Around Sarajevo


It’s about 6 or 7 hours bus ride from Sarajevo to Dubrovnik, Croatia.  I include this travel note here because it has a few thing related to Bosnia. It’s sort of a merry-go-’round, can’t really understand Sarajevo without understanding Bosnia, can’t understand Bosnia without understanding its neighbors and its people…

J. and I  followed a guided group of tourists to listen for free. I was a little bit embarrassed, so I tried to be inconspicuous and kept a distance from them. When I got close, I pretended that I was window-shopping. But shameless J. who was more into historical information, museums, and guided trips, saw no problem of blending in with the PAID group and becoming one of them. He explained: "The street is free; I can walk and stand wherever I want." "I agree, but this is more of a principal matter," I replied. Warning to the readers: Don’t be fooled by my last statement as there is nothing principal about me; I was simply embarrassed.

The tour guide was a pretty woman in white summer dress and round beach hat. She spoke English fairly well and was quite articulate narrating the history of Dubrovnik until near the end when she got caught up by a harmless political-provoking question: "What was that civilian conflict which happened here?" A tourist asked.
"No, it was not a civilian conflict. It was a Serbian war." She quickly corrected him.
The group erupted with laughter.

Suddenly, I forgot my freeloader’s status and inched closer to listen to the conversation.
"It was not a religious war either." She continued. "It was strictly for economic reason. Croatia broke away from Yugoslavia, and Serbia declared war because it wanted to control the Dalmatian coast." Then, she pointed to buildings which bombed from oversea, in Montenegro territory by the Serbia and Montenegro army.

"Wow, this woman is a madly nationalist." J. commented.
"What the hell do you mean?" I angrily asked.
"She did not tell the truth. Croatians murdered many innocent Serbs too."
"But Serbia started it." I retorted.
"If you want to argue about who started first, it will never end. For example, one can say that Croatia started because it broke away from the country-implied Yugoslavia."

"But if the central government in Serbia led better or was not too greedy (*), nobody would even think about breaking away right?" I said. " Look at Czech and Slovakia; you guys broke without a single gun shot. What does it mean? It means that the same event can spawn many different responses and actions depending pretty much on the people involved. If you have leaders like the Dalai Lama (*) or Gandhi (*), wars and massacres would NOT have happened. Too bad for this region having bastard like Milosevic and those radical Bosnian Serbs."

"Let see it this way. As the president of Yugoslavia, Milosevic was responsible to keep the country together." J. still calmly explained.

"If you say so then why DIDN’TS the president of Czechoslovakia bomb Slovakia? There are many ways to keep the country together. You can always negotiate. If negotiation fails and these people want to leave the union, then perhaps it said something about your character as a leader of a nation. You simple don’t have the respect and support, then you should let them go peacefully." My voice began to rise and speed up. "Milosevic, being a power-greedy and ill-intent nationalist bastard that he is, he waged the wars and murdered thousands of people. Look at Gandhi and his non-violent approach in his quest which earned him a Nobel Prize, to liberate India from English rule. If he had induced the Indians into killing the English oppressors, I bet you, the world would not have condemned his action.

"Stop screaming at me! Can we just talk?"
"No. I’m not screaming. I just have to make a point. And we cannot talk." I said.

I admit that I got myself all worked up every single time J. and I talked about the Aggression 1992-1995, and he tried to find some sort of defense for Serbia. I have singled out Serbia as the responsible party for this malicious act and in turn had severely negative images of Serbia and its people, the right-wing nationalists.

J. never lived through any war in which his close family relatives died. He kept bringing up his great-grandfather who was a soldier during WWII, how German Nazi murdered Czech, and how Russia fucked up Czechoslovakia during Communism regime, and still he doesn’t hate the Germans and Russians, and how people should move on, blah blah like that. However, he does not KNOW his great-grandfather, thus his death concerns him little if at all. WWII happened a long time ago, and he did not live through WWII, thus the pain and misery experienced by Czech only caused fleeting and at-the-moment rage when one talked about that. These experiences would never surmount to the level I call PERSONAL as felt by the Bosniaks, many of whom can be as young as 15 years old, who witnessed their fathers and uncles being slaughtered by Serbian nationalist/cetnik. This trauma have long and serious affect, and in many cases ruining their lives.

Phew, we stopped talking and proceeded to a book store to glance at some information about the city. I picked up a travel book about Dubrovnik which mentioned the Aggression. It was funny and fishy as the book mentioned Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, even Macedonia, everything BUT Bosnia, the KEY figure during this war. I turned to J. and said, "Maybe these people (Croatians) have something to hide. They did not mention Bosnia because they might have to bring up the fact that they betrayed the coalition with the Bosniak army and murdered their former allies in the process. I start not liking it (Dubrovnik) here."

Food
J. kept asking for permission to eat that delicious Dalmatian seafood dish. After many "no" from me, we resolved to find a cheaper alternative. I suddenly remember Warsaw, an expensive touristy city where Tomek took us to a really cheap, self-service restaurant. We didn’t even have to walk for long as we accidentally stroll past a "Self-Service" restaurant which offered already-made food and a salad bar. I ordered a small plate of seafood rice risotto for only 24KN and a salad plate for 13KN. Of course, the food is good but in no way comparable to the delicious kind people talked about when they talked about Dalmatian cuisine, oh my those seafood plates. What can I say? I was a backpacking traveler on a shoestring and not on a luxurious vacation.

— We sat in front of this restaurant while contemplating about whether to eat there —

While checking out the restaurants, I saw a menu offering Cevapi with a specific description: "Original recipe from Sarajevo." This discovery made me think that perhaps the people from Sarajevo might be right when boasting they serve the best cevapi. I tempted to try but over here, they insanely charged for a cevapi plate. A regular 10-piece plate cost 35KN/5 euros compared to 5KM/2.5 euros served in the best cevapi houses, Zeljo.


— Cevapi menu —

…to be continue…

(*) Belgrade was the capital of the ex-Yugoslavia, so foreign aid and funding to Yugoslavia concentrated in the capital. Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia decided to break up partly because of this reason. By greedy, I mean that if the politicians and whoever with deciding power in Belgrade were not greedy and distribute the money fairly, breakup might not have happened. However, there are other deeper reasons.
(*) The Dalai Lama is the unofficial highest religious leader among Buddhists. He fled from Tibet during his young adult years followed hunt from the Communist Chinese government who for years tries to censor and minimize his unswaying influence over the Tibetans. Try to google "Dalai Lama" from search engines in China, you will come up EMPTY.
(*) Gandhi is the spiritual leader of India, whose fast and peaceful protests have brought freedom to India from British rule.

The background song in this video is “Mostarska” written and composed by Dino Merlin. Scroll down to see the lyrics in Bosnian. I don’t have the English translation at the moment. When I complained to the sister of one of my roommate about the lack of Christmas spirit in Sarajevo, she said, “you should have been to Mostar. They celebrate Christmas there.” Mostar is the main administrative and tourist center, the unofficial center of Herzegovina, the southern region which makes up the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is a beautiful city only 2:30 hours away by bus to the south west of Sarajevo. If Sarajevo is a city “of” the Bosniaks, then I guess the Bosnian Croats can claim Mostar “theirs”, just as Banja Luka “belongs” to the Bosnian Serbs. Mostar was named after its Old Bridge (Stari most) and the towers on its sides, “the bridge keepers” (natively: mostari). In 1993, this famous symbol of Mostar was destroyed by Croats-Bosnian Croat army’s bomshells during the fighting with their former ally, Bosniaks, for the control of the city. In recent time, Bosniaks and Croats have always been the city’s two main ethnic groups. After the war, the Bosnian Croats’ population exceeds that of the Bosniaks by only 1%. 1991 concensus (pre-war): Bosniak (34.65%), Croat (33.83%). 2003 concensus: Bosniaks (47.43%), Croat (48.29%). There is an invisible dividing line in the city separating the Croats who live mostly in the west and the Bosniaks, the east. At my roommate N.’s birthday party, I met a girl from Mostar. Not wanted to ask flat out “are you a muslim who really live in the east?” I covered: “Do you live in the east or west?” Oh, she was clever nonetheless because she saw right through me: “I live in Mostar. There is no east or west.” “But I mean, is your house from the east or the west side?” I insisted. She retorted “I live in Mostar” five more times for each of my “east-west side” interrogation before telling me her family lived in the east side. LOL My friend Vlatka and I were roaming the street of Mostar when we met two Japanese wanderers who wanted to see the bruce lee status. The guy was happy knowing Vlatka spoke Croatian and kept asking us to go see Bruce Lee together. “But he was taken down.” I said as I remembered reading an article about how people destroyed the status and took it down. At that time, I knew little about Bosnia. Thinking there were still bits and parts left of the once famous kungfu fighter, the hopeful Japanese guy, who was also a karate master, insisted to go anyway. So we walked further to the west side to the Spanish square where the poor dead Bruce Lee supposed to be. To our disappointment, he was not there. When asked a Bosniak from the east, we only got a simple answer “he was taken down.” But from a Croat on the west side, we got a bigger story: some Bosniak gangs vandalized the status bits by bits, broke his fingers, etc. Eventually, the city decided to pull it down. After the war, the status was erected as a symbol of solidarity, a protest against ethnic division. For an Asian dead man to be involved in the ongoing animosity between two white groups, it must be serious. Ouch! source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mostar Mostarska Lyrics

idemo tugo niz rijeku dole dole sad rane manje bole jos mi je san bistar k’o dan jos je pjesmom dozivamne pitaj tugo sta me to tjera ili je ljubav, ili je vjera jednom ce sve ovo da mine ostace tople usne emineja cu biti sijed, ja cu biti star al’ bice vjecno mlad moj mostar ja cu biti sijed, ja cu biti star al’ zauvijek je mlad moj mostar kako si miso, kako si brate da li jos sretni do tebe svrate nedaj da suza zamuti rijeku cuvaj je bistru i daleku kako si vaha, imas li daha jos jedna tekma na tebe ceka gdje ti je emir, taj stari nemir i njega ceka zelena rijeka ja cu biti sijed, ja cu biti star al’ voljecu i tad moj mostar ja cu biti sijed, ja cu biti star al’ zauvijek je mlad moj mostar… Let us go, sorrow, down the river Wounds are hurting less down there My dream is still clear as day I still call her with a songDo not ask, sorrow, what keeps me going Is it love, or is it faith Once shall all of this go by Warm lips of Emina shall remainI shall be grey, I shall be old But my Mostar shall be forever young I shall be grey, I shall be old But my Mostar is forever youngHow are you, Mišo, how are you, brother Do the happy ones still drop by Do not let tears make the river murky Keep it clear and distant How are you, Vaha, do you have breath There is still one ball match left Where is Emir, that old restless one The green river is waiting for him too I shall be grey, I shall be old But even then I shall love my Mostar I shall be grey, I shall be old But my Mostar is forever young…

thanks my friend T. and her sister for the translation.

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