photos by nacrowe
bosnia & herzegovinaive live in 8 countries abroad and visited (for at least three days) over 60 countries worldwide. ive been assaulted (ALBANIA), robbed (GREECE), threatened at gunpoint (NIGERIA) and even roofied (CYPRUS) but there are only two countries i hold a grudge against: KUWAIT and SERBIA. i'll leave KUWAIT for another future entry.
maybe it was because i had just visited SARAJVEO or spent 6 months in an ALBANIAN border town with KOSOVO or maybe it was just the fact that the people there were assholes, but i really detested BELGRADE.
its the only place i can think of where i was physically dominated by a priest, imam, monk, etc.. i visited SAINT MICHAEL THE ARCANGEL CATHEDRAL which has ties to the beginnings of SERBIAN identity and statehood and is one of the most important religious buildings in the country (not the CHURCH OF SAINT SAVA pictured above). at midday on a weekday there were no discernable signs saying not to enter. just for context, its their country and i respect their customs. i am not looking for confrontation. when i walked inside (hat off) i looked around quietly and there was literally this robed goon b-lining straight at me full bore and physically pushed me out on the street while screaming at me. it was crazy. again for context i have entered numerous orthodox churchs of varying importance in UKRAINE, GREECE, MACEDONIA, and even RUSSIA with no incident. literally pushed me on the street. no sign, no nothing. you are unwelcome. after that it didnt take much imagination to see why those assholes sanctioned the actions of SLOBIDAN MILOSEVIC back in the 90s. walking in the path of JESUS they very much are.
anyway, i visited BOSNIA partly because in terms of the history of ALBANIA where i was stationed as a PEACE CORPS volunteer, all roads led to BELGRADE in terms of their recent history. BELGRADE pre-SERBIAN independence was just the headquarters of a regional territory under the rule of OTTOMAN TURKS for a few hundred years. it later became the capital of YUGOSLAVIA and thereafter SERBIA. even the ALBANIAN national hero SKENDERBEG's mother was SERBIAN, although they don't like discussing that in polite company.
i am glad that i went solely because i was able to visit JOSIP BROZ TITO's tomb, himself a dictator that had a longstanding non-agression pact with his ALBANIA counterpart ENVER HOXHA. depending on where you are in ALBANIA, the cultural and economic influence of YUGOSLAVIA is profound and constantly referenced by locals. this is something i witness firsthand doing interview in ALBANIA border cities like POGRADEC, HAS, PESHKOPI, KUKES, GOLAJ, BAJRAM CURRI and their nearby analogues in OHRID (MACEDONIA), DEBAR (MACEDONIA), GJAKOVA (KOSOVO) and PRIZREN (KOSOVO). some even thought TITO was a good man. i dont. but i've visited his tomb just like i have many other authoritarian leaders over the years: including HUGO CHAVEZ (VENEZUELA), FRANCISCO FRANCO (SPAIN), HO CHI MINH (VIETNAM), VLADIMIR LENIN (RUSSIA) and MAO ZEDONG (CHINA). i just believe in confronting the past and taking in the spectacle. the fact that these graves (exception being HOXHA) are ostentatious and tacky makes total sense.
lest you think i support those figures, i've made actual pilgrimages to the graves/cremation sites of other more palatable political figures like SALVADOR ALLENDE (CHILE), MAHATMA GANDHI (INDIA), THICH QUANG DUC (VIETNAM), SIMON BOLIVAR (COLOMBIA), YITZHAK RABIN (ISRAEL), JFK (VIRGINIA) and cultural figures like PABLO NERUDA (CHILE), OSCAR WILDE (FRANCE), AKIRA KUROSAWA (JAPAN), NIKOLA TESLA (SERBIA) LOUIS ARMSTRONG (NYC), JOEY RAMONE (NEW JERSEY), BUDDY HOLLY-CRASH SITE (IOWA) and ELVIS PRESLEY (TENNESSEE) among others.
so dont get it twisted.
whats crazy is that SERBIA was the second country i visited on what was planned to be a two country trip (the other being BOSNIA), but i hated it so much that i immediately took the next train out of town after two days. what got me was the arrogance and outright freakish NATIONALISM of the people i ran into, how they saw themselves as superior to their neighbors. it was like running into a mindless TRUMP supporter except on their turf. as an AMERICAN abroad you sometimes get into situations where people cant believe that you would belittle yourself to live or travel in other countries. that was how SERBIANS felt about BOSNIA and ALBANIA and ive seen that in other situations as well, namely THAILAND with MYANMAR and (interestingly) MYANMAR with BANGLADESH and COUNTLESS EUROPEANS and AMERICANS with NIGERIA. its an annoying cultural blindspot that is aggravating.
case in point i heard the exact same misogynist ethnic jokes about BOSNIAN women being ugly in SERBIA that i did in CROATIA. so go figure. both those countries had people walking around with swastika tattoos and seemed sure of their status as EUROPEAN, whatever that meant. if anything, the BOSNIAN women i saw were impossibly gorgeous and the SERBS and CROATS repeatedly came off insecure and just woefully ignorant and backwards. but maybe i encountered a bad batch.
at one point i took a small guided tour of BELGRADE and the guide pointed at a government building and looked square at me and said forcefully that my country blew it up in 1999. i looked right back at him and said "yes we did." truth is at that point i lived in KUKES in ALBANIA for 6 months and they famously took in 450,000 KOSOVAN refugees from that conflict. its a remarkable story that i lived with and would later research, but at no point did i feel sorry about this building being blown up to halt the efforts of MILOSEVIC in killing muslims and ethnic ALBANIANS in mass. actually kind of proud i snapped back at that poor tour guide.
anyway, i read that NOVI SAD was supposed to be gorgeous but really i had enough. next day i went to the train station and missed an overnight train to BUDAPEST by 10 minutes. next train was to ZAGREB in CROATIA. off i went. it wasn't much better but i am certainly glad i got to see MOSTAR. again, another entry down the line.
like i said, there are times you walk right into the fault lines of a country, especially how they feel about their neighbors. more than not people are empathetic to their neighbors. i saw this with COLOMBIA with regards to VENEZUELA. despite the fact that VENEZUELANS during their recent economic boom treated COLOMBIANS appallingly, treating them almost as serfs. talking to COLOMBIANS during my travels they would almost certainly get teary-eyed when i mentioned i lived in VENEZUELA. they look at them as extended family which was always touching. and this is the norm by and large i found abroad.
but not SERBIA and not KUWAIT. and for that they are the only two countries i wouldn't revisit if you paid me.