Sunday, 9 December 2012

Balkania Pt. 18: The City of the Broken Bridge

world-map bosnia


I’m back from Wales now after having enjoyed a fantastic few days of pilgrimage and sightseeing. I managed to visit a host of places which I’ve never before explored including the spiritual heart of Wales, St. David’s, her temporal capital, Cardiff and the Valleys including Merthyr Tydfil which, for any fellow socialists, is where the Red Flag, drenched in the blood of a sheep, was first raised in 1831. All in all, fascinating and inspirational and a whole new insight on a little country which I thought I knew well already. Anyhow, it shall all be written up in full very soon, promise, but in the meantime, here are a couple of photos from my travels:

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Top: At the Chapel of St. Non, near to St. David’s; Bottom: Cardiff Bay with the new Welsh Assembly building

By the by, if you’re wondering about the facial hair, it was all in aid of Movember and if anyone wishes to donate, just get in touch.

Now, that was Wales but here on Uncle Travelling Matt it’s back to the Balkans and this time I talk about the tragic city of Mostar and my experiences there including meeting an excellent American chap called Ryan and a pair of very friendly Bosniaks.

Oh yes and finally, my Wales trip has made me do something that I’ve been intending to do for quite some time. Whilst I was there I stayed at one of the friendliest establishments I have ever set foot in and I thought it was well worth recommending it so I’ve created a new page, (see right), Uncle Travelling Matt Recommends… in which I’ll be recommending any establishments which really went over and above to make my trip a special one. So check it out and if you’re ever in the Fishguard/St. David’s area please check out Hamilton Backpackers even if it’s only to have a natter with Steve…

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

My Flickr album of this trip

Index and links to all the parts of Balkania:

Balkania Pt. 1: Sofia to Varna

Balkania Pt. 2: A Drink in Varna

Balkania Pt. 3: Wedding Bells in Varna (unpublished)

Balkania Pt. 4: A Trip to Tutrakan: Tales of Devotion and Despair

Balkania Pt. 5: Of Love, Lust and the Nation (unpublished)

Balkania Pt. 6: Back to School

Balkania Pt. 7: On a Mission

Balkania Pt. 8: The City of Wisdom?

Balkania Pt. 9: And the Tsar, he chose a heavenly kingdom…

Balkania Pt. 10: The Bridge over the Drina

Balkania Pt. 11: The Death-Drenched Drina

Balkania Pt. 12: Jerusalem of the Balkans

Balkania Pt. 13: A City Under Siege

Balkania Pt. 14: Austrian Influences

Balkania Pt. 15: Along the Bosna Valley

Balkania Pt. 16: Under the Airport and over the Mountains

Balkania Pt. 17: A Day Trip with Miran

Balkania Pt. 18: The City of the Broken Bridge

Balkania Pt. 19: Up the Black Mountain

Balkania Pt. 20: Worth the Bones of a Pomeranian Grenadier…?


Mostar (2)

Back in Mostar I went for tea with Ryan, the American from the excursion, next to the Old Bridge (Stari Most), perhaps the most potent symbol of the tragedy – and slow recuperation – of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I need remind no one of how this incredibly graceful structure spanned the Neretva for over four centuries until it was pointlessly blown-up by Croat artillery on November 9th, 1993. It has since been rebuilt and, along with the old stone houses of the town, forms an incredibly beautiful sight and fitting backdrop for Ryan and I to talk about what we’d seen and experienced that day and throughout the whole of our trips.

Like me, Ryan had not been overly impressed with Međugorje but he had really enjoyed the rest of the trip and other places that he’d visited in the former Yugoslavia. I liked Ryan because he was good conversation and a genuine guy. He was studying for his Masters in Mathematics at a university in Budapest and spending his holidays doing some travelling around Europe. He’d initially headed for Italy, (where he had relatives), but the high costs had scared him back out again and so he’d headed down the Adriatic Coast into Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina where things are much cheaper and, to Ryan’s surprise and delight, there was just as much to see. “I can’t believe this region,” he told me, “it’s both beautiful and fascinating. I just wish I’d known about it before because I’d have come straight here.” Another Balkanophile in the making it seemed, so I told him a little about my travels and warned him that he’d only just touched the tip of the beautiful big Balkan iceberg.

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The Old bridge, Mostar

As so often happens in those parts, our conversation turned to religion. Visible from our seats by the river was the tower of a huge new Catholic church on the western bank of the Neretva – traditionally the East Bank has been Muslim and the West Bank Catholic and this division was merely solidified during the war – and a large cross on a nearby hillside. It was apparent to even the most casual of observers that these modern additions to the local skyline were largely political, not religious in motivation. The tower was so preposterously tall that it looked ridiculous and its only real purpose can be to be taller than the minarets of the mosques, but it is the cross that most infuriates the Bosniaks since it is sited on the exact spot where Croat snipers used to sit and pick off Bosniak civilians in the town below. Both the cross and the new tower were there to proclaim to the world that, despite its Turkish bridge and beautiful old mosques, Mostar is as Catholic as it is Muslim and that whilst the city may lie within the borders of Bosnia-Herzegovina, it should lie within the borders of Croatia instead. It is a statement that I personally doubt that the Christ who taught us render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s[1] would have approved of.

For Ryan, a firm member of the atheist camp, this was yet more proof, (as if it were needed), that religion is really quite a negative thing indeed. However, one must remember that things are not always as obvious as they seem. Mulling over that tower and cross and the other sights visible from our seats, Ryan stated, “Compare that tower with the minaret on the mosque over there; I much prefer the minaret for it has a purpose and was not built solely to annoy the other faith.”

“But what purpose was that?” I countered. “To administer the Call to Prayer, yes, but then bells too are rung from the tower to call the faithful to Mass. However, was not the prime reasoning behind building the minarets so high merely to assert the dominance of the new, true Islamic faith over the old, corrupted Christian one? Indeed, throughout the Ottoman Era there was even a law which stated that any new church had to be lower than neighbouring mosques so that the Christian faith was always lower physically as well as politically, than the Muslim one. Graceful it may be, but it is my opinion that the same warped reasoning as dictated the building of that ridiculous church tower in the 21st century was also behind that minaret in the 16th century.[2]

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The Old Bridge with the tower of the new Catholic church in the background

I returned to Miran’s hostel because I had to move my bags into the single room and because Miran had promised the girls to show a video of Mostar during the war, whilst Ryan had promised to make a phone call to his girlfriend, but we promised to meet up again in the evening for a drink.

The video came in two parts. The first was the showing of a 1993 BBC documentary called Unfinished Business in which the reporter Jeremy Bowen accompanied Bosniak fighters over the Old Bridge shortly before it fell and filmed how back conditions were during the fighting. It had been made to inform the wider world of the fighting in Mostar and to let the West know that the Croats, who were at times tacitly supported, were into the killing and cultural destruction business just as much as the Serbs. In that purpose, at a time when international eyes were all turned firmly towards Dubrovnik where the Croats were very much the victims, it served well indeed. However, eighteen years on, like with the exhibitions in the Tunnel Museum and Sarajevo Historical Museum, whilst it portrayed the suffering and misery of the war in graphic detail, I found it weak on details of exactly why and how the conflict was happening and the historian in me was confused. The Croats swapped sides: why? The Serbs were now supplying the Bosniaks: why? What were the three sides all trying to achieve? The only answer I received was that war is horrible.

The second part of the video showing was a home video of Miran’s taken during the height of the fighting. Although entirely in Serbo-Croat, this was far more affecting than the documentary since it was virtually all filmed in the very courtyard where we were now watching the TV. We saw which windows had been broken and which had wooden panels protecting them; which walls had bullet holes in them and which houses had been hit by shells, and more than that, we saw younger versions of the very people whom we were sat with. The film centred around Miran’s uncle who lived in Sarajevo. He’d passed through the tunnel during the height of the siege and then walked for five days through the mountains to see his family who hadn’t know until he turned up on their doorstep whether he was alive or dead. Then he’d only stayed in Mostar for two days – the days covered by the video – before walking back and they heard nothing more from him for almost two years until the war ended. Most moving of all, the tape showed Miran’s grandfather laughing and joking with his sons. Only a month later he was killed by a sniper whilst fetching food. Seeing all this on such a personal and immediate level made Miran’s earlier monologue so much more comprehensible and the divide between Bosniak and Croat all the more unfathomable. Indeed, confirmation that it was still almost total came when Miran showed us his hand and a finger that had stitches all around the base. Apparently it had been sliced off during a riot between Bosniaks and Croats following the Turkey versus Croatia match in the 2008 European Championships.[3]

That evening I joined not only Ryan, but also Amar – who ran the hostel that Ryan was staying at – and Amar’s girlfriend, Selma. The two Bosniaks were great company being friendly, intelligent and also possessing great English. Amar – who bizarrely looked as if he’d been separated at birth from Ryan – immediately remarked on my Stoke City top and entered into a conversation about Asmir Begović, the recent FA Cup Final and Rory Delap’s long throws. The air full of football, we headed down to the Old Bridge and then over it into the small enclave of Stari Grad which, despite being on the western bank of the Neretva, stayed in Bosniak hands throughout the war.

In a bar there we got talking about the recent burqa ban in France. Ryan wanted to know what our opinions on it were; were the French right to ban the faceveil or not? II must admit that this is an issue which I have struggled to come to a firm conclusion on. On the one hand I consider it wrong for a state to dictate to its population what it can and cannot wear and I was firmly against the Taliban forcing the burqa onto the women of Afghanistan. However, on the other hand, I do believe the veil to be something of a special case as it is a garment specifically designed to separate and create a barrier between people and as such flies in the face of community integration and cohesion which are ideals I also strongly believe in. Therefore, overall, with many reservations, I am inclined to say that I support the French government’s position. Ryan, on the other hand, with a similar number of reservations, opposed it. What surprised us both though, were the opinions of the Muslims and in particular, the female member of our party.

“I agree with the ban completely,” said Selma unhindered by any reservations. “I really don’t like the faceveil, I think it is scary and I would hate to have to wear anything like that. To me, it is even un-Islamic. The Qur’an never tells women to wear something like that.”

“But what about the hijaab?” I asked.

“Some Bosnian girls choose to wear headscarves although not me or any of my female friends. The girls that wear headscarves, most of them are fucked up from the war; maybe they were raped or had family killed. It messed them up so they become religious as a way to cope. For me though, no way!”

Selma’s comments were interesting because they reflect the general premise of Na Putu and opinions that I had head several times whilst travelling around Bosnia-Herzegovina, namely that the Bosniaks are secular and only turn to religion because the war has emotionally scarred them in some way or another, rape being the most commonly cited example. That stereotyping strikes me as being somewhat patronising although, like most stereotypes, it doubtless has some basis in the truth. What strikes me even more though, is not how the war may have affected Bosniak attitudes to Muslim dress but more how communism did. Selma’s peers might well consider her attitude and views to be quite normal and sensible, but they would be most alien to her ancestors in Mostar for prior to the communist takeover of Yugoslavia, the city’s Muslim females dressed and acted quite differently as this quote from West recording her 1937 visit to Mostar demonstrates:

‘The Moslems slid about black-muzzled, wearing their cotton wrappers, which were usually striped in coldish colours, greys and slate-blues and substanceless reds, except for those who wore that costume that one sees in Mostar and not again when one leaves it, unless one’s journey takes one very far: to Turkestan, I have heard it said.

The costume is stirring to the imagination and as idiotically unpractical as any I have ever seen… It consists of a man’s coat, made in black or blue cloth, immensely too large for the woman who is going to wear it. It is cut with a stiff military collar, very high, perhaps as much as eight or ten inches, which is embroidered inside, not outside, with gold thread. It is never worn as a coat. The woman slips it over her, drawing the shoulders above her head, so that the stiff collar falls forward and projects in front of her like a visor, and she can hide her face if she clutches the edges together, so that she need not wear a veil. The sleeves are allowed to hang loose or are stitched together at the back and nothing can be done with the skirts which drag on the ground.’[4]


Traditional Muslim clothing, Mostar

Following this West proceeds to talk about the psychology of such a costume, of what feeling and thoughts such a mode of dress brings and her conclusions are worth noting:

‘It presents the female also in a more sinister light: as the male sees her when he fears her. The dark visor gives her the beak of a bird of prey, and the flash of gold thread within the collar suggests private and ensnaring delights. A torch is put on to those fires of the imagination which need for fuel dreams of pain, annihilation and pleasure… There is about all veiled women a sense of the melancholy quite incommensurate with the inconveniences they themselves may be suffering. Even when, like the women of Mostar, they seem to be hastening towards secret and luxurious and humorous love-making, they hint of a general surrender to mortality, a futile attempt of the living to renounce life.’[5]

Despite the fact that she was writing over seventy years ago, this is a subject that still has great relevance today. Why should one shroud women in veils and robes, hiding them from view? Most Muslims would give an answer talking about modesty, by hiding the woman it reduces her sexual appeal to men, (even though, as West herself hints, it can work in the opposite direction…). Many Westerners would tell you that it is more about control; the woman has to hide because she is the property of her husband, that she is inferior, and as such, the veil is unacceptable in modern society. Those who wear the veil say they do it from choice and are not oppressed, but the simple problem is, just by looking at the lady in the photo above and comparing her with her 2011 descendent, Selma (below), one cannot help but comment that Selma appears to be more liberated. Strangely in Britain though, most of the girls who do wear the veil – and they are a growing number – are as liberated as Selma, which therefore begs the question as to why choose a difficult and cumbersome dress code that seems to fly in the face of that liberation? I do not know the answer, but from speaking to many members of Britain’s Muslim community, both male and female, the popularity seems to be that the veil is a sort of badge that proclaims your Islamic identity against a secular or Christian majority, and within the Islamic community itself, tells everyone of your religiosity as opposed to the worldliness of the majority of Muslims. Perversely, a garment that was designed to draw attention away from the wearer, these days seems to be worn to draw eyes towards her.

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A night out in Mostar: Left: With Amar and Selma; Right: Ryan and Amar

Selma and Amar left around eleven since they both had to work in the morning and there was a storm brewing, but Ryan and I had nothing to get up for and we were enjoying ourselves too much so we stayed out. As we were walking along Maršal Tita though, that threatened storm did break and it did so with an almighty crash and so fleeing almost monsoon-like rain we dived into a bar where we decided to drink away the time until it was safe to venture back out again.

Over our beers Ryan told me about himself and his past, and in particular, why he disliked religion so much. He comes from Tennessee in the American South and his father is a very committed Baptist and, I am afraid to say, but the picture that he painted of his dad is one that doesn’t really do any favours for the faithful. Desperate for his son to follow in his holy footsteps, when Ryan announced that he wished to go backpacking, his father attempted to make a deal. ‘You go on two missions and I’ll pay for your backpacking trip,’ was the offer. Ryan told him where he could stick his missions, which is something that I agree with since one should really only go on a conversion mission if one actually believes in the doctrine that one is there to preach. “He’s so fucking sanctimonious!” said Ryan. “Everyday he lists what good deeds he’s done as if that is some sort of proof that I should become religious. And do you know what he said to me before I left? ‘The problem with me son, is that I care too much!’ For fuck’s sake! Can you believe it? He actually said that!” I must admit that I found it hard to believe that someone supposedly following a faith based on humility could say such a thing, but there again, I’m not a Baptist so I can’t really judge.

Ryan did however, believe in something and that was his Mathematics. Back at the waterfalls, I’d seen a tattoo that he had which was of a mathematical formula. I asked him what and why and he replied, “It’s a proof that infinity exists. If I’m ever doubting why I’m doing all this, then I look at that and remember.” Whilst no lover of either Maths or tattoos myself, I liked that, it was good.

We were deep in conversation and several beers heavier when everything went black. There was a power cut through the entire district and I could hardly see the man opposite me. The whole place was in virtually complete darkness, the only light provided by the occasional flickering lighter and red glow of a cigarette end. We huddled over our beers and spoke in low voices, the darkness making the air almost conspiratorial. The owner of the bar brought two beers over for us, free of charge, (“for Begović”), and we drank and waited. It was surreal and it was special. As the rain drummed down on the roof like machine gun shots and the gale force winds buffeted the windows like shell explosions, the power gone and surrounded by grim-faced locals seeing out the harsh night, immersed in our silent solidarity one could almost believe that it was ’93, not ’11 and the hell that Mostar had once endured was still raging all around us.

A morning stroll to the bus station told me that there wasn’t transportation onwards to Dubrovnik until four and so I had half a day in which to explore Mostar. I walked down Maršal Tita and called into the Kara Ozbegova Mosque, generally considered to be the finest in Mostar. Completed in 1557, it is very typically Ottoman and its beautiful interior reminded me of the Tomboul Mosque in Shumen. Outside I bought a postcard for Sardar Qadri, the imam where I work who collects postcards and had asked me to get him some, and I noticed that the decorations shown on the card differed considerably from those that I had seen inside. I asked the young man at the entrance about this and he informed me that the mosque had been badly damaged during the war and only recently been restored. Experts from Turkey had come to do the restoration and whilst doing so the original painted decorations had been uncovered beneath later tiles (shown on the postcard) and the decision had been made to restore it back to the original state although a few tiles had been left in place to show how they would have looked. The main feature of the paintings were trees and I asked if these were Quranic – perhaps from the descriptions of Paradise – but he told me that such was not the case and that using trees as decoration was a local tradition which had nothing whatsoever to do with scripture.

The young man turned out in fact to be the imam of the mosque and a most friendly and chatty person to boot. We began a discussion on Balkan Islam with me telling him all about my experiences in Bulgaria and Albania and particularly regarding Demir Baba. His brand of Islam turned out to be of the most liberal type but he was not a Sufi. That said, he regarded most Sufi orders as being properly Islamic – many Muslims do not – but drew a line at the Bektashis whom he considered barely Muslim, so convergent are their beliefs for the Qur’an. Regarding other faiths, he was particularly well-disposed to the Church of England in particular and the English in general having once been invited to the UK to perform the Azan (Call to Prayer) in Salisbury Cathedral during an event commemorating the events in Mostar. “Everyone was friendly and I was made extremely welcome, and the building itself was beautiful!”

This brought us onto talking about Islam in Britain which is heavily influenced by Kashmiri Pakistani, they being the oldest and most numerous of the Muslim immigrant groups. The imam told me that he had issues with Pakistani Islam with all of its tensions – Deobandi versus Pir and the like. “We have lots of problems here, that’s for sure,” he said laughing, “but thank God we don’t have that one! When we get Pakistanis here, they are always looking at people and asking, ‘Is he Muslim? Is she a Christian?’ But we Bosniaks are not like that, people are people, that is that.”

Back in the UK, I had the opportunity to look at the subject from the other side. Giving Sardar his postcards, he started telling me about when he had visited Sarajevo back in 1996 to reopen the Begova Mosque after its restoration. He recalled how he’d had to fly in on a UN transport plane from Zagreb and how nothing was available at all. Despite all that though, he’d really liked Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Islam that is practised there although it should be noted that, as a Sufi, Sardar is far more liberal in his outlook than many of his Pakistani brethren.

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The imam in front of his mosque, Mostar

I continued on to the Old Bazaar where I bought some souvenirs and some old Republika Srpska banknotes[6] and then visited the Old Bridge Museum which is housed in the tower at the end of the bridge that it once guarded. From the top of the tower I looked out over the bridge towards the Croat side of the city clustered around the new church with its stupidly-tall tower and I knew that to fully understand what had happened here, I needed to visit that half of the city as well, so I crossed over the bridge and headed towards what had once been enemy territory.

The first thing that I came across was an empty lot surrounded by bullet-scarred buildings. A large sign announced that this was where Mostar’s synagogue had once stood. The only other clues to its former purpose were a simple slab commemorating the local Jews who’d died during the Holocaust and a piece of anti-Semitic graffiti on the fence.

West Mostar seemed like an entirely different world to the East. Both still bore the scars of war but the West didn’t wear them as well, it largely being communist era apartment blocks that would have looked pretty awful even if people hadn’t spent several years shooting at them. But in the centre of them all was the still-unfinished new church, vast, concrete and cavernous but not unpleasant in its design save for the incongruous tower. I stepped past the workmen and inside to pray and try and understand some more of the Catholic role in this intricate Balkan tapestry but I left none the wiser. In my mind, I was struggling to associate Catholicism with the Balkans. This was largely due to the bulk of my Balkan experiences being in the Orthodox – and in some provinces Muslim – stronghold of Bulgaria, but also because I had not once seen a single piece of Roman Catholic architecture that seemed rooted in the land in the same way that Sarajevo’s Old Orthodox Church or Demir Baba were for example. All the Catholic churches that I’d come across in Bosnia-Herzegovina – or Albania too for that matter – were either bland new builds or second-rate 19th century copies of Italian or Austrian designs. Yet why was that? According to Malcolm, prior to the coming of Islam virtually all of modern Bosnia-Herzegovina was Catholic, the Orthodox Church was ‘barely active’ save in Herzegovina.[7] Why was that? Why does so little remain of ancient Catholic life in Bosnia? The only answer I have found so far is again provided by Malcolm, and it again, does not fully answer my question. However, he argues that during the 16th to 18th centuries, the Catholic Church was much disadvantaged in the Ottoman Empire – because of its links to Venice and Austria – even in comparison to the Orthodox Church, let alone Islam, and as such it barely managed to serve its souls in many parts of the country:

‘The genuine poverty of the Catholic Church in Bosnia emerges from many reports. Bishop Maravić noted in 1655 that “few of the parishes have churches where the Mass can be said and the holy sacraments administered; the Mass is usually said in cemeteries and in the private houses of Catholics.” To administer the sacraments, the Franciscans would ride out on horseback to outlying villages and stay the night, indistinguishable in their lay clothes from the peasants, they were addressed as “Ujak” (‘uncle’), a practice which has survived to the present day.’[8]

Was the answer therefore, that no old Catholic churches or institutions survived because they never in fact, existed in the first place? I still awaited a full answer to this one and wondered if I would discover more in Croatia?

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Catholicism in Bosnia-Herzegovina: very old, yet very new as well…

I’d intended to finish reading The Days of the Consuls on the bus to Dubrovnik, but I felt sick after a couple of pages – I suspected food poisoning at the time, but it turned out to be mere travel sickness – so I put the book down and stuck to watching the world go by. The scenery now truly was Mediterranean, arid with cypresses and olive trees, and I no longer felt like I was in the Balkans but instead some province of Italy. It was beautiful but it was not what I’d come to see.

I was surprised when we came to a border post sporting the Croatian flag. A look at the map tells you that Bosnia-Herzegovina has an outlet to the sea at Neum and I’d expected to travel straight there before turning left for Dubrovnik, thus crossing only one border. But here we were on the Ploće road, heading into Croatia the wrong side of Neum. There is a road through Bosnian territory straight to Neum – or at least the map shows one – but it is evidently not good enough for luxury coaches.

The Dalmation Coast was beautiful in the evening light. When I say ‘beautiful’, I mean perhaps the most gorgeous coastline that I have ever clasped my eyes upon. Our road clung to the cliffs and below us was a sea of glass dotted with verdant green islands, a tranquil paradise. I was reminded of Corfu which is also incredibly green and lush, but then that should not be surprising, for she too is another island off this coastline, but a few hundred miles further south.

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The Dalmatian Coast with Neum in the distance

We crossed back over into Bosnia-Herzegovina and stopped for toilets at a service station just beyond Neum. We may have been back in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but it felt more like Croatia. People were spending Croatian dinars in the shop and there was a Hajduk Split scarf and Croatian national team pennant up behind the counter. If the people here wanted so much to be in Croatia, why was the town in Bosnia-Herzegovina?

Neum’s inclusion in Bosnian territory is an accident of history. Under the Treaty of Karlowitz of 1699 which concluded the Austro-Ottoman War, (a decisive victory for the Austrians who, under Prince Eugene of Savoy burnt Sarajevo to the ground only two years earlier), large tracts of land along the Dalmatian Coast that had formerly been Ottoman, were ceded to Venice, (these now form part of Croatia). The Ragusan Republic (modern-day Dubrovnik) however, stayed independent and so that it did not have a land border with Venice, the Ottomans were allowed to keep a 22km strip of coastline (Neum), and these borders were transferred onto Bosnia when Yugoslavia was first established and have remained so ever since despite the fact that the population is staunchly Croat.

And so, after our last short stop in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we reboarded our coach and headed towards the Bosnian border for the very last time. Now I really was heading into Croatia and towards the end of my trip. Bosnia was what I had come to see this year and Bosnia was what I had seen. It had been a country that had challenged me, shocked me, dazzled me and befriended me all in equal measure. I had talked with Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats and had discovered a land that is a microcosm of the Balkans, the Balkans in its most concentrated and volatile form. It was a harsh cocktail to imbibe but it was also a highly-addictive one. It was tragic and heart-breaking yet at the same time it was fascinating. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a lesson for our time that each and every European should learn.

Next part: Balkania Pt. 19: Up the Black Mountain


[1] Mark 12:17

[2] As an aside, talking to Miran about the tower, apparently it was brought up in a debate in the Bosnian parliament. A Bosniak MP asked why it had to be so tall to which a Croat MP replied, ‘To show that we control you,’ to which the Bosniak retorted, ‘But we go further than that, for every night the moon and the stars are above your spire!’ A good comeback I thought that one was.

[3] Whilst no excuse for starting a riot, one must say that this was one hell of a match. At 90 minutes it was still 0-0 so it went into extra time. Nothing happened then either until the last minute of extra time when Rustu, the Turkish keeper, rushed out of his goal to clear a cross and left a gaping goal for Croatia to pop the ball into. There were wild celebrations from the Croatian team and bench and everyone assumed the game was over as there was no added time to be played, but the Turks had another idea, took the ball down to the other end of the field and scored with the last desperate kick of the game. As a result it went to penalties where the Croatians, still devastated, scored only one leaving Turkey to emerge as 3-1 victors. When asked what happened, the shell-shocked Croatian manager Slaven Bilić merely replied, “We thought we’d won it!”

[4] Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, p.290-1

[5] Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, p.291-2

[6] I collect old banknotes and on this trip I managed to pick up some excellent specimens, particularly in Varna. Republika Srpska no longer issues money of course but during the war it printed its own currency.

[7] Bosnia: A Short History, p.70

[8] Bosnia: A Short History, p.99

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