I was 14 when the Bosnian War ended in 1995. I remember hearing about it, but it was a world so far removed from my world that I didn’t bother to learn about it. Later, we all heard and read about the genocides, the mass rapes and the ethnic cleansing that went on as the rest of the world turned their heads. It’s one thing to read about it and another to be in the places where these atrocities happened.
We occasionally came across abandoned, bullet-ridden houses in Croatia, but seeing the remaining damage in Mostar was shocking. Rows and rows of pock-marked buildings stood next to brand new ones as silent but sobering reminders of the war. One especially notable place left over from the war is the “sniper tower”, a former bank building that was occupied by Serb and Croat forces.
As we made our way to the sniper tower in the afternoon (before the junkies go to the building in the evening to get high), we ran into a traveling American couple we met at the bus station on our way to Mostar the day before. THANK GOD. We wouldn’t have to explore the creepy abandoned building by ourselves!
The four of us slowly climbed up the main stairwell, completely open on both sides. My palms are sweating just thinking about that climb, even though the stairs themselves were really wide and there was no way I would’ve fallen off the side of the building. I like to be dramatic.
We got to the top (I think it was 8 or 9 stories high) and found the hole in the wall where a sniper sat and picked off Bosnian fighters and residents of Mostar. Rusty bullet casings still littered the ground among the glass, condoms (!!!) and god-knows-what-else.
Graffiti and messages cover the walls, and while it’s clear that there have been some recent clean-up efforts, ventilation parts, unspooled backup tapes, glass, bank documents and beer bottles are still strewn about everywhere.
It’s been almost 20 years since the end of the war and the damage is still very much here in plain sight. The locals say the government is so busy being corrupt that they don’t have time to help rebuild these cities. Mostar only has the funds to rebuild house by house, and progress is slow. I wonder how the Bosnian people move on, living amongst these bullet-ridden shells of life before the war. We have yet to speak to a Bosnian about the war, but we’ll have that opportunity once we get to Sarajevo.
For more photos of our stay in Mostar, check out our Flickr album.