One of the oddest and saddest experiences I’ve had when traveling was in Bosnia, Sarajevo. This very underrated country in Europe is actually one of my favourites. The minute I landed in Bosnia, I knew that this would be a very special trip. I spent more than 1 week here, but could’ve easily stayed for longer.
One of the highlights on my trip was spending a night in the “War Hostel” in Sarajevo. It’s not because the hostel was a luxurious and fancy place (quite the opposite), but because it was really fascinating and downright… odd. The minute I found out about this hostel, I knew I had to stay here.
My first impression when I first stepped in to the hostel was “Holy shit”. There’s no electricity here so I had to light candles in the bathroom, my bed was basically a bomb shelter bed and my blanket was a real military blanket used in the war. On the walls you could see several articles about the war and survival stories. The background “music” in the hostel was basically bullets being fired. I was spooked in the beginning, but eager to learn more. What really happened in Bosnia?
First of all, this is not an ad of some sorts. I want to write about this incredible hostel experience because it was so different. I knew bits and parts of what happened in Bosnia but coming here, meeting locals who are war survivors and sleeping in a place like this, sleeping to the sound of bullets being fired… It was heartbreaking. But it felt important for me to be part of it. The locals need the outside world to know what happened to them. What is still happening to them. This hostel gives you just that – a chance for them to get their voices heard.
The father and son who owns this hostel are really accommodating and will make you feel welcomed instantly. During day time I was exploring the city and at night I had the chance to talk to Zero, the son. Unfortunately, I missed the “movie night” in the bunker, where you can see documentaries about the war in Bosnia. But Zero was kind enough to stay a little longer and talk to me about the war, through his eyes. I am very curious by nature (annoyingly curious) so I couldn’t contain myself – I asked him everything. How his upbringing was, what he thought of the war, why they have this hostel, the future of Bosnia, and the list goes on and on. Polite as he was, he started telling me his story. But I think it’s a bit too personal to include here in my blog. It’s his story to tell.
The hostel offers educational tours, which you can find HERE. It wasn’t in my plans to do a tour to be honest and I just wanted to sit in a café in the sun on my last day and relax. But this was a unique chance for me to delve deeper into the Bosnia war and educate myself. I also wanted to help the family, in whatever way I could. So me and another guy paid €20 (per person) and took “The Frontline” tour. The father took us in his car and started driving up the mountains. He told us that he has PTSD and there are days he has to cancel the tour because he just cries all day long. But today was a good day, he said and gave us a smile.
We walked around in the mountains which to me looked like any “normal” place. But then we slowly started to discover the bunkers, the warning signs of land mines and the military posts. I didn’t know what to say – I had never seen anything like this before. The tour felt so personal. This was HIS frontline. This is where he fought, where he saw people get killed and where he thought he would die.
We found a little spot in the mountain and this is where he started telling us stories. Stories about how afraid he was, how it was spending the cold winter nights here, and the terrible story of when he walked home and saw houses that were shattered because of a bomb detonation. He told us that he ran as fast as he could because he thought his wife and son were dead, but they survived. Instead, he saw a woman on his street, trying to collect her sons organs and putting them in her pocket. He had been blown to pieces.
During the time Sarajevo was under siege, they started receiving food from the UN. The food rations that the UN sent them was horrible, he said. Not even a dog would eat it. But what other choice did they have? They even have a “Canned Beef monument” in the city, a sarcastic hint to the terrible food they got.
I wish I recorded everything they told me so I would remember every detail forever. There are some things that will always stick with me though, such as the story about a woman that was a spy and saw a bunch of kids playing and ordered them to be shot. I wonder, what makes a person commit these atrocious crimes?
Sarajevo was under siege for 4 years. Imagine!!! 4 years of this hell. And now, years after the war has ended, the country is still divided and one part belongs to Serbia. Bosnia also has the world’s highest youth unemployment rate – 57.5% in the country are unemployed! My host told me that some locals try to detonate the land mines and take the metal so they can sell it. A father and his two children tried to do this a few weeks ago, but the mine exploded and killed the whole family. These are just some of the war’s long-term effects on the country.
So, this hostel is basically what keeps the family afloat. This is how they earn their money. The hostel is in their old home and the tours are held by the son and father. I felt a bit uneasy taking the tour because I didn’t want to exploit them in anyway. The father told me that he wished that he didn’t have to do these tours, that every time he does them, it’s like he’s back in the war again. “These tours, this house, these stories.. I can never escape the war. But what should I do? This is the only chance for me to earn money”, he said. And this is a way for them to make their voices heard. For people to never forget what happened in Bosnia.
Quick Facts about the war in Bosnia:
- Bosnia (now Bosnia-Hercegovina) declared its independence from Yugoslavia on March 3, 1992, following Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia’s footsteps
- April 6, 1992, is the official day when the Bosnian war began
- Three primary ethnic groups were involved: Bosniaks (muslims), Bosnian Serbs (most of which practiced Orthodox Christianity) and Bosnia Croats, a Catholic minority
- The Bosnian Serbs and neighbouring Serbia wanted to take control of Bosnia, which is what started the 4 year long war
- Bosnian Serbs controlled 75 percent of the country by the end of 1993
- The term “ethnic cleansing” arose and thousands of Bosniaks were forced into concentration camps where they were tortured, raped and murdered
- An estimated 12,000-50,000 women were raped during the war
- The Bosnian War claimed more than 200,000 peoples lives, 70 percent of whom were Bosniak. The war lasted from 1992-1995 and is said to be the worst act of genocide since the Holocaust