and yet, there is hope

14Aug15

One of our stops on this month-long trip was a few locations in Bosnia (Sarajevo and Mostar). For those of you who are old fogeys like us, you may remember the breakup of Yugoslavia into independent countries in the early 1990s… mainly defined by religion. As one of our tour guides told us at one point, religion defines regions and boundaries in the Balkans.

Most of the countries are fairly homogenous in terms of religion. However, Bosnia remains mixed: it contains Bosniaks, who are Muslim (not to be confused with Bosnians, who are the entirety of the country’s residents); Serbs, who are Eastern Orthodox; and Croats, who are Catholic. Different regions and cities contain different ratios of each–for instance, Sarajevo is primarily (about 80%) Muslim, so the call to prayer dominates. Mostar, however, is more split; so while the Muslim call to prayer is at set times of the day, we found that some of the Catholic church bells rang at the same time, drowning out the call to prayer. Interesting. The Croat and Bosniak sides of Mostar are on opposite sides of the river, and I understand that the two do not play well together…

Yet, the cities and country live at peace. For now. It’s hard for me to understand how this country lives at peace, while the three religious groups refuse to work together. One Bosnian tour guide told us that there are three different presidents for the country (each representing each religion) and they rotate out every 8 months… !!! and that he can’t even keep track. Most of the younger generation isn’t nationalist… yet this tour guide said he would never marry outside his family’s religion, since it would be offensive to his parents, who fought for the nation’s freedom.

Freedom? Disjointed freedom… and a lack of progress, according to the young people. sadly. No one in Bosnia has any hope for the future.

On the other hand, Serbia, who went through not only the war for independence but also the Kosovo conflict in the late ’90’s, seems to be moving forward, at least in Belgrade. There is hope! They have a long way to go (our money took us far, let’s just say) but Belgrade is forward-thinking and making progress. It has a reputation for nightlife, but Belgrade is so much more than that. (Looking ahead to my next trip to Serbia already!)

As we head into elections season in the US, I appreciate having had this comparison, traveling through Bosnia. How different we are… but how similar we are, too? Are we getting to the point of two major parties who don’t want to talk to each other? Hopefully never to the point of war…

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