Sarajevo

Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, is a very nice place to visit and to which I hope to return. There’s a tendency for Western tourists to visit so that they can see some war porn, but that’s not why one should travel to Sarajevo. To be sure evidence of the siege won’t be hard to find, but Sarajevo is a beautiful city with a rich history and a fascinating culture.

Go to Sarajevo because it is nice, not because people were killed there.

The image above is of Bascarsija, which is an old Ottoman era bazaar. Here can be found the world’s most unique latte; small Turkish coffee style. The city is not as multicultural as it once was, one could argue that the city before and after the war are two different cities, but evidence of its multicultural heritage is also not hard to find.

The thing I liked most about Sarajevo is that you have no idea it is there until the very last second of driving. You’re literally surrounded by nature and then, bang, you’re in the centre of town.

One thing not hard to find is the US embassy, a massive structure which was the Marshal Tito army barracks during the socialist period. It’s hard not to think that the Americans, partly, choose this location to graphically show who’s the boss now.

When I was there I experienced some little Balkan stupidities. Like in a bookshop I struck up a good conversation with someone who insisted that my “Bosnian” was very good, whereas in Belgrade I was told by a Taxi driver that my “Serbian” was very good. In the former Yugoslavia language and nationalism can be a toxic brew.

A recent declaration of noted linguists throughout the former Yugoslavia made the, correct, point that the peoples of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro speak the same, polycentric, language a notion anathema to the region’s nationalists.

Nationalism, unfortunately, continues to hold sway in the region not least because for local political and economic elites, who serve the centres of global capital, it remains highly functional. The former Yugoslavia is characterised by a small kleptocratic elite linked to centres of global power. The rapacious elites can do as they please so long as they continue to follow orders. The rest of the population is left to carve out a living as best it can.

That’s the standard third world model.

Yugoslavia, interestingly enough, was one of the founders of the third world non-aligned movement (alongside India and Egypt) which was designed to open up an autonomous space for developing countries to pursue their own path to social and economic development free of external domination.

One of the main achievements of the nationalists of the region has been the return of much of the territory of the former Yugoslavia to its former third world status, an achievement, to be fair, they share with the region’s neoliberals many of which can be found in supposedly left wing parties.

This the nationalists call national liberation.