There are several reasons leading a war to start and it is hard to define the real timeline of events. It is the case in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Lebanon. I personally don’t know the whole story and even if I knew, I wouldn’t be able to say who is right and who is wrong. I’m not taking sides, I’m not defending anyone. I’m simply a traveller who noticed striking common points between three cities: Sarajevo, Belgrade and Beirut, related by a painful past of wars. Now that I started with a disclaimer, here’s what I have to say…
This year I visited some new countries in the Balkans and the Middle-East. I went to Bosnia and Herzegovina last winter followed by Serbia and just recently to Lebanon. I noticed that those countries have one thing in common: a strong history of wars. More specifically fresh wars that just happened the last two decades and can be summarised in tragic memorable dates: 1992, 1999 and 2006. There is a direct involvement of Serbia on war-torn Bosnia in 1992 during the Yugoslavian crisis. However, Lebanon is far far away but its situation is very similar.
Bosnia has been divided between three religious parties strongly involved in taking the reigns of the country. On one side, Muslim Bosniak, on another Catholic Croats and lastly Orthodox Serbs. They all fought to break the other which has even led to genocides and mass murders throughout the region. Similarly but way much more complicated situation happened in Lebanon’s 15 years civil war in 1975: Christians and Muslims involved in a terrible civil war. The independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina was the most difficult in Yugoslavia and the bloodiest. The Siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. It lasted over 3 years! It resulted in so many casualties from both sides. The war lasted until 1995.
During another conflict relating to Kosovo’s independence, Belgrade was attacked by NATO forces in 1999. A couple of months of heavy bombardements and a strong aggression of innocent civilians. People still remember it as if it was yesterday. The city has known a chaos for a couple of months but I’ve been told that warnings have been issued to civilians before targets have been shot. This is a great effort from the NATO but it never reduced the pain of innocents who still don’t accept the United States involvement in this conflict and developed lot of hate towards Uncle Sam.
Beirut has been bombed recently in 2006 by Israel. I remember watching the news and see the aggression happen in front of my TV set. Lebanon had its own internal problems that dates back to the civil war but when war broke again in 2006, it was more about unity to fight one enemy. Apparently, Hezbollah was popular during this war. However, more than 1500 civilians lost their lives. The city was under siege as Israel attacked from air and sea, even Beirut’s Rafic Al Hariri Airport was bombed leaving so many people stranded.
Holiday Inn tragedies
There was a destroyed hotel in Sarajevo, the Holiday Inn. It still stands there since the 90s. It is quite symbolic. But strangely, in Beirut, I saw a bullet-riddled Holiday Inn too. Its destruction dates back to the 70s and is still there, standing at the line that used to divide Beirut into two. I’ve been told that if someone crosses this line, he or she is killed by the other party. I guess that the Holiday Inn was the one to get all shots while being at the middle as well as other hotels at the front which is nicknamed as “Battle of the Hotels”. Unlucky past for Holiday Inn…
In Belgrade, there is a huge government building that has been completely destroyed during NATO’s involvement (in other people’s business; ok, that’s my personal opinion) in 1999 and nothing has been moved or removed. It stayed as it was for so many years until now. I could see offices with all their furnitures, even computers. Things are still as they were the minute it was bombed. In Sarajevo, I saw the Olympic Museum that has incurred several damages but is there as a memory of a much more important event, the successful 1984 Winter Olympics organised there. Throughout Sarajevo, I found traces of red painted on the floor which symbolises the memories of key places where mass murders occurred. All over Beirut, I found abandoned and destructed houses from all wars. It really is sad.
War through their eyes
In Sarajevo, I met a man who saw me walking on the streets and interrupted me to tell me that the Serbs burnt a library with its 3 million books. It is a memory that this man holds. But because of his age, he probably lived more than one war. I heard so many stories about war in Sarajevo and people were talking about it openly as if they want to let the world know what they have endured. People in Beirut were a bit less willing to talk about it. Instead, they try to forget using entertainment as a tool to their happiness, they love music and enjoy taking care of themselves and live as if there is no tomorrow. It was a bit hard to engage a conversation about war but instead I let it come naturally. But sadly, they are just sitting and waiting for another war as they feel like it’s a habit now. Additionally, Lebanese people living outside Lebanon are more than those living in Lebanon. They have strongly been displaced as result of wars. Sarajevo has several cemeteries for the martyrs of the war. Similarly, Beirut dedicated a whole square to its martyrs simply called: Martyrs Square.
Sarajevo is slowly rebuilding itself but the overall economic and social position of the country is weak. And its political situation still unstable. But there is some hope. New buildings are built, the Old Town looks still authentic and Bosnia accepts investments from the Middle East to build new projects. Belgrade is the capital of Yugoslavia and now the capital of Serbia so it conserves its status of big city and a hint of superiority could be felt in its streets. The city rebuilds itself but is becoming too westernised for my taste. Beirut, is the pearl of the Middle East and tries to always conserve this status. The whole town is rebuilt with lot of dynamism and ambition, people make so many effort and try to move on.
Cycles of violence couldn’t be broken easily. And that is all around the world, particularly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Listen, I’m not Fox News, CNN or Al Jazeera. I’m not here to scare you. I have to admit that I felt very safe in all those cities even though I was scared myself before going there. There is almost zero risk a war would happen again in Bosnia or Serbia in the future. However, the risk is greater in Lebanon but still is a safe place to visit.
I come from a peaceful country, Morocco, where I was not affected by any war throughout my life there but hearing their stories, I could only wish for more love, more construction and more unity. I wish we could all enjoy our diversity as humans no matter what we are: Christians, Muslims or Jews. We are all one and I wrote this article to share some memories that I’ve never lived myself but I was carried away by people’s testimonials and unforgettable traces of destruction. I can conclude that a city carries memories and never forgets. Its soul is unbreakable while its heart wishes it will never bleed again. Never.