When we entered Bosnia and Herzegovina, we did not know much about the country. Actually much would be an exaggerated, because our knowledge confined with the memory of war happening there in the recent history. But when we left finally the place, that seems so beautiful but yet so broken, we felt nothing but love and absolute empathy towards it.
We pieced together the complex situation, viewpoints and our experiences in the following posts, to set you on a journey with us and help to make more sense of the country as a whole.
The troubled past
When we were in Croatia and getting close to Bosnia and Herzegovinas border, we could see how the time had stopped here and there, with marks of the conflicts still visible on some of the buildings. But crossing the border, took us back about 20 years and set us in the middle of the war zone that had left the houses devastated and homes broken. It took us back to the years of 1992-1995, when Bosnia tried to set itself free from Yugoslavia.
The doleful events that took place, have its roots in far longer history, which divided the ethnic groups living in previous Kingdom of Bosnia. The people of Serbs (Eastern Orthodox) , Croats (Roman Catholic) and Bosniaks (Slavic people converted to Islam, living on the grounds of Bosnia) become three rival fighting camps, living all in the same country, but blaming each other for taking the revenge and betraying the nation as a whole.
With the ugly breakup of Yugoslavia, BiH became a battleground for all of the groups in the major conflict and the center of terror and ethnic cleansing. In south the clashes between Croats and Serbs took the turmoil on civilians, and in the north, the genocide of Bosniaks were conducted in Srebrenica area.
Bosnia and Herzegovina and the bitter sweet peace
That all became to an end with Dayton Peace Agreement, that divided the country into political divisions and set up the structure of government. Today Bosnia and Herzegovina is a confederation divided into entities of Republic of Srpska, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the district of Brcko. They all have their constitutions and legislative powers, and the whole confederation is run in 6 months at a time, by one of the legislative powers, whereas no changes can be enforced without the agreement of the others. Once you understand the chaos in the politics, you can understand the country which struggles to stand up on its feet.
Trails of broken homes
Our road through BiH first took us to a small city Livno, where we had a CouchSurfing host Carly waiting for us. She is American working for World Hope International, and has devoted her life in helping people in need. In Livno they work with teachers and help to provide necessary and essential things for their classes such as printing options, reading materials and even facilities for extracurricular activities. She lives in the “muslim ghetto” area, where the people have been affected the most. Unemployment rate is high, children remain poorly educated due the discriminative school system and social welfare is almost non-existent. The only hope that the youth still have is to go to Germany and start life over from there. Some have gone before, and the houses in the poor part of the town have got a new paint job and steady roof over them. But some have left and never returned.
The ones who have the least give out the most
During our short stay we met many people who opened up to us and showed the warmth of their hearts which keeps them positively going. While we spent our two day trip enjoying the nature and city walks, the evenings we spent with Carly. She is living like a local and invited us to her folkdance class, so we learned some swift dance moves as well. Even though we have some experience in Estonian folk dance, our legs were not able to move and stomp that fast.
Folk dance and song overall gives you the very deep insight into the culture. Slavic dances usually are danced in a circle, facing people who you dance with – for joy or sorrow; to tell a story or to scare away evil spirits.
Each region has its twists and turns that are unique and inherent. The louder the stomps and the higher the jumps, the more upper parts of the hill you were from. It was almost a tribe like swing, that we now tried to mimic with the small group of people, all united in one circle, some from Estonia, some from Bosnia. But all very equal and enjoying each others company.
It was a first introduction we had with the country and with heavy rains we moved on to city of Mostar, that remained the symbolic landmark for Bosnian war.