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New Europe

Day Fourteen: Mostar to Sarajevo

A wet day in Sarajevo 
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A wet day in Sarajevo. Rebuilding of mosques (like the one in the background) and churches was given priority in post-war reconstruction.
Michael Palin - New EuropeThen I make the mistake of trying to make instant sense of all this.

'But there's still a Serbian republic within Bosnia & Herzegovina,' I ask with innocent surprise.

Looks are exchanged. Glava explains.

'What do you mean "still"? There has been and always will be a Serb part of Bosnia. It's like asking the Protestants in Belfast why there's still a place called Northern Ireland.'

On the streets of Sarajevo, there's a lively, comfortable bustle, the feel of a city going about its business. It was always the focal point of the Balkans, a place where travellers and traders on their way between Central Europe and the Mediterranean and Western Europe and the East met and mingled, and it remained cosmopolitan and tolerant during the Ottoman occupation. Srdjan reminds me that there was a thriving Jewish community here, with much greater freedom from persecution than almost anywhere else in Europe. A walk through the centre of Sarajevo, he says, is a walk through time, from the old Turkish quarter, through the imperious Art Nouveau facades of the Austro-Hapsburg centre to the Tito-era communist blocks in the west.

As in Mostar, mosques and churches seem to have been restored as a matter of priority and in one square, within a hundred yards of each other, can be found a synagogue, a Catholic church, an Orthodox church, a mosque and a Seventh Day Adventists' meeting hall.

I take a tram back to the hotel. The tramline runs along what was known in the war as Sniper Alley, a place you crossed at your peril. As I step down I look up towards the hills from which the snipers operated with such impunity. They look green, inviting, almost idyllic, dotted with red-roofed villas and bungalows. Only a dozen years ago they were dangerous, malignant places from which the Serb artillery looked down on the city like an audience at a theatre.

Over 11,000 died in the siege of Sarajevo. Ademir says that it took a long time after the war before he could look up at these beautiful mountains without flinching.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Fourteen: Mostar to Sarajevo
  • Country/sea: Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Place: Sarajevo
  • Book page no: 39

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