I've met many people who have idea where Mostar, Bosnia is, or they expect it to be a bullet-riddled war zone.
Sure, there are certainly physical, cultural, and societal signs of the brutal Siege of Mostar that turned brothers against brothers in a brutal war. Truly, brutal doesn't begin to describe it. To give you an example, women were placed into rape camps where they were repeatedly raped, so that in the future they would give birth to bastard children. Those children would then grow up without a father, knowing that their mother was raped during the war. It was a form of warfare designed to fuck up future generations. It's beyond the word brutal.
There are also those who still live the war every day of their life, through psychological or physical scars. I was told by someone I met that he does not cross the river that divides the city, since he still cannot forgive or forget the fact that someone from that side shot him in the leg... twice.
When visiting you certainly can get a history tour, going through regions that are still riddled with landmines, old sniper hideouts, and abandoned military plane hangars that were a secret until very recently.
To show the the vast size of the hangar, we all yelled inside to hear the echo.
It's easy to feel saddened by humanity when learning the truth of Bosnia, and in particular, the war crimes committed in the place you are standing during a tour.
But, rather than try to understand or empathize with what I truly couldn't without living through it myself, I started to look for any sign of progress and noticed a real change happening in Mostar. The youth are pushing through in their own way... by crossing the river that divides them more than just physically, but also within music, culture, and friendships with those from both sides of the river.
While I was there, I got to attend the Mostar Film Festival after-party which featured live bands playing in a jammed basement venue, packed with 1L beer glasses and smoke that took at least 4 years off my life. Some example of the music played at the festival and in bars around the city included Zoster as well as the very popular Dubioza Kolektiv (who I heard the previous year in Kosovo).
I also was able to see the beautiful surrounding areas of Mostar that have a rich history of the Turkish Whirling Dervish at Tekija Blagaj, waterfall retreats in Kravice, and towns that are empty from the war but working hard to rebuild such as Pocitelj.
But the thing that surprised me the most was Bruce Lee. Yes, there is a statue of Bruce Lee in the heart of the city.
"Bruce Lee was chosen as a symbol of the fight against ethnic divisions. Lee, who was an American of Chinese descent and famous martial arts actor, represented to the residents of Mostar a bridging of cultures. "One thing we all have in common is Bruce Lee... In a city with a reputation for violence, the dynamic movie star was a symbol of "loyalty, skill, friendship and justice.""
Something about that gave me hope. Hope for not just Mostar and Bosnia, but for other war-torn areas in the world. The hope that the youth can come together and try to repair, or try to move on from, what the past has completely destroyed.
Gaining in popularity, Mostar is becoming a larger tourist destination and I hope those who visit can look beyond the destruction, and see the hope for the future that lies beneath.