Five years ago I started to travel the Balkan. A rather unfamiliar part of Europe for me which I wanted to get know closer. Therefore I had booked a hiking trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina. I borrowed a guidebook from the public library – they only had one. In the guidebook they claimed that there are still minefields in the mountains. One should stick to the marked routes. I had not considered this before. Well, the war in Bosnia. The term indicates the war period in this area between 1992 and 1995. Immediately I had to think of Srebrenica, the killing of 8.000 muslims and the failure of the UN-member countries. I borrow another two books that deal with that sad topic.
Then, beginning of June, I arrive in Trebinje, about 40 km away from Dubrovnik. On site we meet Sinija, our tour guide in Bjela Gora, the white mountains. Bjela Gora is a 90 km2 big high plateau within the Orjen-mountains within the border land of Montenegro to Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is located on a hight between 1200 and 1500 above sea level. Sinija leads us across blooming mountain trails and tells us about the local flora and fauna. He owns a hut in the mountains and cooks for us – big portions. We are only six, however Sinija cooks for an army. Later on the goats of the neighbouring farmer with get the rest of the meal. Sinija served in three different armies: The Jugoslavian Army, the Bosnian Army and lastly in the American Army, positioned in Iraq for two and a half years: “When we came there, we knew why nobody from the Americans wanted to do the job.” His dry comment on two wars is: “It is all about money.” Now Sinija works for a local electrical company as a driver and from time to time he takes tourists to Bjela Gora.
Our tour guide Adis, 29 years old and from Sarajevo, fled with his family to German during the Bosnian war – somewhere in the Ruhr Area. There he learned to speak German fluently. He strengthened his linguistic profiency in school back in his home country – there was a special programme for returnees, he said. Funded by foreign donors somehow. I did not know that. I like the idea and I wonder why they do not offer the same programme to refugees in Germany right now. Let them learn the language to offer them a connection to the host country as well as giving them a better future perspective after their return home.
In summer Adis works a tour guide, in winter he acts as masseur on a cruise ship. He has seen a lot of the world already, i.e. South Africa and India. He saves his earnings for the construction of a house in Sarajevo. He will go to sea for another year after that he wants to settle down in Sarajevo. Inshah’ allah. Benjamin also, our hiking guide in the Sutjeska National Park and later in the Olympic mountains of Sarajevo, came to Germany during the Bosnia war. He also speaks German very well. He briefly talks about his family’s dramatic escape to Germany. I have a lot of respect for the three guys. None of them seem to have neither lost his courage nor his humour. They have adapted themselves to the circumstances, they found niches for their lives and maybe they left their war experiences behind. Men with nerves of steel. Bosnian bears as they call themselves.
Within the conversations I realize the adoration of the former Yugoslavian head of state Tito respectively for Tito’s Yugoslavia – expressed independently. Under the rule of Tito Yugoslavia was strong and independent. They were neither dependent on the West nor on the East. One could travel everywhere without a Visa. And now? Who are the now?
When we arrive in Sarajevo we also visit the former supply tunnel at the airport of Sarajevo, the tunnel of hope how it is officially called. The pictures and relics of war are nightmarish. I get a notion what it must have been like to live in a city that has been sieged for four years and been shot from the mountains by Serbs with precision guns. Later on we take the so called Sniper-Alley down to Sarajevo city centre. One cannot understand the madness of war, one can only register it – rudimentary. Both, in Sarajevo as well as in Mostar, one can still find houses with bullet holes in it – traces of war, not to mention the numerous burial sites.
During the journey I got to know not only magnificent nature, good food and hospitality but I also gained insight in what war means to the destinies of individuals. I hope for all Bosnians and any other people that such pictures and memories will ultimately belong to the past.