Friday, August 6, 2010

City of Roses

No, it isn't the City of Roses a la Pasadena! Sarajevo is called the City of Roses for a much more depressing reason!

This city was under siege for 4 years, the longest any capital city has been under siege in the history of modern warfare, so the Bosnian War is very evident.
One example: the roses. All over the city, in thousands upon thousands of places, craters where mortars landed and killed innocent Sarajevans are filled with red plastic as an ongoing memorial to those that perished in the war. These were typically around gather places, like churches or places that distributed water or supplies- anywhere that would cause maximum casualties.

Although I don't have a picture to demonstrate, Sarajevo is surrounded by the Olympic mountains (ah, remember how nice it looked in 1984). During the war, the Serb forces encircled Sarajevo and attacked a relatively defenseless population with mortars, artillery, tanks, snipers- reportedly making a sport of who (extra points/money for women or children) or how many they could kill. It is reported that over 10,000 people were killed in Sarajevo, of which 1,500 were children. People talk about the genocide in Srebrenica- Sarajevo was equally horrific.

Since the city was blockaded, a 800 meter long tunnel was created to link the city with Sarajevo Airport and the United Nations. During the time it was used, it is estimated that 20 million tons of food entered the city, and 1 million people passed in and out of it. They even had people checking for contraband since they didn't want to waste precious tunnel time on things like alcohol and cigarettes (impressive given how much these euros smoke).

I took the long (1 hr.) tram ride (did you know Sarajevo was the first city in Europe with trams? #2 to San Fran.), followed by a short taxi ride, to the Tunnel Museum where I walked through the remaining 20 meters of tunnel. During the trip I also experienced another Bosnian excited that I am American.

Although we left them hanging for 4 years, the Bosnians are greatly appreciative that the US came to their rescue. Several people I met expressed their pro America feelings, telling me that people name their kids after Clinton and Albright (and that maybe I would not be as well received in Serbia). The owner of the place I stayed said the day the Americans bombed was the best day of his life-- he was dancing in the streets. It is nice to be liked, since we are so often not, but I still felt bad it came so late.

Although very complicated, to simplify, the war was basically fought along religious lines for territory (Serbs = Orthodox, Bosnians = Muslim and Croats = Catholic). Interestingly enough, Sarajevo has always been known for its religious diversity- you can literally hear the mosques' call to prayer at the same time the Orthodox and/or Catholic bells are ringing and Jewish services are taking place.

In the end many men had to choose between fighting for their heritage or their city, a dilemma that apparently tore families apart.

Unfortunately, it isn't hard to see the scars of war as the people speak of the past when the river was the pride of the city (now polluted), the library was among the best in Europe (a bombed out shell), etc.

Perhaps they are appropriately down since they see limited progress. In order to maintain peace their government is comprised of three Presidents who rotate power EVERY 3 MONTHS! Couple that with corruption and you can see why nothing gets done.
There are lots of famous buildings that have yet to be reconstructed since they are owned by the government and are being left to rot since no one can agree (makes the US gov't look slightly more functional).

The city is really interesting and vibrant, with an Austrian district butting right up against the Turkish quarter-- it is really like crossing the street from Vienna into Istanbul. So odd, but so cool!

Unfortunately Sarajevo has lots of bad memories. As you recall, Sarajevo is also the site where Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot in 1914, leading to the start of WWI. They call the bridge the Princip Bridge after the assassin to remind people how one person can change the course of history.
On a happier note, I happened to be in town for the Sarajevo Film Festival. I was able to see three movies: a documentary from Turkey, a Thai film that won the jury prize at Cannes and the winner of this year's foreign language Oscar, "Secret in Their Eyes" (if you haven't seen it, it is very good) at the open air cinema. It was lovely and I met lots of other film buffs from all over the world.
Apparently Morgan Freeman was wandering about town, there for the showing of "Invictus", but I missed him.
I know this post is a little bit of a downer, but Sarajevo is one of the best places I've visited so far and definitely worth a visit! I didn't plan on visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina and so, so happy that I did. I hope their government figures out a better solution so they can restore the city to its former glory.

No comments:

Post a Comment