Friday, September 2, 2011

Sarajevo, I wish I knew you

On the road again. This time in Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Hercegovina. See the previous where I am blog post for general political geography of the region. BiH, of course, has it’s own much more complicated political geography that fell out of the split up of the former Yugoslavia, ethnic cleansing, and the Dayton Peace Accords which tried to put humpty-dumpty (BiH) together again. It is a country of contradictions -- the one former Yugoslav state which has a minority-majority population -- where the various ethnic communities have historically mixed and mingled – and where many divisions of the war remain apparent and divide the country making governance a tragic comedy.

If this is so, Sarajevo too is a city of contradictions in ways both parallel and divergent. Once a beautiful city of ethnic coexistence that brought the world the Sarajevo Hagadah, and the 1984 Winter Olympics. And yet such a fraught and terrible history – WWI (which began here with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand), WWII, and most recently a bitter war of ethnic cleansing that destroyed a country. The city of the Sarajevo Hagadah no longer exists – three wars in one century withered the Jewish community beyond recognition. The city of the 1984 Olympics no long exists either – it was destroyed by the war only a few years later. But it remains a fascinating and vibrant place. A place worth knowing. A place that makes you think twice and look deeply.

Sarajevo wears its scars from the war but continues on; it does not look like a city destroyed (ala Detroit, for lack of a better example), nor does it look like a city re-making itself in a new image (see Pristina). It is cosmopolitan in the best sense of the word, mixing people from various ethno-national backgrounds with ease. And yet I know it is far less so than in the past. It is charmingly modern and antique all at once. A big city with the trappings of a small town. It is impossible to describe. Impossible to ignore. Impossible to truly understand. Impossible to be here and not remember so much history.

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