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September 8, 2013

From Yugoslavia with love, Part 4/4

Prof. Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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On Bosnia-Herzegovina of today, political scientist Dr. Florian Bieber of Kent University, in Central and Southeast European Politics Since, makes the following important comments, "Democratization and Europeanization of Bosnia remain more conditional on its neighbors than is the case in most other Central and East European countries."

“As a majority of Bosnian citizens seek to maintain close contacts with their kin states Croatia and Serbia,” he explains, “While Croatia abandoned predatory designs on Bosnia after the year 2000 in exchange for accelerated integration into the EU, Serbia has not yet made such a commitment, which continues to plague Bosnia’s stability. Thus, the future of democratization in Bosnia and the stability of the state does not exclusively depend on the country alone, but in large degree to the neighborhood it finds itself in.”

“Bosnia and Herzegovina only reluctantly became an independent country as Yugoslavia dissolved in 1991-2. It emerged the most weakened of all states from the wars over Yugoslavia’s dissolution,” he added, “Not only was it physically destroyed, around 100,000 Bosnian citizens were dead and half of the population displaced, but also a third of the population which identified as Serbs and many Croats (less than a fifth of the population) had little commitment to the state and saw their future in neighboring Serbia and Croatia.  BH survived only as a weak state which gave predominance to ethnoterritorial unites carved out during the war through ethnic cleansing and mass murder. In order to survive the immediate post-war period, BH could only exist with limited sovereignty and a strong international presence.”

During the siege of Sarajevo by the Serbian army in 1992, 11,541 people lost their lives, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children. The 1991 census indicates that before the siege the city and its surrounding areas had a population of some 500,000.

Our main destination following my visit to Sarajevo and Monster was Croatia’s Adriatic coast, visiting Dubrovnik, Split, and Tregir. 

Dubrovnik known as Ragusa, a city of some 50,000 joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. The prosperity of the city has long been based on maritime trade.

During the 15th and 16th centuries it became the only eastern Adriatic city-state to rival Venice. In 1991, after the breakup of Yugoslavia, it was besieged by Serbian forces for seven months and received significant shelling damage.

In his excellent 1954 book Introducing Yugoslavia, British author Lovett F. Edwards says of Dubrovnik, “It is first mentioned by Constantine Porphyrogenitos, who says it was founded after the sack of Epidauros by the Slaves in the seventh century. Epidauros, across the bay, is the modern Cavtat (from ‘civitas vetus’ – i.e. the old city), and its Italian name is Ragusa Vecchia. About the year 1000 it was attacked by the Croats, but drove them off, in alliance with the great Venerian Doge, Pietro Orscolo. By the thirteenth century Dubrovnik was already signing treaties as a sovereign state. The treaty of 1365 with Sultan Murad gave Dubrovnik freedom of trade within the confines of the Ottoman Empire. As the Empire extended over all the Balkans and up to the gates of Vienna, the merchants of Dubrovnik were to be found in all its greater cities. They had their own quarters in Belgrade, Sofia, Skopje, and Constantinople.”

“The Serbo-Croat rivalries have an ugly, though somewhat comic resemblance to the centuries-old rivalry of English and Irish,” he added, “They stem from a thousand years of differing historical and culture tradition, stressed by the difference in religion. Zagreb is somewhat Austrian in appearance. The old city is built upon the hill of Gric. Life here can be more cultivated and leisurely than in the new and violent Belgrade.”

Split, one of the oldest cities on the Adriatic coast, and its metropolitan area of 500,000 is the second largest of Croatia and provides a link to numerous Adriatic islands.

Twenty-seven kilometers west of Split is the historic small town and harbor of Trogir with a population of some 10,000. It is situated on a small island between the Croatian mainland and the island of Ciovo.

On every visitor’s list to Croatia is its largest national park and the oldest in Southeast Europe; Plitvice Lakes National Park which was founded in 1949. In 1979, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage register among the first natural sites worldwide.

Any photos or videos of the breathtaking scenery of this natural wonder give only glams of its beauty. Its wonder is only matched to that of the largest caves in Europe at Postojna, Slovenia.

Our last three visits were to Slovenia’s Bled, its capital Ljubljana and Croatia’s capital Zagreb.

Bled is a small charming Alpine town in northwestern Slovenia at the Julian Alps with its famous Bled Castle perching on a cliff high above the lake.

Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana has approximately 280,000 inhabitants. Throughout its history, it has been influenced by its geographic position at the crossroads of the Slavic and Germanic cultures. A visit to the picturesque Central open-air market and the nearby The Triple Bridges is a must.

Zagreb, the capital of Croatia has approximately one million inhabitants and here you can sample history at the Upper Town visiting St. Mark Church, St. Catherine’s Church, and the Cathedral. And touring the country side with its rolling hills on a sunny day is a pleasure. And sampling local country cuisine of baked beans, veal and duck meat is a unique experience.

Zagreb’s modern Islamic Center, with its beautiful architecture is the largest in central Europe with its 10,000 square meters which includes a main prayer hall, a community centre, a school, a restaurant, and a book store. The centre was finished in 1987 and was designed by Bosnian architects Dsemal Celic and Mirza Golos. It has 51-meter high minaret and multi-domes.

Edwards compares the two capitals, “Zagreb lies in the plain. At Ljubljana you are already in the foothills of the Alps, and the scenery and way of life typically Alpine. It is a pleasant little city, but not especially distinguished. Its architecture is mainly Austrian baroque and its outward appearance Central European. Its main feature is the castle. The discipline habits of the Slovenes show themselves in the neatness and tidiness of their city and their observance, to the letter, of laws, by-laws, and local regulations. The Slovene temperament is Slav, but with a great deal of the order and method of the German. They are serious-minded, with a large percentage of books published per head than any other people.”

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