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hidden europe has been on the road this past fortnight, meandering through Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is not a country that gets a lot of attention in the travel media. Sarajevo café life, the bridge at Mostar and the Roman Catholic shrine at Medugorje are the three Bosnian “sights” that travel writers love to cover. But what about the rest of the country?
It is of course a region that endured a terrible war in the 1990s. The Dayton Accord may have been a fine way of ending that war, but it wasn’t necessarily the best possible way of creating an enduring peace. But against the odds, Bosnia and Herzegovina is emerging as a credible multi-national state. Its two entities, the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska, have been cajoled into a precarious co-existence, while the town of Brcko (an enclave that is part of neither entity) is maturing from a wayward market town, where everything from guns to women were traded, into an entrepreneurial pocket of Bosnia where some effort is really made to promote the co-existence of Serbs, Muslims and Croats within a single town.
As with all areas where once there has been conflict, the question of rebuilding monuments, churches, mosques, and other emblematic buildings is a knotty one. Even in Dresden in Germany, the rebuilding of the city’s Frauenkirche (destroyed by American and British bombers in 1945) is laced with controversy. Quite whose memories are being embedded in the new stones?
Similar issues arise in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the world’s media rejoiced a year or two back at the reconstruction of the bridge over the Neretva gorge in Mostar. West European and North American audiences were clamouring for some good news from Bosnia (perhaps conscious that the imposition of a High Representative does not exactly provide a model of democracy.) High flown speeches highlighted how the bridge might stand as a cornerstone of reconciliation, and one dignitary even ventured to suggest that the Mostar bridge might link the worlds of Islam and Christendom. Quite a burden of responsibility for one small bridge to bear.
We may rejoice that the Mostar bridge is back in place, but in the back streets of the city a lot of ordinary mortals are still waiting for their homes and businesses to be rebuilt.