I remember the Bosnian war from TV when I was a teenager, first fumbling with political ideas as I try to understand the world a step beyond my immediate environment. As a child you learn the small area of a couple of square miles around your house, every little bush, every little wall (handy for hide and seek). The process of getting older includes the process of foraging further afield like a dog running further on it’s adjustable leash.
By age 15 I was diving into fringe politics – local anarchist and anti-fascist groups. I was just a child really. I was too young to have developed good judgement so I went through phases of believing some choice bullshit. While studying for my university entrance the Serbs encircled and lay siege to Sarajevo. April 5th 1992, twenty years to this day. Fortunately I was in a different city. Tonight I write from Sarajevo.
It’s just one of life’s coincidences. There was no intentional symbolism in coming here on this historic day. I’ve been travelling through Croatia with Dante as we look for new cities to live in. We’ve scouted Zadar, Zagreb, Split, Dubrovnik. So after an interminable queue at the Bosnian border we headed up towards Sarajevo.
Our first stopping point this morning was Mostar.
This city got the shit kicked out of it during the war. As we ambled around the back alleys and outskirts the buildings were pockmarked with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of bulletholes. Something about personally witnessing the remnants of war brings a stronger emotional reaction than just seeing it on TV. This is a site of many horrendous images I’d seen mediated through TV and magazines as a teenager. Now we were standing beside bombed out shells of buildings twenty years on. It was eerie. Sinister, even.
The town itself has rebuilt. The Old Town by the famous bridge is just another pretty valley town. We had a coffee overlooking the river and it could’ve been anywhere.
A few days earlier I’d brought a local girl home while up in Zadar. She’s a twenty year old Bosnian so I just assumed the war wasn’t part of her life, but then she starts talking about her family….. “my great grandmother was Croatian and kidnapped by Bosnian soldiers and trafficked. My great grandmother on the other side was Bosnian and kidnapped by Croats…. Two of my uncles died in the war”…. This girl said she is shunned by some Zadarians because of her surname and Bosnian look. Perhaps a flair for the dramatic but the war still ripples through lives twenty years on.
So now Dante and I are dressing up in our sartorial elegance for a night on the town in Sarajevo. We can hear fireworks outside. The streets are awash with stunning women. Let’s see what the night brings….