30 minutes ago
Sarajevo is extraordinary. That’s the first thing that struck me on arriving in the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina: walking along cobbled streets squashed between tall, imperial townhouses, at times reminiscent of Vienna, before emerging into fountained plazas where the call to prayer wafts down from Ottoman minarets – reverberating in market squares where stray cats stalk amongst fabrics and spice – and quite suddenly I could have sworn I’d been transported to Istanbul. When travel guidebooks roll out that overplayed line about East-meets-West– usually in reference to somewhere like Prague or Budapest – I’d wager they haven’t been to Sarajevo; because this is where it’s happening. It is a cultural frontier like no place I’ve seen in Europe, and yet it is as inclusive, as welcoming, as it is alluring. It’s not just the buildings that make Sarajevo beautiful, though – the minarets, the bridges, the steep streets filled with the smell of fresh pastries – nor even the dramatic landscape that wraps about it from north and south; but there is moreover a feeling of community here, a multiculturalism writ large in crosses and crescents and stars, spelled out in Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic and Hebrew text. Ironically, it was this same multiculturalism that made Sarajevo such a fertile battlefield for the nationalist factions that would come to dominate the region in the wake of a disintegrating Yugoslavia. In that time of uncertainty, fear of the Other would become the driving force of atrocity… and in Sarajevo, a city that stood for everything nationalism isn’t, 11,541 citizens would be murdered over the course of the longest city siege in modern history. I’ll warn you now, this story won’t always be an easy read. But I feel I owe the victims (both living and dead) that much – the world media might have stopped talking about the war in Bosnia long ago, but people here are still living with its effects. And besides… with nationalism once again on the rise across the Western world, I believe this might be a conversation worth revisiting.