Sunday, December 2, 2012


It’s a name I first heard in the early-to-mid-1990s. Not quite sure where it was at the time – generally somewhere in Europe – images of war-torn buildings on fire, people running for their lives in the streets, and two peoples – Serbs and Croats – were my own knowledge of this country with the really long name.  Unfortunately these views stayed with me since I was 14, but now I feel like I’m exploring an entirely different country. Those images that I knew of are only a snapshot of what Bosnia and Herzegovina is all about.

Just east of Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina is bordered by Croatia, Montenegro, Serbia, and a very small (around 12 miles) stretch of land along the Adriatic Sea. Situated in the Dinaric Alps (also called the Dinarides) on the Balkan Peninsula, it has many areas of limestone and salt deposits. The area has a long history of being ruled by someone else, starting with various Slavic peoples until the Ottoman Empire moved in and claimed the lands, ruling there from the mid-15th century to the late 19th century. They were among the first to influence the culture in this region, chiefly regarding the introduction of Islam and cuisine which changed their previous way of life. Later, the area had been included as part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy up until WWI. After that, it was part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia until Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence in 1992.

The first mention of the word Bosnia was discovered in the mid-10th century, but there are several theories as to its exact etymology. Many historians and linguistics think it may have derived from the Bosna River, one of the major rivers that flow through Bosnia and Herzegovina. In classical Latin, the river’s name was Bossina, or Bosona in Illyrian, both of which mean “running water.” The name Herzegovina came from the German word for “duke” (Herzog) combined with the ending –ovina, meaning “land,” roughly meaning the same as the word “dukedom.” It was in reference to the lands that were owned by a dignitary and nobleman of the 1440s. And apparently, it’s also equally acceptable to refer to the country as “Bosnia and Herzegovina” or “Bosnia-Herzegovina.”

The largest ethnic group is the Bosniaks, followed by another large proportion of Serbs. Croats and others also live throughout the area as well. Because of the divided ethic groups living there, Bosnia and Herzegovina has two official languages: Bosnian and Croatian, although Serbian is also spoken in areas were Serbs tend to dominate and several sources also include it was an official language. All three of these languages belong to the Serbo-Croatian language group, part of the larger Slavic language family. Because of its history, Bosnian is written in both Cyrillic and Latin letters.

The capital is Sarajevo, often nicknamed "The Jerusalem of Europe" or "The Jerusalem of the Balkans" due to its sizable numbers of followers of Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Judaism. Sarajevo has had its moments in the international spotlight: the first being that it was the second city in the world (just after San Francisco, California) to have a full-time electric tram running throughout the city.  Sarajevo is also the site where the Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand (no, not the singer) was assassinated and in essence started WWI. In 1984, Sarajevo hosted the Olympics, only to suffer from destruction due to the Bosnian war for independence nearly ten years later. Even in the midst of reconstruction, Sarajevo has been listed as 43rd best city in the world by Lonely Planet and has made others’ “Top Cities” lists as a cultural capital, hosting renowned film festivals and jazz festivals.

Despite the fact that the country had went through a war (for which the peace treaty was signed about a two-hour drive from me in Dayton, Ohio – how did I not know that?), it certainly has fathomed better than other countries have in comparison in the 20 years after a reconstruction began. They maintain a high literacy rate, overall health and life expectancy, access to clean water and sanitation, as well as education. These things in combination make Bosnia Herzegovina and Sarajevo in particular one of the fastest growing regions in Europe. I think it’ll be interesting to see Bosnia and Herzegovina’s history told through its cultural arts and its cuisine. I already have my menu set and my Spotify playlists made, and I can assure you that this is a country of surprises. I could quite possibly add Sarajevo to my list of places I want to see before I die.

Up next: Holidays and Celebrations

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