Friday, May 22, 2015

Bosnia - Herzegovina

Crossing the border into a new country, especially one you haven't been to before, is always exciting. I can't help but being curious about what's on the other side. My curiosity is always leaning towards positive, after all I've made an effort to get here for a reason. Most of the time I enjoy being in a foreign country too. The differences in culture, buildings and even language is part of the reason I went. Today however things went a bit differently... and it started right at the border.

One of the many, many bombed-out houses in Bosnia. Families used to live here...
The European Union doesn't have internal borders anymore. Crossing from one European member country into another is simply a matter of driving on. This also applies to countries right at the edge, like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for example and we've got used to this quite easily. Bosnia - Herzegovina however still have official borders, as does Croatia (but that is for the next post). The border guards were not particularly difficult, well not to us anyway, but it just took forever and ever. 

Once past the border and into the country things changed dramatically. The friendliness of Slovenia had made way to the grim and grey of northern Bosnia - Herzegovina. After having seen this for a while, we both felt unwelcome, unwanted even. As we rode further and further into this new land, that feeling only became stronger and stronger. Houses were unfinished and in a bad state of repair. Quite a few people were living in literally nothing more than a concrete box. The picture in front of us was depressing, seriously depressing. 

I tried hard to see something positive. Of course a lack of money meant we wouldn't find extravagance but the problem here lies deeper. Much deeper. It seems people don't want to be happy. We had seen poverty in Honduras and Guatemala too, but there people did their best with what they had. Here they don't seem to care. We saw houses that had half fallen apart and yet they were still living in it, if you can call it that. Again, it can be a lack of money that prevents repairs. But how am I to accept that as the sole reason when there are unnecessarily expensive cars in front of the same houses? No matter how hard I tried to see the positive, it just didn't add up. It's a shame as Bosnia Herzegovina is, nature wise, a beautiful country. 

It seems even the kids are explosive...
A particularly bloody war has raged here from 1992 to 1995. The result of that is still visible today, 20 years later. Houses that have been bombarded to smithereens are everywhere, untouched like it happened yesterday. Not just a couple, but house after house after house. Trees and shrubs are growing in the remains and big holes in the walls paint a gruesome picture. Why are they still standing like that? I wondered. Especially as I see people drinking in the pubs and just hanging around. Why don't they fix these houses? Or if they can't be fixed, why don't they tear them down. How can anyone sit in a pub, having fun while looking at the bombarded house of a family that used to live there. A family which has either been forced to leave or murdered through ethnic cleansing. Don't these poor people mean anything to them? We got the impression they just don't care. To make it even worse it's clear to see that the bombing of these houses had been done depending on who had lived there. We found house after house bombed and burned to the ground and then suddenly one which hadn't been touched... did the occupants have a different religion, did they pay the invading army to leave their house alone. I guess we'll never know but it made the picture which unfolded before our eyes even more gruesome somehow. Whatever happened here, surely 20 years is enough time to do something about it if they really wanted to? We just couldn't get our head around it. The destruction was everywhere and massive, yet no-one can apparently be bothered to do something about it.

As horrible and depressing as that was, it didn't even end there. Outside the villages we saw hundreds of signs warning for landmines... and several big craters in the ground showed they weren't kidding either. In the end we decided to make it a very long day and just leave. We simply didn't want to be there anymore. We understand money is part of the problem. We have been through poor countries before but always found a lust for life, not here though. Before I wrote this we did talk to local people, even expats, about what we found, asking if perhaps we saw it wrong. They agreed with our view though. The problem is complex. Technically the bombed out houses still belong to people, even if the authorities know they are actually murdered or fear for their live and therefore won't return. Whatever the situation is there are better solutions than this. Of all the countries we have been to on this trip, this was the first one where we actually wanted to leave. Luckily our visit to Croatia was on a much happier note, more on which in the next post...

One of the many typical mosques which dot the landscape of Bosnia - Herzegovina