I stayed a few nights in Mostar, to learn more about the recent history of the area. I’d picked to stay at Miran hostel, as it had such good reviews about Miran’s war tour of Mostar.
After a day exploring and learning more about Mostar (more on that here) we were dropped off for Miran’s war tour of Mostar. Miran began by asking how much we knew about what had happened in this area of the world in the last fifty years. I admitted that everything I had learnt had only been since I had travelled Europe. It definitely wasn’t taught in school history.
He had taken us to an abandoned underground hangar. He explained that he hadn’t known it existed, and had lived in Mostar his whole life. It was built in the 60s, for the storage of planes for the Yugoslav army. In the 90s, the Serbs used it as an army base. In the late 90s, when the Serbian army was invading Kosovo, the Bosnian army was worried the Serbians would want it as a base again. This is where Miran comes in. He was placed here with one hundred other Bosnians, as military defence. He said he was as shocked as anyone else to discover it’s existence.
Huge iron gates swing to cover the entrance. Piled on top of this is polystyrene, covered in brown paint and grit, to make it look like rocks. This allowed the gates to be moved quickly, but hiding the presence of the hangar.
I had seen something similar in Montenegro, covering the submarine parking hiding spaces. I asked Miran if the submarines were used in the world wars. He said they would have been part of the Yugoslav army, and knew the exact hiding places I was talking about. I asked how many submarines would have been part of their army. He laughed, dismissing me, telling me it’s insider knowledge.
The huge steel door was imposing, a giant half circle. It was designed to withstand a nuclear blast. It was on a roller system, to allow it to be moved back as needed.
Phone torches on, we ventured inside. I couldn’t get over the size of the hangar. It was built to fit fifty aircraft, and went on forever. There were wires hanging from the roof, where locals have since pillaged the objects attached.
He told us of life under communist rule in Yugoslavia. I have always had very negative associations with communism, from the little I know. Miran opened my eyes, to see his side of it. He said no one wanted for anything. Everyone had a house, a job, and holiday. The Yugoslav passport was named the ‘golden passport’, as it allowed travel both further east, and into Western Europe. They wanted to show off how well communism was running in the area. Because of the socialist aspect, people looked after each other. He said he never would have seen anyone begging twenty years ago. It all has to be taken as a big picture. My experiences in Albania were a whole different story (more on that here – cue insane paranoia and severe poverty).
There is still a crazy amount of corruption that occurs in the country. This isn’t much of a surprise, when you consider the government is run by three presidents, a Croat, a Serb, and a Bosnian president, who all serve eight months each. Nothing can ever get done with so many conflicting interests.
Miran showed us what was the control centre, and was later used as a classroom, when he was based there. The room echoed like crazy, I had no idea how you’d ever get any work done in there. They were there for about four months, housed down the road in what now is an abandoned building.
Finally reaching the other end of the hangar, we headed for town. Right in the centre of town, we parked outside the prison. This street was one of the main roads that the Bosnian and Croatian armies fought over. He explained that the Serbian army fought for two years, and the Croatian army was on the Bosnian side. But this was all part of bigger plan, especially in the south. Once the Serbian army was rid of, the Croatian army turned on the, wanting the south for themselves. Nine bloody months were fought.
We went into a building that is still full of bulletholes. Some people still live in the top floor apartments. I could see details that spoke of a once-wealthier city; tiles, decorated flooring, ornate entrances. The whole street was pretty rough, some houses in better repair than others. There was a pile of sandbags, still remaining from the Croatian sniper post.
Miran showed us a beautiful school, that is currently still operating as a segregated school, Croatian children in one side, Bosnian kids in the other. I thought I’d heard him wrong, and tried to correct him, “no, you mean 20 years ago”. “No, Kate, I mean now”. This is still happening today. He explained that one of the floors of the school has been bought by an international schooling body, that states that the best of all students, regardless of their background, can attend here. He said things like this act as an example, of the way forward. If only we can all see our talents and strengths, rather than our differences, we can make a better future.
I had the most incredible day, learning about the history of Mostar, and the greater Bosnia and Herzegovina (for the rest of the days tour, have a read). I was absolutely exhausted after this trip, with so much to think about, and process. I will be forever grateful to Miran, for opening up his home to strangers, to teach us more than we could ever learn from a book. If you’re ever headed for Bosnia, don’t give Miran’s war tour of Mostar a miss. Check out his hostel here.