Bosnia reflections – Part 1 … Rebuilding after a war

A government office building in 1999 and after reconstruction in 2009.

A government office building in 1999 and after reconstruction in 2009.

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.

Zetra - the Olympic arena in 1984

Zetra – the Olympic arena in 1984

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

1984 Olympic fields transformed into graveyards after the Bosnian war.

1984 Olympic fields transformed into graveyards after the Bosnian war.

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.

In March '98 I stayed in an apartment near the centre of Sarajevo. There were bullet holes in the wood floor and on the walls. The view out the street was of a hill, most buildings damaged.  By 2008, these had been restored.

In March ’98 I stayed in an apartment near the centre of Sarajevo. There were bullet holes in the wood floor and on the walls. The view out the street was of a hill, most buildings damaged. By 2008, these had been restored.

Later we stayed in a house on the west side of town. At the bottom of the hill was the "front line" during the war.  I was always intrigued by this house which was eventually torn down and replaced.

Later we stayed in a house on the east side of town. At the bottom of the hill was the “front line” during the war. I was always intrigued by this house which was eventually torn down and replaced.

This neighbourhood was particularly hard hit. It was uninhabitable in 1998 but by 2006, the buildings had been restored and it appeared like a "normal" neighbourhood street.

This neighbourhood was particularly hard hit. It was uninhabitable in 1998 but by 2006, the buildings had been restored and it appeared like a “normal” neighbourhood street.

The Newspaper office on the main street was demolished (although it continued to operate out of the basement throughout the war.  Eventually the frame was used to construct an office tower..with a revolving restaurant on the top.

The Newspaper office on the main street was demolished (although it continued to operate out of the basement throughout the war). Eventually the frame was used to construct an office tower..with a revolving restaurant on the top.

2 thoughts on “Bosnia reflections – Part 1 … Rebuilding after a war

  1. A fascinating illustrated story of rebuilding after the ravages of war… Let’s hope that the recovery is also taking place in the hearts of the people who were so deeply wounded by war trauma.

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