Actually this is probably more like part 1000 for Bosnia itself. But it is part one of three blogs I am going to post this week reflecting on my experience in Bosnia in the past several years. The opening of the Winter Olympics in Russia may have spurred some of this thought since the Olympics in 1984 were in Sarajevo. So much has happened there since then.
I first went to Bosnia in March 1998. I remember flying into the airport in Sarajevo and looking down at rooftops of houses blown off by war. Others were new and bright orange tile. You could see where things had been somewhat repaired. But the view told the story of a country torn apart by war.
The photos of Syria which have circulated on the internet this past week have reminded me of what I saw in Bosnia. And I was there about 18 months after the war had officially ended. There were still some tanks on the streets and roads and bridges were broken down. Some cities looked like…a war zone.
I took some photos in 1998 and sent them back to the Kingston Whig Standard with an article, one of my first for the newspaper. They suggested that I get some people in the photo for “interest”. The photos were of bombed out houses and deserted desecrated neighbourhoods where no people now lived. They missed the point.
The stadium in the centre of Sarajevo that hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics was in ruins. The fields surrounding it turned into graveyards.
So many of my photos of those early trips to Bosnia were of war damage. And it was everywhere.
Digital photography was quite new then and my camera
was a state-of-the-art point and shoot 1 megapixel camera. You likely have 5 times that on your phone now. So the photos are grainy. But I think they make the point.
Over the 11 years I worked and lived in Bosnia I saw a lot of change. It took a while but new buildings sprang up – mosques tended to be the first to appear. The people in Sarajevo, who all wore black and looked very sad on my first few visits, gradually became more animated and even smiled. Some of the buildings that stood as monuments to war were refurbished into shiny new buildings, the windows replaced and the pock-marks on the walls from grenades gradually filled in.
The appearance was that Bosnia was slowly recovering. Unfortunately, underlying ethnic tensions were not too far below the surface and often led to problems of governance. It is hard to forget war.
My last trip to Bosnia was in 2009. New buildings were springing up along the main thoroughfare in Sarajevo. Glass and escalators, clothes from Italy and flat-screen TV’s. On the surface it looked like things were recovering.
Looks can be deceiving. It takes more than new buildings to recover from war.