I recently returned from two weeks of travel through the former Yugoslavia. We started in Slovenia and ended in Montenegro via Sarajevo and Mostar in Bosnia. In Croatia, at least along the Dalmatian coast where we were, it was hard to tell there had been a war. If there were ever a place that screamed, “we’re ready to join the EU,” it’s Croatia. The infrastructure was good and being improved. Millions of happy tourists swim in the beautiful, clear waters of the Adriatic and munch on pizza at nice restaurants.
Then we crossed the border into Bosnia.
First off, though we were well into Bosnia, we noticed the Croatian flag flying everywhere, a sign that ethnic loyalties trump national ones. We didn’t make it to the Serbian regions but I can only imagine that there’s barely a sign that the Bosnian state even exists there.
Shelled-out building in Mostar, Bosnia-Hercegovina. (Photo: Brett Neely, 2009)
Then you notice the war damage, visible nowhere else we visited in the Balkans. By war damage, I mean bullet holes in occupied buildings and totally shelled out buildings in the middle of otherwise-busy cities.
For a little context, the Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war, was signed in late 1995 (almost 14 years ago if you need to count).
Perhaps the most understandable, but still disturbing, sign that things were not well, were the road signs themselves. As a multi-ethnic country, Bosnia has pledged to respect the language rights of Serbs (who use the Cyrillic alphabet) and non-Serbs (who use Latin script). Almost every road sign we saw had the Cyrillic script spray-painted out.
Reconciliation is clearly another generation or two away.
Road sign in Bosnia with the Cyrillic script vandalized. (Photo: Brett Neely, 2009)