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Wednesday, September 18: Day 149 – Cross on a Hill

Vedad picked us up in Mostar for an all-day tour. He first acknowledged that his nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is confusing but has such great potential.

Prior to the war 1992-1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) had the highest percentage of mixed marriages and had a relatively peaceful tri-existance with a population make-up of 51% Bosnian Muslim, 32% Serbian Orthodox and 15% Croatian Catholic.

At one point, the population of BiH was 3.7 million but is now dropping due to unemployment. Sixty percent of college graduates cannot find employment. Mortality rate exceeds the birth rate and others are leaving to find work. There is a 40,000 reduction in population each year.

St. Louis is sometimes called “Little Bosnia” as there are 80,000 Bosnians now living there who were originally war refugees. Everyone has family living outside the country.

In October 2018, Bosnia and Herzegovina had democratic elections with only 55% turnout. I think that they have a similar issue as Americans. They don’t vote if they don’t like the candidates.

After the vote was over, the elected officials can’t agree on how to move forward. They have three presidents which represent three separate people groups that rotate every eight months, so not much gets done. Sixty-two percent of the budget goes for administration. They are well paid for doing nothing.

And for anything to get done, all three presidents must agree, and it must be unanimous. That never happens. They can never be part of NATO or the European Union since the Serbian President would vote “no” since they are tied to Russia.

There are 126 political parties so one needs a coalition to get anything done. BiH has democracy. It works on paper but not in practice. Peace and time are needed to appreciate democracy.

Even the national anthem is controversial. There are no words because there is no agreement.

Schools are affected and they are not supporting reconciliation in the young. Cyrillic and Latin languages are taught every other week. English is mandatory. For Vedad, learning English started in the 4th grade, but today it may be even earlier. The television programs have English subtitles which helps to reinforce language acquisition.

There are three versions of history: Bosnian Muslim, Serb and Croat. Schools are segregated. There are even two bus stations. (Sometimes it sounds like the segregated south in the USA.)

The Boulevard is the dividing line betwen Croatian Catholics and Bosnian Muslims. I saw very few women wearing a hijab and wondered if that was because of standing out.

Vedad comes from a Bosnian Muslim family. He attended religious classes, but his parents did not force their beliefs on them. He was six when the war ended. He remembers being cold and wet. He does not like the sound of sirens.

His home in East Mostar was burned, and he was without access to food, water, and electricity for two years.

His father was in a Croatian concentration camp for a little over four months and lost 66 pounds. Vedad did not recognize him when he returned home. His wise father knows that there are good people in all groups.

After the fighting stopped, nine billion dollars were sent to rebuild, but a corrupt system full of bribes means rebuilding doesn’t move quickly. Vedad was schooled as a construction engineer, but left that job since he did not like being the boss of a crew witnessing rebuilding abuses.

He became a waiter, but it was hard with long hours on your feet (30,000 steps/day). After seven years he started giving tours in his brother’s company.

Mostar topped out its landfills ten years ago. Vedad isn’t sure where the trash ends up today, but that seems like small potatoes compared to other problems that they are facing. He indicated that the Swedes are so far ahead in trash management that they are importing trash.

Mostar is one of the sites of the Red Bull Cliff diving championships. I have no idea what these guys are saying but you can watch some cool dives. This is a growing event for the city of Mostar.

In the 17th century, a Turkish traveler saw boys around age 13-14 jumping off the bridge.

Most means bridge and mostari means bridge keepers. The famous arched bridge is Mostar’s landmark.

There used to be a wooden bridge connecting both sides of the city, but it was washed away often during the rainy season.

A request was made during Ottoman times to Sultan Suleyman for him to approve the building of a permanent bridge. It took nine years to build the famous arched bridge. The builder wasn’t completely sure that it would hold when the scaffolding was removed.

The bridge withstood 60 hits in the war in 1993. They put tires on it to try to repel the bombs. But then it collapsed. The bombers claim that it was a causalty of war that couldn’t be averted??? When it fell, it must have felt like the twin towers falling on 911.

The new old bridge was recontructed using stones from the same quarry as the original and construction methods were the same used by the Turks. Many nations provided support and funding. In 2005, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.

We went to Blagaj along the beautiful Buna River for breakfast. There are 230 rivers and tributaries in BiH.

BiH has strong winter winds.
The Mediterranean climate gives 250 sunny days.

There is a dervish house that sits at the base of a 1000′ high cliff. This building served as a place for Sufi travelers to stay. It is well-preserved and was not harmed during war.

We rode a boat into the cave. The water of cobalt blue color went from 3m deep to a 100m hole. During 9 months out of the year, the cave is under water.

We drove further and saw a channel which was formed by a 12th century earthquake. The channel is green due to algae and minerals and runs into the Nverana River. It is 12 meters deep.

Next, we went to Pocitelj. Originally, it was a stronghold against the advancing Ottomans.

It had been completely destroyed by the Croatian army across the river. Vedad indicated that rebuilding funds mostly go to the larger cities. It has been partially rebuilt, and there are 24 people living there today. It used to be one of the 100 untouched cities in world.

We went to the “Niagara of Bosnia” called Kravice Waterfalls meaning “little house”. There used to be a bridge over to the island, but it has been taken down ahead of the rains. The water was very cold. This little girl needed her dad’s help…and he had three girls!!!

Mostar Heros Outside BiH

For two weeks Jeremy Bowen risked his life to photograph the horrors of life in Mostar entitled “Unfinished Business”. He wanted to show the world this hell on Earth. Watch here.

This is a sad hero, but his sacrifice should be remembered. Graham Bamford set himself on fire to bring attention to war killings and the fact that Britain was doing nothing.

We finished our day at the top of the hill overlooking Mostar called Fortica. There is a flag at the top, but it really doesn’t have a lot of local meaning as it was designed by someone working in the European Union.

Rain was coming so wind was very strong and the temperature fell to 57°F. Normally, Mostar is so hot that the locals debate which is hotter: Mostar or hell. Mostar is the warmest city in Europe due to the surrounding mountains.

Vedad gave us a passionate history lesson complete with a dry erase board. He is good at explaining the unexplainable.

I commented that there is a wonderful cross at the top of the hill since I assumed that it was there to pray for the city.

Vedad thought that the cross was a disgusting provocation. I was shocked. For me, the cross is the only thing in this world that makes sense.

Vedad said that the Croatian Catholics put it up there as an intimidation. How sad!

I learned of a book written by a now Christian who lived in Mostar and talked further about the cross and how many people have been hurt by this symbol.

Cross on a Hill: A Personal, Historical, and Biblical Search for the True Meaning of a Controversial Symbol by Slavko Hadžić and Joshua Irby.

Vedad wants reconciliation, not revenge. “If you want revenge, you’d better dig two graves.” Revenge has no end.

Forgiveness even outdoes reconciliation. Forgiveness isn’t just a word; it is a VERY difficult act. If one can’t forgive, unforgiveness eats away your soul. Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and then waiting for it to kill your enemy.

Vedad told us that he is encouraged that visitors come to his country. Their smile means that despite all of the aggression and killing, the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina survived.

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