Our time in Bosnia & Herzegovina - short but unforgettable.
28.05.2013 - 28.05.2013 17 °C
The city of Sarajevo lies on a plain surrounded by hills on parallel sides. During the Serbian - Bosnian War the citizens were attacked by Serb forces from the hills on either side. The main street in the middle of the city was known as "Sniper Alley". Snipers would shoot at anyone trying to get from one side of the street to the other. There's a tram line running down the middle of the street, trams were "parked" on the tram line end to end so that people trying to cross would at least be given some kind of cover during their dangerous dash.
The feeling that I have after spending such a short period of time in this city is that it's living under a cloud that has been formed by it's devastating recent history. Wherever you look, there are houses and buildings still bearing the scars of Sarajevo's war torn past. There are houses that have been destroyed, still lying in rubble. It is chilling. The hotel where we stayed last night was completely destroyed during the war. There are photos in the foyer depicting the hotel in ruins and then it's reconstruction. The people of Sarajevo buried their dead wherever there was green space.
We left the hotel this morning at 9am and our first stop was the War Tunnel.This tunnel is in suburban Sarajevo about 10 minutes drive from our hotel. It was built by unofficial soldiers - the local men - friends, fathers, sons, brothers, uncles. One of these men lived in the house where the tunnel actually started from. It was 800 metres in length, 1.6 metres high and 1 metre wide. It took just over 4 months to build. The tunnel was well known by the Bosniaks but thankfully the Serbs didn't find out about it.
No-one escaped Sarajevo using this tunnel, it wasn't used as an escape route. It was used to transport the injured away to get medical assistance and to provide provisions for those who were held siege in this city. It was in operation for just over 2 years and during this time up to 4,000 people per day used the tunnel. Thank God for the bravery and the spirit of these men of Sarajevo - and for this tunnel.
We were shown a 20 minute video which was a combination of how the tunnel was made and footage of the attacks in the city. Stunned into silence. We then walked the only section of the tunnel now open to the public - just 25 metres. The tunnel was situated in a demilitarised zone, went under the airport runway and came out the other side in Bosnian free territory. It was only 5 metres below the ground and years later after the war ended it eventually caved in - in the middle. We were shown the little museum which displayed a list of all names of those killed in Sarajevo - over 11,000 of which about 1,600 were children. I couldn't look at it.
We left the city of Sarajevo and headed in a northerly direction towards Osijek and back into Croatia. Before we arrived at the border we entered the Republic of Serbia - a self proclaimed area of land that's inhabited by Serbians. In this area we drove for about 40 kilometres through an area where back in the war, the Serbs not only shot at homes, they either set them on fire or blew them up. These homes have been left as they are - abandoned and in the state that they were left. This used to be an area of beautiful forests where families came to have picnics - pick mushrooms and strawberries etc. Now it's a jungle that no-one wants to know. Part of the reason for this is that there are still land mines all through this area, so it's too dangerous for people to go in and reclaim their land and homes. Some have, and in a few instances we saw a newer home built right next door to the old ruined one. An absolute tragedy.
Since we've been in Bosnia I haven't seen an area that was not affected by this war which ran from 1991 - 1995. We have seen hundreds and hundreds of houses and buildings which were on the receiving end of bullets, bombs, mortar shells. I'm absolutely horrified by this, and I'm sorry that back 20 years ago, we were so busy with our lives and bringing up kids - that I was not more aware of the situation - other than watching coverage on the nightly news. It's the same with Syria today - we are helpless to do anything, but we could take more of an interest, and be more informed.
It took us almost 1.5 hours to cross the border - Redmond was not impressed! But you don't mess with the officials at the border crossing - it takes as long as it takes. After that we had a really late lunch in a city called Slavonski Brod and arrived in Osijek at about 5.30pm. This is a nice place in the north eastern corner of Croatia - the fourth largest city in the country, with 800,000 residents. It lies on the banks of the peaceful Drava River.
We had a short walk through the town and then met up with our Belgian friends for dinner - giving the game of Charades a whole new meaning!