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  • Thomas Sweeney

2016: Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia

In 2016, I left behind western Europe and continued east, crossing four nations that were once part of Yugoslavia. The following excerpts are from Chapters 8 & 9.


Bosnia and Herzegovina is one country, and it is beautiful. That was apparent the moment I crossed the border. I passed a small village set among rolling green hills, with the small, forested mountains of Croatia gracing the background.


Contrasting this beauty was graffiti, on the side of a building, which read “Remember Srebrenica,” an homage to the 1995 massacre of eight thousand Bosniaks by the Bosnian Serb army. It was the first of many signs that the haunting wounds of the civil war were still fresh.


Yugoslavia was formed in 1918 following World War I and was composed of the nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. In the early 1990s, the country erupted into civil war, with the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milošević capitalizing on the nationalistic sentiments of the Serbian people, both in Serbia and those scattered around Yugoslavia, to justify attempts to expand Serb territory. This resulted in military offensives throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. Existing ethnic tension between Muslim Bosniaks and Orthodox Serbs—tensions dating back to the 1400s—only added fuel to the atrocities committed on all sides.


The initial scenery belied the nation’s tragic past. The further east I rode, the more uneasy I felt…




*****

The Serbian landscape was flat, dull, and uninspiring. The muggy midsummer heat, coupled with a lack of sleep the previous night, exacerbated the disheartened unease that enveloped me as I entered the former heart of Yugoslavia.


In one village after the next, groups of young men sat outside small houses, apparently unemployed and bored. I watched them watch me and prayed that I didn’t get a flat tire.

Cruising onward through barren stretches of farmland, I pictured their morose faces, full of resignation. I considered the gravity of my near accident in Bosnia. I counted the miles ahead, the distances overwhelming me.


I burst into tears.


Even as I wiped the salt water from my face, my sunglasses clouding with errant teardrops, I kept moving, keeping my eyes open for hotels. I needed to rest and absorb the change in circumstances.






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