|Plitvice National Parks in Croatia|
|An Orthodox Cathedral in Belgrade Serbia|
Now, the Balkans. As desperately geeky as it sounds, I have been wanting to see these nations for years. One of the first things that I decided after accepting my study abroad program in Turkey was that I would spend spring break in the Balkans. First of all, Istanbul and Western Turkey have often been described to me as “Balkan”. Seeing as I thought they were just Western Turkish I wanted to know what they were being compared to. Also, the Balkans were under Ottoman rule for centuries so I wanted to see what this influence had been. Surely, these nations would show Osmanli roots as well as the more recent scars of Communist rule. This is the part of the world that an entire movement, Balkanization, is named after. Why is it that these small nations are so demanding for their independence and singularization? And finally, there is of course the war. When I mentioned to my mother that I was going to Bosnia, she wasn’t entirely pleased with the suggestion. I find this war to be an interesting case of dividing where one generation ends and another begins, the difference between history and reality. For me, the Balkan War is the last instance of a historical war. Afghanistan is reality, it is now and I remember its beginning clearly. The Balkans are something that you read about in a history book. I was 3 when the war in former Yugoslavia was brought to an end with the Dayton Peace Accords. I don’t remember news reports about the violence and crimes as they were happening. The Balkan Wars are like the Vietnam War. It happened and we were involved as a nation and terrible things occurred. But it is past and over and is the subject of books, movies, articles, and research projects, not memory. For my parents though, it is a reality. It happened. Hence my mother’s response.
I did do a research project about the war though, during my first year of High School and was slightly overwhelmed by the interweaving conflicts and the mixture of who fought who and why. I had trouble following the timelines, probably because the whole thing was exceptionally complex with both professional armies and huge numbers of paramilitaries and guerrillas splitting towns, slicing them in half and turning main roads into front lines. Croats, Serbs, Bosnians all fought one another in various regions, each trying to stake their claim on land to be their own. No clear front lines were drawn and enclaves, exclaves, autonomous republics and all the rest abounded. I will not try to give anything like an authoritative account because I am not an authority. The conflict was also deemed to be the first instance of genocide in Europe since World War II with forces on all sides being accused of massacring civilians and an entire tribunal being set up at the Hague to prosecute war crimes since prosecutions were not going to happen in home countries. War criminals are still on the loose in the region, since this was a war where most every man fought and defended his homeland, and charges were leveled against the town butcher baker and candlestick maker. Some of the biggest names have been arrested and are facing trial, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, two leading Serbs, were uncovered in the past 5 years. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a region that had been torn apart from unity to half a dozen separate nation states within my lifetime but I was determined to learn.
|Stari Most in Mostar Bosnia|
|View from the walls of Dubrovnik Croatia|