The central focus of my previous blog entry was the host-family experience along with the surprising lack of culture shock that I as a foreigner felt during my first month in Sarajevo. In this blog entry I want to step outside of Sarajevo and discuss what I have been able to see and due while travelling. More concretely, I will be discussing my trip to the city of Višegrad in Republika Srpska, as well as my trip to the village of Borač which is located in the municipality of Gacko in Eastern Herzegovina.
Višegrad is a small city in Republika Srpska just along the Drina River. It is probably best known for being home to the Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge, made famous by novelist Ivo Andrić. And yet, for me the bridge – along with the newly built “Kamengrad” in the center – was a welcomed bonus. My real purpose for visiting was to get a feel for how the war of the 1990’s is memorialized by the local population. As a municipality that experienced large-scale ethnic cleansing, it endured similar atrocities as Sarajevo. In contrast, however, the horrific efficiency of ethnic cleansing has completely transformed the ethnic composition of the city that now has a much smaller Muslim minority. In Sarajevo, the Siege is seemingly memorialized on every other street corner and the physical impact of it is highly visible. In Višegrad, on the other hand, one would be hard-pressed to find a plaque or monument dedicated to the many civilians who had lost their lives there. What one sees instead is a number of graveyards dedicated to the ethnically Serbian soldiers who fought and died between 1992 and 1995. Had I gone to Višegrad without the knowledge of what happened during the war, I do not believe that I would have seen anything that would have led me to believe that mass violence had been directed at the local non-Serb population.
In the significantly smaller of village of Borač in Eastern Herzegovina, there is also very little in regards to memorialization of the violence that took place: destroyed buildings and fewer homes are the only visual pieces of evidence that it too experienced the war. However, I did not travel alone to Borač. I instead took the four-hour bus ride with my host mother and about 30 other people only to discover upon arrival that there were an additional 100 and 200 already there, and even more on their way. I would later learn that this gathering is an annual event in which predominantly Muslim families that had or have ties to the village travel from across the across the country to celebrate together. People eat, dance, talk, sit by the Neretva River, and enjoy the immensely beautiful nature that surrounds them. This tradition began before the war and continued afterwards, despite the damage done to Borač and the surrounding villages.
I placed these two experiences next to each other because of the stark contrast in how the legacy of the war has impacted different places in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Višegrad, on the one hand, remained largely undamaged by the war despite the atrocities that were perpetrated there. The history of ethnic cleansing is not only unacknowledged, but seemingly rejected given the sole memorialization of ethnically Serbian soldiers. In Borač, on the other hand, a long-standing tradition continues despite what happened between 1992 and 1995. The municipality of Gacko is now in Republika Srpska, but that does not deter this group of people from returning once a year to celebrate their heritage and families. As a student of history, I found these two trips to be both incredibly interesting and educational.
By: Kevin Hackley
Program: Balkan Language Initiative
Term: Summer 2015