Sunday, December 4


After leaving Slovenia, I spent a few days in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. I stayed with a very nice couple, of which the girl, Mirta, was born in Canada. She moved to Croatia, oddly enough, in 1992. This was when the war of independence with Serbia was in full swing. Though luckily, she never saw much of the war, as Zagreb never came under major attack. Apparently, her father was very patriotic, and felt it was his duty to come back to fight the Serbians.

As near as I can tell, most of the tensions in the region started to come to a head when Slobodan Milosevic started to nationalize the political structure in the late 1980s. In the past, regions such as Slovenia and Croatia had much more autonomy, but Milosevic wanted to centralize most of the decision making in Belgrade. He didn't do this with enough grace, and in the end alienated these regions to the point where they were wanting to form their own countries.

In 1990 and 1991, Slovenia and Croatia held referendums on independence, which passed by a landslide. But keep in mind that the Serbs in Croatia boycotted these, so it wasn't quite so unanimous as it appeared. They both declared their independence shortly afterwards, and the Yugoslavian army rolled in a few days later.

Serbia's official motivation was the protection of the Serb minority. It's hard to say how much the violence escalated things, but the ethnic Serbs mostly fled to Serbia. In the international media, it's seen as having been more of an operation to keep the country together, similar to tactics used by the Soviets in eastern Europe. Yet since the Serbs lacked the absolute military dominance of the Soviets, the regions were able to fight back with a hope of winning, despite still being heavily out-gunned.

In the end, the major fighting on Croatian soil only lasted for about two years, though there were little spats until the official end of the war in 1995. Most of the fighting in the later years took place in Bosnia.

After Zagreb, I went to Split, a coastal city and the focal point of Croatian tourism. It was hard to believe I was in the same country as Zagreb. Being in the mountains, it treated me to a blizzard, perhaps to keep me from feeling too home sick. Yet Split felt just like Italy or the Cote D'Azur, not just in terms of architecture, but also climate. Unfortunately, the blizzard must have been following me, as a small hurricane hit the town the next day. But instead of snow, it was more like a tropical storm.

While in Split, I met two locals, who had interesting perspectives on their history. The first was Ivana, a girl who was half Serb and half Croate. Understandably, she wasn't very accustomed to talking about the local politics. Her family had learned to keep a lower profile. The other was Mara, who told me stories that left quite an impression. She talked about growing up in Split in the early 1990s. Although the city didn't come under any major attacks, Serb airplanes used to approach from time to time, and everyone had to run to bomb shelters. Each time the alarm would go off, someone would wait on a tall building for everyone to start the dash to the shelter. He would then try to pick off as many people as possible with a sniper riffle. She was about fourteen at the time, and would make this run clutching her teddy bear, while bullets were hitting the sidewalk around her. These sort of situations are impossible for most of us who were lucky enough to grow up in safe countries to imagine. Of course, the saddest part is that she had it relatively easy compared to people in the towns that were actually shelled, or of course, to people in Bosnia.

Bosnia. It held a referendum on independence in early 1992. Again, it passed by a landslide, but this was again due to the Bosnian Serbs having boycotted it. All hell soon broke lose.

Ethnic Serbs represented a much larger percentage of the population in Bosnia than in Croatia. Still, they were the minority. Throughout the war, the combined army of Serbs and Bosnian Serbs was out-manned, but were much more well armed. There was also a sizable ethnic Croatian population, and so Croatia got involved in the conflict from the early stages as well.

Over 100,000 people died in the war, mostly civilians. I'm told that convicted rapists and murderers were commuted and brought into the army, as they didn't have enough recruits. This led to horrible abuses of prisoners of war and civilians by all sides, with some of the worst examples being rape camps to 'ethnically improve' certain regions.

Though the war was fought between three groups, the Bosnians and Croatians were usually on the same side. Sometimes they would break down into squabbles over territory that they mutually controlled, leading to a complete battle royal.

Both the Serbs and Croates justified their actions as protecting their kin. Although the ethnic Serbs suffered horrible abuses as well, as in Croatia, it's hard to say how much the military actions escalated this. How many atrocities would have happened had the war been avoided and Bosnia been allowed to democratically succeed? It's impossible to be sure.

The Croates and Bosnians officially made peace in 1994, and the Serbs signed a similar agreement the next year, effectively dividing the country into two autonomous regions, drawn along ethnic lines.

The 'capital' of the Serb region is Banja Luka, in the north of the country. This was where I wanted to go after Split, but the bus schedule was a rude surprise. Although there were four buses a day to Sarajevo, there was only one a week to Banja Luka. It left at 11pm Sunday night, and got into Banja Luka at 5am the next day. Apparently there's still a fair amount of resentment between Croatia and the Serb region of Bosnia, and both sides take little jabs at each other when they get the chance. Sometimes tourists get caught in the middle.

I'd been in touch with Berengere, a girl from France who was teaching French in Banja Luka. She offered to let me stay with her, and didn't even mind me getting in at such a horrible hour to let me in. She showed me a great time while I was there, and introduced me to several other people in the French community there, some of which had been refugees in France during the war.

I also got to meet two other Bosnians, Alex and [another] Ivan, through the Couchsurfing website. Ivana told me about how much she wants to travel, but how her visa applications keep getting rejected. Bosnians need a visa for almost every country in the world. Canada is in fact one of the hardest countries to get into, with a completely anal immigration process. I already knew about this from friends in Montreal who had gone through the process [Eugene, Mehdi], but after meeting such a nice person who so desperately wanted to see some other places, it reminded me of exactly how stupid the whole thing is. Canada has more than enough space to absorb the entire population of the Balkans, if we were to just tell them that they couldn't move to Toronto.

Berengere was planning on going to Sarajevo for a conference at the French embassy, and so after spending the night at a concert put on by Alex's band, we went down to catch an early morning bus.

The drive to Sarajevo left quite an impression. Seeing the bombed out houses, mostly near the ethnic divide, was the clearest testament to the violence that ended just ten years ago. It's also considered quite dangerous to go hiking in the forests, as they still haven't cleared the land mines.

Sarajevo is the capital of the country, and is almost entirely Bosniak [Muslim]. Although most in the middle of the city aren't very religious, you're much more likely to see the girls wearing veils in the poorer suburbs. I can't help but find it weird to see girls with blonde hair and blue eyes dressed in traditional Muslim attire. Apparently their ancestors were converted from Christianity back in the days of the Ottoman Empire.


Anonymous be said...

thanks for your enlightening post

11:21 a.m.  
Blogger berengere said...

Dragi Ian,

J'espère que tu vas bien. From your last login, i can see that you' re in Croatia. But maybe you're in Mostar.Dunno.
Ok, comme tu me l'avais demandé, voilà un liste de chanteurs et groupes français que j'aime bien (dont j'ai les CD) Il n'y a pas d'ordre particulier. Peut-etre que si je mets ça sur ton blog, even in french, quelqu'un pourra en profiter... ;-)

BERTRAND BURGALAT, label Tricatel (un label assez rigolo, assez saugrenu en fait, eclectique, qui va du kitschy-pop au punk rock)

JACQUES DUTRONC incontournable, icône des 60's, chanteur à textes, engagé, décalé, cynique ironique, cigare et lunettes de soleil indévissable..écouter au moins « et moi et moi et moi » et « les cactus ». Continue sa carrière, ponctuellement, en solo.

SERGE GAINSBOURG autre chanteur mythique français, reconnu dès ses débuts (early 60's), poète aux oreilles de chou, amoureux des femmes et ttes autres substances psychotropes, à la hauteur d'un Rimbaud des temps modernes...décédé il y a 10 ans, laisse derrière lui ses orphelines : Jane Birkin, sa femme (« je t'aime moi non plus »), Charlotte et Lou, ses filles, entre autres...
Dans les 60's, autres incontournables, BORIS VIAN (le poète, l'écrivain), BARBARA (la grande dame brune), etc...mais ça date....

KATERINE (PHILIPPE) completement décalé, cynico-kitsch, un régal pour les textes, sur une musique psycho-pop. Albums conseillés : « les creatures » et « 8ème ciel »
THE LITTLE RABBITS : débutent dans les années 80's comme groupe plutot rock ne connais pas leur carrière dès le début,moi ce que j'aime c'est l'album d'il y a 3 ou 4 ans.. « la grande musique ».Style à la Katerine.
JULIEN RIBOT « hotel bocchi » un peu à la katerine, plus poétique moins revendicateur.
M « je dis aime » que des tubes, ambiance à la katerine.

JAVA « hawai » et LA RUDA SALSKA « l'odyssée du réel » : du bon ska pour sauter pendant des heures en pogo, textes hilarants.

DOMINIQUE A, BENJAMIN BIOLAY, THOMAS FERSEN, DICK ANNEGARN, VINCENT DELERM, MATHIEU BOOGAERTS, FLORENT MARCHET, ALBIN DE LA SIMONE, CALI courant actuel de chanteurs à textes, mélodiques, minimalistes, tous plus ou moins dans la meme veine avec de légères variations (voix, thèmes, arrangements...)

ETIENNE DAHO : une voix à faire tomber les filles ;-)

MICKEY 3D « la treve », DIONYSOS « western sous la neige », DIABOLOGUM « de la neige en été » : de la bonne pop, originale sans etre révolutionnaire, mi 90's.

BRIGITTE FONTAINE tarée.indescriptible.

MANO SOLO « la marmaille nue », MANO NEGRA « king of bongo » (a travaillé avec Manu Chao), LES TETES RAIDES « viens! » , LA TORDUE, LES OGRES DE BARBACK, DEBOUT SUR LE ZINC « l'homme à tue-tete » : courant de musique rock-folk à textes, festif, très à la mode il y a maintenant 10 ans (ou presque) Va du mélancolique au 100% pêchu.

YANN TIERSEN souvent instrumental,a fait la musique du film « amélie poulain »


Bon, après y a tout ce qui est y en a ....principalement ROUDOUDOU et GENERAL ELECTRICS ils sont super, totalement fous.
Sinon en électro plus classique y a bien sur AIR, DAFT PUNK, TELEPOPMUSIK.................
enfin dis moi si tu en veux plus!
Comme je ne sais pas trop ce que tu écoutes en général (enfin, si, tu as mis quelques noms sur ton profile couchsurfing) je m'arretes là puis de toutes façons tu peux très bien aimer qqchose qui est d'un style tt à fait autre que ce que tu écoutes d'habitude...
Je t'embrasse (can I?)

8:37 a.m.  
Blogger ian said...

first to berengere, merci pour ca :) j'irai les essayer quand, enfin, je suis chez moi. pour le moment, je n'ai pas un stereo pour les ecouter :/

comme j'ai deja dit, tu peux toujours m'embrasse :) bizz a toi aussi, et a plus tard, j'espere!

now then, be, this one confuses me. if you're just someone browsing that happened to read the post, all the more power to you. but your blog isn't on a topic that is something i would expect. oh well...

8:32 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry to hear that you havent visited Banja Luka
I was google-ing something about my city - banjaluka , and found your blog :)
btw. in banjaluka theres 1:7 male:female :) :)
i suggest visiting on summer :)

2:47 p.m.  

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