dinsdag 22 januari 2008

Bosna i Herzegovina and much more

What about Bosna I Hercegovina? What about Hercegovina? And what about Mostar who is still divided in 2 parts? What about tradition? What about food? What about music? What about culture? What can I tell you about this country; what can I tell you about my life here?

BiH, with a population around 3.8 million people and Sarajevo as capital city, lies in the heart of southeast Europe. It’s the land where eastern and western civilizations met, sometimes clashed, but more often enriched each other throughout its long and fascinating history. The country is divided into two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Republika Srpska (RS). Main places are Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, Zenica, Mostar and Bihac.
Bosnia covers the north and centre of the country. Its name is probably derived from 'bosnana', an old Indo-European word meaning water and refers to the country's many rivers, streams and springs. The Southern region of ancient Hum, ruled by Herceg Stjepan (Duke Stjepan), was later named Herzegovina after the region was conquered by the invading Ottomans. BiH is a mountainous country in the middle of what used to be Yugoslavia. BiH borders on Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro.
BiH encompasses Mediterranean, Continental and Alpine climates and surprisingly different landscapes with some of the richest flora and fauna in the whole of Europe, all that within a relatively small area (51.129 km²).
The pre-war language of former Yugoslavia was Serbo-Croat. Nowadays, there are three 'official' languages spoken in BiH by three major population groups: Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian. In the Federation only Latin alphabet is used, in the RS you'll see cyrillic signs on the road. These 3 languages are very similar but the differences are very important to the local people. It seems more a political choice, not a linguistic reality. Can you imagine what it means for a stranger to learn the differences between these 3 languages? Everybody understands me if I try to say something but they look also strange when I use Bosnian or Serbian words in the Croatic part of Mostar... But at least I try! ;-)
As BiH lies at the crossroads of eastern and western civilizations, you will find Muslims (44%), Orthodox (32%), Catholics (17%) and Jews, Albanians, Gypsies,... (7%) living here together. Probably you will see churches, mosques and sinagogues in the closest vicinity.
Before the war, BiH concentrated on the production of basic goods and intermediate products. Other regions of former Yugoslavia bought these products and used them to make final consumer products. Because of the war, these buyers had to find new suppliers. After the war, these buyers will only come back to their pre-war suppliers if these suppliers offer the best and cheapest products available on the world market. But with factories in shambles, infrastructure destroyed and workers displaced or killed, producing the best and cheapest products is not an easy task! At roughly 40%, the official unemployment rate indicates a non-functioning economy!
In BiH, people tend to sing. After an hour, somebody starts a 'sevdalinka' and the tone of the evening has been set: there is no more talking from that moment. Instead, songs come and go, with or without instruments, for hours and hours. In just one voice, everybody sings in the same nostalgic folk songs about life before the war. And everybody seems to know them all. Most of this folk music traces its origins to Ottoman times. Most of these songs are songs of love and tragedy. They helped to get through turbulent times.
What about the food? People in BiH take eating and drinking very seriously. The number of coffee shops, bars and restaurants are mind-blowing. Bosnian cuisine uses a wide variety of meat (mostly veal, lamb, chicken and fish) with a lot of cheese and vegetables, certainly red pepper and cabbage. Specialities are cevapi (small grilled sausages with bread and onion) and pita (burek – meat; sirnica – cheese; zeljanica – cheese and spinach; krompirusa – potato). Most of the time they combine it with pavlaka (fresh cream) or kajmak (cheese). Also strange for me was to see how people eat pizza here with ketchup and mayonaise on top! It's a great experience when you are invited with a local family. Every time you think you have enough, an other plate is coming... and don't try to say you have enough!!!!

What about Mostar?
Mostar is situated on the Neretva river and is the fith-largest city in the country. It is divited into two parts after the war: Croats control the westside of the city, Bosniaks the east! Mostar was named after its Old Bridge (Stari Most). During the last war, the bridge was destroyed. A monumental project to rebuild the Old Bridge to the original design and restore surrounding structures and historic neighbourhoods was initiated in 1999 and mostly completed in 2004. In 2005, UNESCO finally inscribed the Old Bridge and its closest vicinity into the World Heritage List!
It is traditional for the young men of the town to leap from the bridge into the Neretva. As the Neretva is so cold, this is a very risky feat and only the most skilled and best trained divers will attempt it. The practice dates back to the time the bridge was built, but the first recorded instance of someone diving off the bridge is from 1664. In 1968 a formal diving competition was inaugurated and held every summer.

But there is much more to discover in Mostar exept for the Old Bridge. There are a lot of mosques you can visit. In some mosques it's even possible to go into the minaret... You can imagine you have a great view from up there! Also the remains of the older Orthodox church on the hills is an interesting place to visit, as is the old cemetery next to it. The Museum of Herzegovina is situated in a beautiful part of the Old Town. It was founded in 1950 to promote the archaeological, ethnographic, literary and cultural history of Herzegovina. The old Catholic Church, which was recently renovated, is nearly impossible to miss. A steeple of over 30m dominates the skyline. The church was heavily damaged during the war and reconstruction has been completed only recently. But believe me there is much much more: Rondo, partisan memorial, kosaca, 4 or 5 shoppingcentres, a lot of nice pubs and places to hang out!

So after reading all this stuff i hope i convinced you to come and visit BiH, come and visit Mostar! You have to see this beauty...

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