mostar2 “Walk towards the Snipers Nest”The Bridge on the River Neretva by Lassi Kurkijarvi@flickr

Author: Eric Staples

It’s impossible to explore Mostar without marveling the damage caused by war. Everyday I observe the façades of the buildings I pass—many rendered into Swiss cheese after taking a beating of bullets. One building in particular is but a shell of what was once a chic restaurant. The front wall of the building has been blown away by a mortar, and the painted words and arrow on an interior wall indicating where the restroom used to be now points toward a wholly missing section of the building, to the vast expanse of land to the south.

This destruction is a testament to how chaotic and violent a period this city and its people went through less than twenty years ago. It is as if these buildings – nay, the whole city – took a trip to hell and back.

The vestige of war carries itself to the souvenir shops. There, fifty-caliber bullets are repurposed and sold as pens, their gunpowder replaced by ink cartridges. They are sold next to gas masks and various other wartime keepsakes. It seems war is a part of Mostar’s identity that the city embraces. A friend of mine remarked about a rather ordinary chess board for sale at the souvenir shop: “I wonder which pieces are the Croats and which the Bosniaks.”

His attempt at satire was his way of dealing with a city’s identity so alien to us.

My witty friend and I both hail from Seattle, Washington. There is no “war tourism” where we come from. There are no tours of popular sniper locations, no bullet-textured walls, and no fifty-caliber souvenirs. Never in Seattle would directions to a pub include the curious phrase, “walk towards the Snipers Nest”—the colloquial name for the tallest building in Mostar, which served a self-explanatory purpose.

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