Difference between revisions of "Bosnia and Herzegovina"
Revision as of 18:31, 16 August 2007
Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosna i Hercegovina)  is a Balkan country in Southern Europe that was formerly part of Yugoslavia. It borders Croatia to the North, West and Southwest, Serbia and Montenegro to the East and a small portion of Adriatic Sea coastline on the South.
Within Bosnia and Herzegovina's recognized borders, the country is divided into the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina with a Muslim/Croat majority population (about 51% of the territory) and the Republika Srpska or RS with a Serb majority population (about 49% of the territory); the region called Herzegovina is contiguous to Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro (Montenegro), and traditionally has been settled by an ethnic Croat majority in the west and an ethnic Serb majority in the east.
Ports and harbors
Bosnia and Herzegovina's declaration of sovereignty in October 1991, was followed by a declaration of independence from the former Yugoslavia on 3 March 1992 after a referendum boycotted by ethnic Serbs.
The Bosnian Serbs - supported by neighboring Serbia and Montenegro - responded with armed resistance aimed at partitioning the republic along ethnic lines and joining Serb-held areas to form a "greater Serbia." In March 1994, Bosniaks and Croats reduced the number of warring factions from three to two by signing an agreement creating a joint Bosniak/Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 21 November 1995, in Dayton, Ohio, the warring parties signed a peace agreement that brought to a halt the three years of interethnic civil strife (the final agreement was signed in Paris on 14 December 1995).
The Dayton Agreement retained Bosnia and Herzegovina's international boundaries and created a joint multi-ethnic and democratic government. This national government was charged with conducting foreign, economic, and fiscal policy. Also recognized was a second tier of government comprised of two entities roughly equal in size: the Bosniak/Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosnian Serb-led Republika Srpska (RS). The Federation and RS governments were charged with overseeing internal functions.
In 1995-96, a NATO-led international peacekeeping force (IFOR) of 60,000 troops served in Bosnia to implement and monitor the military aspects of the agreement. IFOR was succeeded by a smaller, NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) whose mission is to deter renewed hostilities. SFOR remains in place although troop levels were reduced to approximately 12,000 by the close of 2002.
Bosnia and Herzegovina ranked next to The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as the poorest republic in the old Yugoslav federation. Although agriculture is almost all in private hands, farms are small and inefficient, and the republic traditionally is a net importer of food. Industry has been greatly overstaffed, one reflection of the socialist economic structure of Yugoslavia. Tito had pushed the development of military industries in the republic with the result that Bosnia hosted a large share of Yugoslavia's defense plants. The bitter interethnic warfare in Bosnia caused production to plummet by 80% from 1990 to 1995, unemployment to soar, and human misery to multiply. With an uneasy peace in place, output recovered in 1996-99 at high percentage rates from a low base; but output growth slowed in 2000 and 2001. GDP remains far below the 1990 level. Economic data are of limited use because, although both entities issue figures, national-level statistics are limited. Moreover, official data do not capture the large share of activity that occurs on the black market. The konvertibilna marka - the national currency introduced in 1998 - is now pegged to the euro, and the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina has dramatically increased its reserve holdings. Implementation of privatization, however, has been slow, and local entities only reluctantly support national-level institutions. Banking reform accelerated in 2001 as all the communist-era payments bureaus were shut down. The country receives substantial amounts of reconstruction assistance and humanitarian aid from the international community but will have to prepare for an era of declining assistance.
Hot summers and cold winters; areas of high elevation have short, cool summers and long, severe winters; mild, rainy winters along coast
Mountains and valleys; Natural hazards : destructive earthquakes.
No visa is needed for entry by citizens of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and most European countires. Citizens of Croatia and Serbia can enter Bosnia and Herzegovina with an ID.
Sarajevo Airport (international code: SJJ) is located in the suburb of Butmir and is relatively close to the city centre. There is no direct public transportation, and taxi fares to/from the airport are surprisingly expensive for the short distance - your best bet is to take a taxi to the tram terminus at Ilidza and board the tram for the last part of your journey, cost 1.5KM)
The national carrier of Bosnia & Herzegovina is BH Airlines (formerly known as Air Bosna). They operate a handful of flights to European destinations using two ATR-72 planes. Check their website for flight information, and note that they do not have internet bookings, or appear on many search engines for flights into Sarajevo! Some of their destinations include Skopje, Cologne and Istanbul.
Croatia Airlines connects Sarajevo via Zagreb at least twice daily, and from there connections are possible to Amsterdam, London, Milan, Munich, Paris, Zurich and several other cities. Croatia Airlines was also the first airline to operate regular passenger flights into Sarajevo in 1996 following the recent conflict. It is believed that with the delivery of 4 more smaller planes to expand the Croatia Airlines fleet in (2007 or 2008) that Sarajevo will get a third-daily service.
Some of the other airlines which operate regular services into Sarajevo include:
For other services, check the Sarajevo Airport  website.
Mostar  and Banja Luka also have international airports, though services to these are spasmodic at present.
Train services across the country are slowly improving once again, though speeds and frequencies are still low. Much of the rail infrastructure was damaged during the recent conflict, and lines have been opened on a priority basis, though not to the high level of service pre-war. The train services are operated by two separate entities (based on the political situation in the country), but in nearly every instance results in the locomotives being changed rather than changing from one train carriage to another to continue your journey.
There is a daily train service running from Sarajevo to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, and onwards to the rest of Europe. The train leaves from Zagreb around 9h in the morning and arrives in Sarajevo at 18.30h. The return journey departs Sarajevo around 10am. Ticket costs 24 EUR one way (return ticket holds some discount).
During the summer months, an overnight service also operates between the two cities. Check the Croatian Railways website for further information. There are not usually any sleeper/couchette cars on this train so expect to struggle finding sleep in the regular upright seats.
Trains also operate from Sarajevo heading towards Mostar and the Adriatic Sea terminating at Ploce in Croatia. Services operate a few times daily, are relatively empty and provide possibly the most stunning rail journey in all of Bosnia!
You should buy your ticket before you board the train. If you don't buy before you board then buy from the conductor onboard but beware that he/she may only sell you a ticket for his/her part of the journey - the staff and locomotives usually change when the train leaves Croatian territory and again when the train goes from the territory of Republika Srpska into the Federation.
The night train service Budapest Déli-Sarajevo ended on December 15, 2006. A day train now leaves Budapest (Keleti pu. station) daily at 9.30, arriving in Sarajevo at 21.39 via Osijek in Croatia. One-way tickets cost 52 Euro or the return ticket costs 48.10 Euro (11,600 forint + 750 forint compulsory reservation). Note that this is cheaper than a single ticket. There is a dining car. You will be bothered at least four times for your passport, and around four times for your ticket, and once by very nosy and insistent EU customs staff.
The return train departs at 7:14 every morning for Budapest and costs 96 KM arriving at Keleti pu. station at 19:03.
Bosnia is a beautiful country to drive in as the scenery is spectacular.
However, due to the mountainous terrain, atrocious driving by many road users (including dangerous overtaking on narrow highways), and generally poor condition of the road around the country, do not expect speeds will be fast - especially given the relatively short distance 'as the crow flies'.
Petrol stations can be hard to find in some spots - often the best place to fill up is on the edge of towns and cities rather than in them.
Border crossings normally pose few problems.
Mechanics who speak English may be hard to find, and licensing may be an issue so ensure that you are allowed to actually drive there. Police regularly set up road blocks on the road and don't be surprised to be pulled over to check your papers and have a chat!
Buses are plentiful in and around Bosnia due to the lack of infrastructure.
Most interational buses arrive at the bus station (austobusna stanica) which is located next to the railway station close to the centre of Sarajevo. However, buses from Belgrade, the Serbian-held parts of Bosnia, and Montenegro mostly use the Lukavica bus station in Istočno, or Eastern Sarajevo (a ethnic Serbian suburb of Sarajevo).
Frequent coach services run from Sarajevo to:
International bus services are nearly always in modern, luxurious 5-star coaches - the only exceptions to this are normally the local buses operating slightly over the border (max. 3 hour trips).
Ferries are available from Neum to other cities on the Adriatic connecting to Croatia and other countries.
Similarly transport is available along the inland rivers and lakes, some of which is privately run.
The best way to get around (if you are not with your own car, that is) is with bus or train. The network between the two is extremely extensive. Surprisingly, prices do not differ very much, neither do the travel times (bus might be slightly cheaper), but the bus network is significantly more extensive and run more frequently than trains (many train lines were damaged in the recent conflict, and have not been rebuilt to fast speeds, in addition to there being a lack of carriages and trains to provide frequent services - even on the busy lines like Mostar-Sarajevo, Tuzla-Banja Luka and Sarajevo-Banja Luka.
Hitching is not advised, and walking between towns can prove dangerous (including in areas which may not have been de-mined).
The official languages in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina are Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian. They are practically the same and are completely understood and translating dictionaries can be used interchangeably. (Serbian is often written in the Cyrillic alphabet, so a Serbian-English dictionary wouldn't be useful in Bosnia.) However, Bosnians and Herzegovinians are sensitive about their language so don't say they speak "Serbo-Croatian." The Bosniaks call their language "Bosanski", the Bosnian Serbs "Serbian" and the Bosnian Croats "Croatian", but it is basically the same.
In the Republika Srpska you'll see signs in Cyrillic, so a Serbian-Engish dictionary would be helpful there.
The languages differ only in the most academic of venues and also in traditional homes so the languages are easily mutually comprehensible, despite noticeable differences. There are different versions of the languages throughout the area and spoken language changes between regions. Academic and official language on the other hand is usually consistent and understood by all.
A lot of Bosnians, especially the younger generation will speak English or German, and the older generations tended to have studied English, French or Russian in school.
Many Bosnians speak excellent English. None of these people work in hotels, restaurants, bus stations, or drive taxis. Stated positively, every day Bosnians will insist upon buying you coffee and cakes while engaging you in long and deep intellectual discussions, in perfect English. You'll need to learn a little Bosnian to buy a snack at a bakery and tell a taxi driver where you're staying, but this is easy enough.
See also: Bosnian phrasebook
The official currency is the konvertibilna marka (convertible Mark), at a fixed rate of 1.95 towards the Euro (1 EUR = 1.95 KM). Be sure to get small bills, as anything above 20 KM will most likely get you into trouble when you want to pay due to lack of small change. You can pay almost everywhere with Euro bills, and will be able to change them almost everywhere (shops, taxi) - at a rate of 1 EUR = 2 KM; for changing, up to 50 EUR should be fine in most cases; for paying, up to 10 EUR.
Credit cards are not widely accepted - ATMs are available in the bigger cities (mostly VISA system, sometimes Maestro), though they will most probably provide you with big bills (>=50 KM) that you will again have trouble paying with.
Most towns and cities will have markets and fares where any number of artisans, sellers, and dealers will offer any kind of stock. Different foods are readily available, both fresh and cooked, as well as clothing, jewelry and souvenirs. At the markets you are able to negotiate with the seller, although that may take some practice. Like in most such venues prices may be inflated for foreigners based on a quick 'means test' made by the seller. Often those who look like they can afford more will be asked to pay more.
Large shopping centers and stores do exist in most cities and towns.
Sarajevo is fine for buying clothes and shoes of good quality and relatively cheap. The main shopping streets of Sarajevo are also great for black market products including the latest DVDs, video games and music CDs. Most tourists who visit Sarajevo no doubt leave with a few DVDs to take back home.
Visoko and the central Bosnia region are very well known for their leather work.
Mostar has an excellent shopping mall on the Croatian side with some typical European-style clothes shops and jewelers.
The most available food in Sarajevo are Cevapi (normally 2-4 KM), the ubiquitous Balkan kebab, and several variations of pita(around 2KM), a sometimes-greasy pastry made of filo dough and stuffed with meat (Burek), cheese (Sirnica), spinach (Zeljanica), potatoes (Krompirusa) or apple (Jabukovasa). If you get to Mostar, however, try to grab a plate of trout ("pastrmka," which sounds like "pastrami"), which is the local speciality (a particularly fine restaurant serving locally farmed trout lies by the wonderful Blacaj monastery, a short bus ride from Mostar).
Local food is heavy on meat and potatoes, and light on vegetarian alternatives. Even traditional so-called vegetarian dishes like beans or Grah are cooked with bacon or smoked meats. Stews often contain meat but can be created without. Rice and pasta dishes are readily available and a traditional sourdough soup filing called Trahana is hand made in most regions and a stable during the fasting month of Ramadan. Fast food, with the exceptions of cevapi and pita (or burek) consists of, unlike in other parts of Europe, pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs. Pannini sandwiches are served in most coffee shops popular with youth, and Bosnian coffee, reminiscent of Italian espresso, is a must-try for any coffee afficianado. Oddly, apart from these fast food options, Bosnian restaurants serve few Bosnian specialities - what people eat in their homes is very different from what they will eat if they go to a restaurant.
All along Bosnian roads and recreational places, you will notice advertisements for Janjetina or "Lamb on the spit." This is a very tasty treat, usually reserved for special occasions. A whole lamb is cooked on a spit (a large wooden steak), by rotating over a coal fire for a long time. When you order, you pay by the kilogram, which costs around 25KM (not bad since this is enough for several people). Families, on special occasions, make such roasts at home.
No matter what food you order, you are bound to be served bread, commonly consumed throughout some parts of Europe with all savoury foods. Both soup and salad are commonly served with entrees, chicken & beef soup with noodles or egg dumplings being the most common. Salads are typically composed of mixed tomatoes, lettuce, onions and bell peppers, often with feta cheese. A Caesar salad is not a known thing in Bosnia, and generally most vinaigrettes are of the Italian variety, balsamic vinegar and olive or corn oil. You may also come across many condiments. Ajvar is a canned (or home made if you are lucky) spread, something like a brucheta spread, made of roasted peppers & eggplant, which are ground and seasoned with pepper and salt and slow cooked. Many pickled foods are also served as condiments, such as pickled peppers, onions, cucumbers ["pickles"], and tomatoes. Kajmak is a dairy spread, with consistency and taste like cream cheese. It is made of milk fat, like cream, which is removed, salted and canned. It has a smoky, salty cheese taste, with a texture slightly drier than cream cheese. Kajmak from Travnik is a local specialty and is exported as far as Australia.
Bosnian food generally does not combine sweet & savoury foods, and you will never encounter such a thing as a Caesar salad with mandarin oranges. On the other, many a fine chef will experiment with sweet and savory tastes like the 'Medeno Meso' (Honeyed Meat) made in pre-war Banja Luka by a well known chef. The delineation between fruit and vegetables is strong, with fruit used only for dessert-type dishes. You will, as such, never encounter any dish where sugar is added unless it's a dessert. The food is generally heavy on flavours of fresh produce, which needs little or no added spice. As such, this is not a cuisine heavy on spicy or hot dishes. The focus is also on textures and colours which greatly adds to the experience.
Smoked meats are a staple of Bosnian cuisine, more so than the stereotypical foods of pita & cevapi. Amongst the non-Muslim populations, pork rules, and prosciutto, smoked neck, smoked ribs, bacon and hundreds of varieties of smoked sausage make this a real BBQ country. Amongst the Muslim popultaion such dishes are made from lamb or beef. The meat is prepared by first curing in salt for several days, which removes water & dehydrates the meat, while the high-concentrations of salt preserve the meat from spoiling. After being rubbed with spices (a Bosnian dry rub is usually very simple, and includes some combination of high-quality fresh peppercorns, hot paprika, salt, onions & garlic, and a few spoons of Vegeta, a powdered chicken soup mix similar to an Oxo flavour cube), the meat is then hung over a heavy smoke made by a wood fire. Fruit trees are well-known by BBQ afficionados around the world to produce the most flavourful smoke, and apple, cherry and walnut trees are the most commonly used in Bosnia. Whereas commercially produced deli meats (of the sort you may buy at your local deli) are most often dry-cured or hung in dehydrating fridges and only then pressure-smoked for a few hours to allow some flavour to permeate the meat, Bosnian smoked meat is painstakingly smoked up to three months. The meat hangs in a "smoke house," a tiny wooden shed usually only big enough to light a fire and hang the meat. Bosnians will only smoke meat in the fall or winter, because the low temperatures, together with the salt curation, allow the meat to hang for months without spoiling. During this time, it is smoked up to 4 times a week, for 8-10 hours at a time, which infuses the meat with the flavour of the smoke and removes any remaining water. The finished product has an incredibly strong aroma & flavour of smoke, with texture of chewy beef jerky. Depending on the cut of meat, the most noticeable difference between smoked meat produced this way and the commercially produced meat available in North America, is the colour inside the meat. Whereas commercial deli meat is usually soft, red, a little wet and fairly raw, Bosnian smoked meat is black throughout with only a slight tinge of pink. Larger cuts of meat, like the Dalmatian prosciutto, do tend to be a bit more pink & softer inside, but the difference is still dramatic, since the Balkan-made prosciutto has much less water, is chewier and overall better smoked. Such meat is most often consumed at breakfast time, in sandwiches, or as meza, a snack commonly brought out to greet guests. For the visitor, smoked meats are a cheap and incredibly flavourful lunchmeat, and can be bought at Bosnian marketplaces from people who usually prepare it themselves. Have a pork neck sandwich with some Bosnian smoked cheese and a salad of fresh tomatoes in a bun of fresh and crisp homemade bread, and you'll never want to leave. As the Muslim population generally does not eat pork (although a large segment is not religious), smoked beef alternatives exist.
When you visit a Bosnian at home, the hospitality offered can be rather overwhelming. Coffee is almost always served with some home-made sweet, such as cookies or cakes, together with Meza. Meza is a large platter of arranged smoked meats, which usually includes some type of smoked ham (in traditional non-Muslim homes) and sausage thinly cut and beautifully presented with cheese, ajvar, hard-boiled eggs and freshly cut tomatoes, cucumbers or other salad vegetable. Bread is always served. Most cookbooks on South Slavonic cooking are packed with hundreds of varieties of breads, this being one of the most bread-crazy regions in the whole world. Yet, just about the only type of bread in most Bosnians' homes is the store-bought French variety, which the Bosnians refuse to call "French." To them, it is just "Hljeb or Kruh" which basically means bread. Families have strong recepies passed on from mother to daughter. 'Pogaca' (which is a more tough bread), different types of sour dough breads, many different rolls like the well known 'Lepina' or 'Somun' (in which Chevapi is served) and in the western world more commonly known as Turkish Bread. During Ramadan families tend to make more of an effort in creating special foods and using the less store bought variety which can equally be translated to religious or special occasions such as Christmas and Easter.
In every-day cooking, Bosnians eat lots of stew-type meals, like boiled cabbage made with a meant, beans prepared in a similar fashion and a fairly-runny variation of Hungarian gulash. All are made with garlic, onions, celery and carrots, followed by a vegetable, smoked meat and several cups of water. This is then cooked until the vegetables are falling apart. A local spice called "vegeta" is incorporated into almost every dish, and the same spice is used throughout the region, as far as Poland. It is the North American equivalent of a chicken oxo cube, or, in other words, condensed chicken broth mix. These type of stew meals will cost you next-to-nothing, and are very hearty filling meals.
As for deserts, you will drool over ice cream sold in most former Yugoslav countries. There are several varieties, but regional milk and cream must be a contributing factor to their wonderful taste. You can buy ice cream either by the scoop or from an iced-milk swirl machine, packaged in stores or from a sidewalk vendor with a freezer right on the street. Recommended is the "Egypt" Ice Creamery in Sarajevo, famous in the region for their caramel ice cream. I also enjoyed "Ledo," a type of packaged ice cream made in Croatia but sold throughout the region. You should also try some local deserts, such as Krempita, a type of a custard/pudding desert that tastes something like a creamy cheesecake, and Sampita, a similar desert made with egg whites. Traditional Bosnian deserts such as 'Hurmasice or Hurme' which are small finger shaped sweet with wall nuts, or 'Tullumbe' which are more like a tubular doughnut, crispy on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside and particularly the world known 'Baklava' with a distinct Bosnian variety and flavour. Much of the traditional cooking is influenced with Turkish or Arabic undertones left over from the Ottoman reign in the area. Besides the traditional foods and deserts, Bosnia offers a wide variety of tastes of modern dishes.
Whatever you eat in Bosnia, you will notice the richness of the flavours you thought you knew and the wonderful use of texture. The cuisine of the country has not yet been ruined by commercially-produced produce, so most foods are organically or semi-organically grown, using fewer chemicals and are picked when ripe. The vegetable markets sell only seasonal and locally-grown vegetables, and you are bound to have some of the best tasting fruit you've ever tried in the Neretva Valley region of Herzegovina (close to the Croatian border, between Mostar and Metkovic). The region is famous for peaches, mandarin oranges, peppers & tomatoes, cherries (both the sweet and the sour variety), watermelons and most recently Kiwis. Cheese is also incredibly favourful and rich all across Bosnia & Herzegovina, and generally all foods are as fresh as it gets. Enjoy!
Edit: As someone who has lived most of my life in Bosnia and Croatia and someone who visits the area regularly I felt the need to correct some of the factual misrepresentations in the article. Inevitably, the area you visit will differ from the foods offered in other regions. It is a well known fact amongst most Bosnian that almost every family and every village or town has their own versions or takes on different 'traditional' dishes.
The legal drinking age in Bosnia and Herzegovina is 15 years. Popular beers are Sarajevsko, Tuzlanski, Karlovacka and Nektar. Even in more heavily Islamic areas alcohol is available in abundance to those who choose to drink and almost every bar is fully stocked.
Like most Slavs Bosnians make 'Rakija' which comes in many a variety and is made both commercially and at home. Red wine is 'Crno vino' (Black wine) and white wine is 'bjelo vino'. Alcohol is not taxed as heavily as in most Western nations and is often very affordable. Quality alcohol is sought after and valued.
Another popular drinking beverage is Turkish coffee, which can be bought in every bar, coffee shop or fast food place.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina you can choose from the great number of hotels, hostels, motels and pensions. At the seaside town of Neum you can book hotels from 2 to 4 stars. In the other cities many hotels are 3 stars, 4 stars and some of them are 5 stars. In Sarajevo the best hotels are: Hollywood, Holiday Inn, Bosnia, Saraj, Park, Grand and Astra. Reservation is possible via the internet or by contacting Centrotrans-Eurolines travel agency in Sarajevo, phone number: +387 33 205 481, languages spoken: English, German, French and Dutch.
With one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe (in some areas up to 40%, official rate 17%), it will be unlikely you will find legitimate employment in the country unless you are working for a multi-national organisation.
If you plan on traveling off the beaten path in Bosnia, be aware that the nation is still in the process of clearing many of the estimated 5 million land mines left around the countryside during the war of 1992-1995. In rural areas try to stay on paved areas if possible, and never touch any unarmed explosive device. Houses and private property were often rigged with mines as their owners fled during the war. If an area or property looks abandoned, stay away from it until it has been cleared by a demining team.
Bosnia experiences very little violent crime, as long as you stay on paved roads and marked routes. Beware of pickpockets, however, in larger cities, especially Sarajevo.
There are approximately 600,000 land mines in Bosnia. Areas around Sarajevo are extremely hazardous, so be careful.
All Bosnian employees undergo regular health checks to ensure that they are physically capable to do their jobs and that they will not transmit any disease or injure anyone. People in the food industry are particularly checked and random health and safety checks for the premises are held often. Food providers are held to the highest standards. A Bosnian kitchen is expected to be spotless and food safety is very important.
If getting a tattoo, ensure that your instruments are being steralised. While this may be a common practice, one should still be careful.
Since the food is very rich, some extra exercise may help.
And as above, never walk off dedicated paths in case of land mines.
Respect the religious and ethnic differences of the peoples in the region and their effort to move past the recent war. It is important to be careful in areas where there is still tension and to ensure that one does not offend a particular group due to indifference or sheer ignorance.
Similarly, respect the environment. A lot of the country has been saved from pollution and it is important to be careful of one's influences. Moreover, it is equally important to be careful as the rivers tend to be fierce, the mountains and valleys often unguarded and the footing unsure. Always have a tour guide with you or consult a local for advice on the natural dangers that may arise.