Friday, May 12, 2017

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Frank Impressions about Tuzla

If you were to ask me before this trip if I have heard of Tuzla or know just a little bit about it, I will probably say – No, not a clue. The only thing I know about Tuzla, which is also a region and the third largest city in the country, is that it is the only city in Bosnia & Herzegovina that has a direct flight to the Netherlands (through WizzAir). I have no clue as well as to why there is no commercial flight between Sarajevo and Amsterdam. KLM?

Dutched Pinay at Trg Slobode, the main square of Tuzla
Trg Slobode, the main square of Tuzla

At the fountain of Trg Zrtava Genocida u  Srebrenici, a memorial on the massacre in Srebrenica, this area openly connects to Trg Slobode, the main square of Tuzla old town.

BOSNIA BACKGROUNDER

To be completely honest, I do not know a lot as well about Bosnia & Herzegovina, well, except of course for the genocide that happened during the Balkan Wars in the 1990’s which many of us know about. But other than that, I barely knew this part of Europe, which perhaps is the reason why it is interesting and exotic to me even if it’s just a 2-hour flight within the continent. Check out our travel itinerary here: Balkan epic road trip itinerary

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is located in The Hague, Netherlands and during the trial on the recent Balkan Wars and the ethnic cleansing of Muslims, we get a lot of updates about it in the media. Slobodan Milosevic, the former president of Serbia was a popular mainstay on the evening’s eight o’clock news. Every time they show a fragment of him on the court tribunal, he flashes this very disinterested, arrogant and devil-may-care look on his pudgy flushed face. The war took place between 1991 and 1999 which was during the time when I graduated from university and began working in Manila, Philippines. I was starting my life and career as an adult while across the continent a war was going on in Eastern Europe. Life is ironic, huh.

After the World War II Holocaust, the universal sentiment across Europe was – THIS SHALL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN. Well sadly, it did happen again. 50 years later, just in a different backyard in Europe, after the iron curtain fell and when Yugoslavia disintegrated.

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BALKAN WARS REVISITED

Yugoslavia was a socialist federation of kingdoms formed by different ethnic groups (Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks) after the World War I and united under Josip Broz Tito. There have been unresolved tensions amongst the ethnic groups but they were cautiously suppressed and politically managed under Tito’s regime. When he died in 1980, the muted tensions rose again, and years later after the iron curtain fell, it didn’t take long before each ethnic kingdom declares its independence from the federation. Eventually, war broke out in the already very volatile and hostile region while western European countries on the other side of the fence just watched.

The UN were blamed for not having a backbone and was called United Nothing, and the rest of the European countries and their military (including the Netherlands who did peacekeeping) were branded as cowards, hesitant to step forward as they were afraid of casualties for their own people.

I have only really understood the gravity of what happened in the Balkans when I retraced its history by reading about the war on the internet and the ethnic cleansing that ensued, which happened mostly on Bosnian soil. Even then, I do not know the 100% authenticity of these stories because anyone can upload on the internet, and history is usually written by the victors, although nobody and no country emerged from this conflict as the victor. Well, each ethnic kingdom, however, received their own independence but not after a very gruesome bloodshed.

Tuzla Stari Grad (Old Town)

DENIAL?

Many have said – ‘No Serbs, No War’. The Serbs (Serbia) under Milosevic was seen as the dominant party with a large military force and ammunition operations. It was the Serbian army who carried out the genocide attacks in Bosnia, although the other ethnic groups, the Croats and Bosniaks were also guilty of murder. They were killing each other.

20 years later, people still are not openly talking about the war. I guess some people do on a personal level, but not as a group. That was my impression based on the readings I have read, from locals who were refugees and journalists who went back to investigate. I wish I could have spoken to the locals about the war, but I felt like an outsider intruding into someone else’s home. The subject is just too sensitive to casually bring up in the open. I do not even know where and how to begin with? So I laid it to rest and refrained from asking the locals about what happened. But I am sure for many people, this question still hangs in the air – Who is to be blamed for the war? No one wants the blame.

The wounds are very deep, and maybe they are still fresh, even after 2 decades. I guess it is just impossible to erase a very difficult part of your life, where you have suffered and perhaps lost someone close to you, although the younger generation these days will probably have a different outlook of the past. They say that it takes a generation or two to properly heal the wounds of a painful history.

To me, it must have been very strange to go to war with your neighbours. They were under 1 country before, and now after the war, they have to co-live and co-exist with one another again, side by side and sharing the border, as if nothing happened. It is, as we say, business as usual. People have moved on, while I am sure many are still trying to.

Location of Tuzla:



Tuzla is located in the north, near the border with Croatia and Serbia.

Just like many cities in Bosnia, Tuzla was not spared from bloodshed during the Bosnian War.

The city was hit by 2 massacres which killed many people, mostly civilians. The 1995 massacre that happened at a busy pedestrian intersection (Trg Kapija) in Tuzla old town killed more than 70 civilians and injured 240. Sadly, most of the victims were young people. So I can completely understand if some of the locals are still in denial. But I do wonder, do they harbour hate?

All this war history talk is not painting a cool image of Tuzla, but we all know that it is difficult to not touch the past because the painful shreds of war are still very evidently displayed in the city. Tuzla, however, is slowly coming out of the war rubble, that for sure.

So yes, I want to see some nice things in Tuzla, and not just reminisce a poignant chapter of its troublesome history. I am after all a tourist, a curious traveller who wants to experience a city to its fullest, not just acknowledge its past, but enjoy what it is now and hoping to look forward to what it will become in the future.

Tuzla Stari Grad (Old Town) - Kapija

This is Kapija, the pedestrian junction in the old town of Tuzla. During the Bosnian War, a shrapnel shell was fired and detonated on this place killing 71 people and wounded 240. The massacre is remembered by a large stone plaque memorial on the building (green) in the middle of the junction.

Scenes in Tuzla Stari Grad (Old Town), Bosnia & Herzegovina

TUZLA IMPRESSIONS

Tuzla’s Stari Grad (old town) is pedestrianised, compact and is rather quite small. Within half an hour of walking around, one would have seen everything. That is how small the old town is. But it is a lively and colourful old city centre filled with many shops and lots of cafes. Some of the buildings though are still left in ruins, while others have been repaired and brought back to their previous glory.

The main square, Trg Slobode is big and has a large open fountain in the middle. There are many outdoor cafe terraces here, and on some days, they hold special markets. One of the things I quickly noticed was that there is a shortage of proper restaurants in Tuzla, however, the café (outdoor terraces) and casual eating scene are huge. Most of the eating places we saw are cafés offering fast food types of dishes such as pizza, the local cevapi, sandwiches, salads and desserts of ice cream and cakes. The fine dining restaurant I was eyeing at, Biblioteka, which was located outside Stari Grad, was closed. I think they are only open for parties and when there is a confirmed group booking.

Trg Slobode in Tuzla Stari Grad (Old Town), Bosnia & Herzegovina
Trg Slobode in Tuzla Stari Grad (Old Town), Bosnia & Herzegovina

Public fountain at the Trg Zrtava Genocida u  Srebrenici and cafe terraces facing Trg Slobode, the main square in Tuzla old town.

I can pretty much understand why the locals in Tuzla would prefer to drink when going out, and maybe eat casually, than spend a lot of money on (unnecessary) formal dining. The city is still developing and a high-flying lifestyle has no place here because the monthly salaries are between 370 and 430 Euros (723 and 841 KM). Having some drinks at a café is of course much cheaper than dining in a restaurant, and this is perhaps the explanation why there is an absence of proper sit-down restaurants in Tuzla. The same goes for the accommodations in the city. Well, that’s just my hunch really, and I am sure it will change. Tourism is growing steadily and it will not surprise me when new hospitality establishments will open soon... and art, entertainment and cultural activities will follow as well.

The best restaurant so far is Restoran Carsijska Cesma, located on the main square, just across the city mosque. The restaurant offers traditional Balkan food. We had dinner here on our first night and we ordered the local meat stews from the region, Dagarica and Muckalica.

We also did a bit of shopping. At one of the shops near the main square, we discovered some shawls for 3,00 KM each (which is equivalent to 1,50 Euro!). Compared to Croatia, shops, cafes and restaurants do not quickly accept the Euro here, however, there are a few who do. So it pays to ask if you have Euros with you which was the case with us. I have however noticed that if you pay in Euro, people tend to give you a bad conversion, and they also round it off to their advantage. So I guess, it’s best to pay in Bosnian Marks?

Furthermore, there are 2 modern shopping malls nearby the old town, the other one is large and highly recommended by the locals. The salt springs and lakes would have been part of our agenda had we been here on a much warmer time of the year. The city has 2 universities. The main industry here is salt production, there is also coal mining and various industrial manufacturing activities.

I see a lot of potential in Tuzla, at least for tourism. She just needs some time, and of course, willing investors.

TUZLA PICTURE GALLERY

 Statues of Meša Selimović and Ismet Mujezinović

Moi with Tuzla's famous writers, Meša Selimović and Ismet Mujezinović. Not sure who is which statue here though.

Outdoor cafe terraces - Tuzla Stari Grad (Old Town), Bosnia & Herzegovina
Tuzla Stari Grad (Old Town), Bosnia & Herzegovina

Not all the buildings in Tuzla old town have been repaired.

Tuzla Stari Grad (Old Town), Bosnia & Herzegovina

This is at the main square of Tuzla where the 2 public fountains are located. This is a nice area with many outdoor cafe terraces. On some days, such as during our visit, they hold outdoor markets.

Tuzla Stari Grad (Old Town), Bosnia & Herzegovina
Tuzla Stari Grad (Old Town), Bosnia & Herzegovina
Tuzla Stari Grad (Old Town) and Bosnian Marks Currency KM

Having some drinks at one of the outdoor cafes on Trg Slobode, the main square of Tuzla and seeing for the first time the Bosnian Marks currency (abbreviated to KM). The conversion at that time was 1 Euro = 2KM.


Dutched Pinay Tuzla Stari Grad (Old Town), Bosnia & Herzegovina

This picture was taken on the day we arrived in Tuzla.

Barok Cafe on Trg Slobode in Tuzla Old Town
This is Tuzla Old Town, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Tuzla Old Town scenes - Lots of outdoor cafe terraces, the water pipe is also popular here, as well as the snacks called Burek and steamed mais.

Kapija Tuzla Old Town, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Tuzla Old Town Scenes, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Tuzla Old Town scenes and the 3KM (1,50 Euro) scarf I bought there =)

Graffiti in Tuzla Old Town, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Many buildings that are not yet repaired in the old town are covered in graffiti such as this one.

Tuzla Old Town Scenes, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Tuzla Old Town Scenes, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Hardware store in Tuzla, Bosnia & Herzegovina

This building is a hardware and home furnishings store, which reminds me of general merchandise types of stores in Asia.

Gradski Park in Tuzla

Gradski Park in Tuzla, and across this park are the Pannonica artificial lakes.

Travel Period: April 2017
Destination: Tuzla (Tuzla), Bosnia & Herzegovina

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Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

All pictures were taken by a point and shoot pocket camera or a smartphone.

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