During the two weeks of the CSRS scoping visit to BiH at the end of January/ beginning of February 2018, I was amazed by the beauty of this land on the Balkan Peninsula, even though it was the middle of winter. I marvelled at the rich, colourful traditional treasures at the market square in Sarajevo and the diverse ethnicities that have transcended good and bad times, peace and war. The towns sat in the palms of the highlands, and on the shoulders of the ranges. Villages stood resolute in the shadow of the skies, spanning the length and breadth of the countryside, captivating imagination and defying the sense of time with their medieval setting and steep-roofed houses.
But the trauma of the 1992-95 war persisted in beautiful BiH. While some homes brimmed with life, others next door were crumbled with no life in sight. They stood empty, some with their doors and windows boarded up, maybe for 20 years now. Many boldly showed their scars of war. Like the people that may have once lived in them, the houses were also a casualty in many ways. They remained cold – maybe forever. I gathered that their occupants were either dead or had reportedly moved abroad, unable to live in the same neighbourhood where they had experienced the treachery of war. Many had bullet holes in their walls, their roofs falling in. But they weathered on, resolute to overcome decay. Peering at the horizon. Waiting. Waiting for their owners to come home.
Perhaps there is endurance in their story. Perhaps they are the very essence of resilience, reminding the viewer of the long history of co-existence among Christians and Muslims. Perhaps they stand there, boldly showing off their heroic marks of endurance to their people, challenging them to pick up the pieces of their history again.
From Sarajevo to Vareš, Tuzla, Brčko, Banja Luka and Prijedor. The story of this nation is on its buildings. On the second day of February, as the CSRS team prepared for a meeting at the NGO Izvor in downtown Prijedor, I stared across the road at empty buildings with holes in their walls. Next to the NGO office block, to the right, was another shell, towering above us, its balconies empty and in decay. And to the left of the building was a flashy house, newly redesigned – a pleasant sight indeed. So close together, yet not really close. The new BiH and the old existing side by side, they are in sight of each other, they keep together – the old, and the new, the historical and the current. Perhaps this is a sign of communities beginning to patch-up, however slowly.
Yet, I sensed a kind of tension silently festering on, and eating away into the fabric of this nation. Some buildings are waiting. Others are not. Some survivors have received civilian status of war, and are entitled to a monthly remittance from the Federal government. But survivors outside the Federation, such as in Banja Luka and Prijedor, have been left out. They have no civilian status of war. They are unhappy, like the empty houses in various stages of war-decay. Everywhere we went, I felt the tension. Between the empty houses and those brimming with life. Between the have and the have-nots. It is a country in transition. Or, is it?