As a daughter of Croat Bosniaks who originate from Mostar, I have a quite special relationship to the country of Bosnia & Herzegovina. Although my parents emigrated only a few years before the evils of war threw the country into deep chaos and destruction, I could witness the development of the country during the aftermath through my yearly visits.
Based on these observations, I gathered 10 facts that describe what Bosnia & Herzegovina is and what it’s not.
What BiH is
A place where belonging to a ethnic group and religion determine your identity
For someone like me, with a Bosnian background, no question can be more fatal than the question about my ethnic group, because in the country of my ancestors, we distinguish between Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats. I belong to latter group. Each ethnic group corresponds to a religion and this correlation is essential to shape someone’s identity.
Croats attend Catholic Mass on Sundays, whereas Serbs take part in Orthodox ceremonies. Muslims listen to the call for prayer played from the minarets. As it still can be experienced in many families, religion stands in the first place. Mixed marriages became rarer after the war as well as inter-ethical friendships.
Although tolerance is an important value, the tensions among the citizens are still visible. The different members of the ethnic groups stay in their own circles and mistrust the opponent groups.
A place where family is everything
Family in Bosnia & Herzegovina is a safe haven for the young and elderly members. It’s common for the elders to live under the same roof with younger family. Cooking and eating together is practiced daily and help is never too much to ask for. Often a family owns only one single car and many other things are shared to save money.
Traditional values have persisted until today so that kids leave their parental home only when they marry and decide to found their own family. For children, it’s normal to take care of their parents in age and step in whenever a helping hand is needed. The gender roles follow quite a conservative scheme. Women are responsible for home and children. Men are the patriarchs of the family and contribute to its financial security.
A place with a young and quite tragic history
Same as in Jerusalem, people from different religions and ethnic groups coexist and until the 1990s this happened in peace. The invasion of Serbian forces and the Croat-Bosniak war that would follow, disrupted the country. The civil war that broke out, had a destructive impact on almost all parts of life: the economy collapsed and food and water shortages combined with a lack of medical aid resulted in hunger, illness and death.
Especially the widely condemned genocide crimes have caused mistrust among each other. If entire cities are brutally exterminated within a couple of days, while the rest of the world didn’t have the slightest clue, nobody can expect that the people continue their lives as if nothing happened, even after many years of peace. The war in Bosnia has taken thousands of lives, tore apart families and weakened the trust in the state that was supposed to ensure the protection of the civilians.
The scars of the war are still visible in many public places and war monuments don’t let the people forget what big drama occurred here not long ago. Relatives of those who died in the war, but also all survivors of the warfare, especially kids and soldiers, are often traumatized and must overcome many psychological struggles before they can go back to normal life.
A place with rich nature and much space
Whoever did a roadtrip through BiH, won’t forget the beauty of the landscapes for a long time. Endless mountain ranges, dizzying ravines, scenic landscapes and clear tarns add up to a paradise for lovers of nature.
BiH is a green place offering many outdoor activities. Those looking for an exciting roadtrip will be amazed in every sense by the beauty of BiH.
A place where people take the things a bit easier
Even in big cities like Sarajevo and Mostar there is almost no trace of rush. People perform their daily tasks with calmness and ease. Virtues that could make our own lives a bit less stressful.
The more you distance yourself from the cities and the deeper you get into the rural areas of the country, the more quiet it becomes. Here and there you can spot a person working in the fields or kids playing.
What BiH is not
No place for the economy to make giant leaps
Although BiH was once a promising country rich in culture and a progressive lifestyle, this development was stopped by the evils of war. From today’s perspective, BiH has made a giant step towards rebuilding and modernization. Nevertheless, there are still many challenges on they way to economical recovery.
Whoever is looking for a solid infrastructure of public transport, an affordable health care system for all citizens and working places, will be disappointed. Work is scarce and the few who have a job can barely cover rent or pay for food. The support of the government is poor and little what made many people lose trust in these institutions.
No place for expats or emigrants
Whoever decides to settle down in BiH after a prosperous career in the West, is usually a native. Pensioners who worked in Germany, Austria or France can live a life above average in BiH.
However, for foreigners who have the wish to emigrate, BiH may not be a good choice.
This is due to the traumatic history of the country and the limited economical opportunities as well as the cultural barriers.
No place where wounds heal so easily
For someone who passes ruined buildings day by day and hears tragic story about loss and genocide every time when visiting ancestors, it’s nearly impossible to make peace with the past.
Although I was born in Germany during the heat of war, stories about the war keep following me.
Today, I can hardly remember the never ending reports and photos on TV and in newspapers. However, as a child of Bosnian parents you will never really forget them.
Countless visits in my hometown Mostar, the stories of the survivors, the view of demolished houses and streets, the continued hostilities among the different ethnic groups and being raised within my own ethnic group, have made me the person I am today.
No place of mass tourism
Unlike neighboring Croatia, BiH is not flooded with mass tourism. Still, many people have distorted images, or no image at all, about this country, which was the venue of unbelievable violence and violations of human rights.
Who decides to travel to BiH in order to learn about the history of this country, proves that (s)he is not interested in feel-good tourism but rather strives to really understand the core of this country because a journey through BiH will touch you and shake you.
No place to look back
Even though war has thrown the country back many decades in terms of economy, infrastructure and social services, people try to remain hopeful. The well-educated youth is looking forward to a brighter future and tries to find a middle way between tradition and modernity.
The locals are torn between memories of violence and the wish for peace.
Don’t forget, but always forgive is a quote inscribed on monuments around the old bridge of Mostar. This reminder will stay on your mind for a long time after a visit to BiH.