June 27, 2013

Balkan Adventure: Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzogovina

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Sarajevo and much of the Balkans have a complicated relationship among themselves. I don’t understand very much but I’m interested enough to go home and learn some more. The city sounded dangerous and exciting to me last week. This week, I know it to be a city with friendly people and a rich history.

The Sarajevo open market bursts with colorful fruits and vegetables. We bought some cherries after one of the farmer’s gave us a taste. They were delicious. Kira loved them so much and was so cute eating them that she got an extra couple. Plus a strawberry. And then another stall on the way out gave her some cherries and a blueberry. The vendors loved that we have so many children. It’s not as common to have large families like it used to be.

Genocide:  A relatively small word packed with huge amounts of devastation.  It is estimated that around 8,000 people died in Srebrenica during the war with Serbia between 1992 and 1995.

There are modern day lessons to be learned from the massacres in Srebrenica almost 20 years ago. I imagine it would have turned out very differently had the UN not disarmed the people. The story is that the UN promised to protect the people so they didn’t need their guns and weapons. But when the going got rough, the peacekeepers didn’t protect them since they weren’t soldiers.

The map of Bosnia Herzegovina on the wall of the July 11, 1995 Gallery is littered with the dots marking each of the mass graves. Family members give blood for DNA testing, though not everyone has been positively identified. Some never will be. There are still about 3000 remains left.

Every year on July 11th, there is a funeral for all those who have been identified during the previous year. Next month, there will be around 600 honored. I like that families who lost loved ones have an opportunity for some closure. They’ve suffered so much and it’s healing to look grief in the face and move forward.

The basics of the war in Bosnia Herzegovina are this…Yugoslavia was composed of six countries. Slovenia left in 1991 after a 10-day war. There wasn’t much bloodshed and it was over quickly. Croatia left the union next. Milosevic, the president, wanted to keep the rest of the country together so they would have both political and economic advantages. Bosnia thought different and fought for their independence. Serbian and Montenegrin forces laid siege on the capital, Sarajevo, attempting to prevent them from seceding. I’m not sure where Macedonia was during all of this, but I’m sure their story is compelling in its own right.

During the 42 month siege of Sarajevo, the Bosnian army was able to build a tunnel to the free zone near the airport. The UN wouldn't allow anyone to leave Sarajevo and nearly 800 people died trying to get out of the city to get food and supplies for their families.

After 4 months of digging, a route from the home of some soldiers connected to the free zone going underneath the airport. A supply chain and basic communication was established. I cannot even imagine how people carried large loads into the city. The tunnel isn't very big. I had to duck to walk in it. And this was their only lifeline and connection to the outside.

I am so grateful that my family hasn't lived with a war raging in our front yards. I pray that we take the responsibility of our own defense seriously. We cannot fully rely on a government, full of opposing political alliances, to keep the people’s best interests at heart. Nor can we depend on them to be everywhere in times of war. When our armies are out-manned, we need to have the ability to send in reinforcements.

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