Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Balkans: Foray into Adventure and Sociopolitical Intrigue

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Christina. She wanted to travel frequently and fervently. She also wanted to experience the bizarre and fascinating things that Washington, DC had to offer. And then, she found her use of the past tense somewhat macabre (instead of nostalgic as intended) and launched into the point of her new blog through anecdotal means, instead of introductory.

I was not going to write this entry this evening. I had absolutely no intention of doing so. But then, just as I was packing up from the Sarajevo hostel lobby, the spritely owner of this very hostel sent me a piece of cake on the house. This is not just any cake, either. Bosnian cake is manufactured entirely from fresh honey, apples, cinnamon, and stardust. IE, the exact ingredients of my favorite dish: the deus ex machina.

And so, here I am. Rejuvenated, and interested in recounting the bounty that the former Yugoslavia has offered me. Usually, this blog will have photos of my own taking. They are often good--I promise. Unfortunately, due to the archaic nature of my travel laptop, those will have to wait.

Today, I went to the 'Tunnel of Hope' in Sarajevo, which is fantastically difficult to find in the suburbs of the city--perhaps to its initial advantage. It was used in the nineties to transfer food and munitions during the most violent portions of the siege (if you have no idea what I am talking about, I highly suggest that you read *at least* the following Wikipedia page: and was, frankly, quite important. The museum commemorating the tunnel is so small that I was at first uncertain as to if it was some kind of 'tourist trap' en route to the actual tunnel, but no! It was not. The exhibit inside was compiled with great thought and precision. Sarajevo has proven to be replete with historical gems such as this.

The interviews that I have conducted for my field research for the European and Eurasian Studies Institute at GW thus far have been fascinating, and I will tell you why:

A) The passion that the employees of the Office for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) show for their work in advocating protection of the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups is quite inspiring.
B) It is accompanied by this poignant, completely devastating, and honest sense of frustration and hopelessness in all aspects of the pursuit.

I have never received such frank assessments of [lack of] systematic change from any other group of people (let alone diplomats) in my entire life. I am hoping that it is because I am coming off as particularly approachable in how I conduct my interviews, and that the beneficiaries of these programs do not have this level of negativity constantly present. The OSCE has facilitated some truly remarkable change here, but it is obvious how dysfunctional many of the social systems in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina remain. To see the tensions associated with the issue of social inclusion unfold before me this intricately, with this level of gravity and complexity, has been amazing. I probably have enough interview material here to write a book, and enough experiential material to write an epic.

If only I spoke the language! That is my predominant regret. My Russian has gotten me around a little bit, and my pronunciation is great. Most people--especially in Serbia since I appear Serbian--continue to attempt to speak to me in the relevant language after basic exchanges due to the (inaccurate) assumption that I know exactly what they are saying. Sometimes I do, but only when a respectable dose of cognates are involved. Italian and French, unfortunately, have been utterly useless thus far. I may make a mad dash to Trieste next Friday to validate my language skills.

I like it here in Sarajevo better than I did in Belgrade, but that is for another blog post. Tomorrow, I visit the National, Historical, and City museums of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Sarajevo respectively, and continue working through this sizable collection of Bosnian sonnets that I have purchased (yes, it is a dual-language version.) Ciao, or as they say in Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian, ćao! I promise to instigate something fascinating or utterly exhilarating within the next several days so that I can recount it publicly!


  1. Fascinating! Glad to be the first to follow you even though there's no chance of keeping up!

  2. Haha, thank you, Steve! I'm happy to see a friendly face in cyberspace!