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Phespirit goes to Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mostar     September 2005

During his September sojourn to the Balkans, Phespirit used Montenegro as a gateway to Albania, and Croatia as a gateway to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Specifically he visited Herzegovina, which makes up a mere one sixth of the total area of the country and has the city of Mostar for its capital.

It never crossed Phespirit's mind that barely twelve years after the old bridge of Mostar was shelled to complete destruction he would be walking across that self same bridge - resurrected, brighter, crisper - as though the cultural atrocity had never happened. With its bridge now restored, Mostar is likely to find that the global TV coverage of its shelling and the subsequent reconstruction of the city will bring it more tourist income than it ever enjoyed prior to the break up of old Yugoslavia. Scant compensation for the families and residents who lost so much in those dark days, but greatly needed all the same.

The war pitted Croat against Bosniac - that is, Catholic against Muslim, with the Catholic Croats doing all the high profile damage - so it was interesting to see how the two religions were rebuilding in 2005. On the west side of the River Neretva, an imposing Catholic church stands next to the Franciscan's Library on Franjevacka. It is a colossal, raw, hideously concrete thing with its tower detached from the main body. The complete complex is being built from scratch and is surely slated to receive some major aesthetic improvements before being declared finished. By contrast, Koski Mehmed Pasha's Mosque - a soft target on the east side of the river - already has that warm much-prayed in look, desirable amongst all places of worship. Somehow, organised religion always survives, damn it.

In Herzegovina's less well-known backwaters Phespirit found organised religion surviving in Blagaj. Here, a Sufi monastery nestles at the entrance of a cave from which rushes an incomprehensible volume of water. The River Buna has one of the strongest sources in Europe and must surely be one of its most accessible and picturesque. At the vulgar end of the scale, Neum is the country's only coastal town, occupying a tiny strip of land between the borders with Croatia. Crude, concrete Hotel Neum dominates the scene, whilst all around are whistle-stop cafés and shops aimed at coach parties and miscellaneous itinerants with an eye for a bargain.

It's a complicated business, keeping track of the Balkan states. Twenty years ago they formed a single country: Yugoslavia. Today they are split into five countries: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The latter has a name that upsets the Greeks and Bulgarians as much of the ancient lands of Macedonia exist within their borders; the Serbs and Montenegrins could well split apart at any time; whilst Bosnia and Herzegovina was carved up still further by the Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995, which designated 49% of the country as the "Republic of Srpska". Yes, it's a complicated business, keeping track of them all as they go their separate ways, but they remain united in the beauty of their lands.

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