going to murder you rather than the Bosnia Muslim you had known all your life.” There is little recognition or acceptance among the Serbs of their part in mass murder. It is hard to think about how things here in the Balkans can ever improve if each group denies their part in a history of periodic religious/ethnic hatred and murder. They are a long way from “truth and reconciliation” like happened in South Africa. Though, it seems hard to deny that something awful happened here when the reminders are so frequent and center stage. When the house next door is falling down and riddled with bullet holes, how do you explain to your child what happened to the people who lived there? When for every occupied and “complete” home there are several fragments of walls and bare foundations, how do you explain where those people went? In a land with a rich, multi-ethnic and multi-faith history, how do explain that there are only Serbian Orthodox left in your village?
We have now left Republicka Srbskia and are in the Federation of Bosnia Herzgovinia and aready just a few minutes in I have seen both a mosque and a Catholic Church, both in the same village, though on opposite sides of the river. Things are a bit less obviously in a former war zone. Still seeing some houses with bullet marks, but less standing ruins. Homes are more whole and well cared for. The signs are no longer in both Cyrillic and Roman letters. Many homes have hay stacks in their yards and I saw a man gathering cut straw with a pitchfork. Not sure what the hay is for as these homes are not rural and I don’t see any animals.
Beyond the river valley where we are driving, there are wooded hills or small mountains. The countryside is quite beautiful when you get beyond the depressed village along the road. As we get further into the country, and nearer to Sarajevo, things become more built up and modern.
I will post about Sarajevo later. Be well and may we all have peace.