June 18, 2003

burn the bridges

"dude, that town is fucked up."

Sarajevo is battle-scarred. Mostar is gutted.

There has been enough reconstruction that it isn't obvious at first. Stand on one of the hardly-used bridges, above the steep and beautiful ravine atop which the city perches, and it looks postcard-pretty. If you look closer you notice it's too pretty. All the buildings are new.

Go a block to the west and you step into a war zone. This is where the front line was. Rows of half-collapsed heaps of gray concrete and brick, torn open by ragged misshapen gaps like Godzilla took bites out of them, punched full of bullet holes, many of them roofless, covered with dust, full of rubble and trash. Chimneys and random jagged spurs that happened to survive the tank and shellfire jut out like broken bones.

Don't get me wrong. This is not a dead city. The streets are lined with parked cars, bright billboards are posted right in front of the wrecks, and every second or third lot boasts a brightly painted new EU-funded reconstructed building. The relatively-untouched areas, where the buildings are merely pockmarked with small-arms fire, are full of cafes where unemployed men sit listlessly in the heat. But it has been eleven years since the major fighting, eight years since the end of the war, and half the center of the city is still utter devastation. A twelve-story high trapezoidal building stands above the major intersection, blackened by fire, every window blown out.

I passed graveyards, choked with fresh flowers, jammed full of hundreds of graves, every single one of them end-dated 1992.

The west bank of the river is Croatian. The east side is Muslim. Kipling had it right; ne'er the twain shall meet. Not in Mostar. The bridges are not exactly worn thin from overuse.

On the bus back I sat next to a Bosnian-American girl who told me how the evil Croatians cheat her Muslim relatives there out of all the EU money, how war criminals walk the Croatian streets unmolested, how they sneak over to the Muslim side and steal and vandalize. I'm sure the same tales, with the names reversed, are told on the other side of the river. And then, not five minutes after complaining about anti-Muslim sentiment in Mostar, she's talking about the World Trade Center and how she now fears and mistrusts all "black people with beards" and they shouldn't let them into America. This from a UCSD law student.

It is to weep, or laugh hysterically.


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