War is a racket. It always has been... A few profit - and the many pay. But there is a way to stop it. You can't end it by disarmament conferences. You can't eliminate it by peace parleys at Geneva. Well-meaning but impractical groups can't wipe it out by resolutions. It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war.
-Smedley Butler, War is a Racket
Now that I’ve been in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a bit over two weeks, I’ll be the first to admit that I understand its complicated recent history as much as I did when I heard of its war as a child: not by much, apart from the fact a group of people fought another group of people. But isn’t that what war ultimately is? Some people far away deciding a war is necessary, putting innocent people through hell to reach their goals (and riches)? Does it really matter who is fighting who and what they’re fighting for and what priceless things are destroyed, when a peaceful town like Mostar is torn in half when the ancient architectural masterpiece bridging the two is blown to pieces?? War is indeed a racket.
From Dubrovnik, Croatia, Mango and I hired a driver (the easiest option) to take us the two hours through winding, rocky mountains to Mostar, and I was so surprised at what a difference a few hours and one border can make. While much of Bosnia’s landscape and weather is like Croatia’s, the buildings are notably different and old stone buildings with Moorish flourishes mix with elegant mosques, piercing minarets, and cathedral spires. Outside of the small old town, there are more bullet-riddled and burnt out buildings than not. Even the tourists look different, and covered women and families from countries further east fill the bridge. Being in Bosnia is an incredible, diverse, beautiful, and tragic experience, all rolled into one with an apricot on top.
But a bit on Mostar, its bridge, and its past in a bit. Right now I’m here to share my experience at one of the city’s more unique and less visited attractions, the Sniper Tower.
I had read enough blog posts on the Sniper Tower to know that the building was the former Ljubljanska Banka Tower at Kneza Domagoja 12, a jagged concrete shell of its original glass-sheathed self. In the war in the 1990s, Croat snipers aimed their guns at Bosniaks below, thus earning the moniker “Sniper Tower.” These days, I knew that people could get inside but I didn’t bother to investigate how. (In these situations, my motto is “where there’s a will there’s a way, planning be damned.”) Mango and I arrived at the building and walked around, but the ground floor was blocked up to prevent people from getting in. When we walked around the back, I saw some teenagers goofing off on a ledge. I waited until they were on more stable footing to call up and ask how to get inside, and they were kind enough to come down and meet me at the entrance on the side. (Well, “entrance” is a grand word to describe a wobbly pile of bricks by a low wall with a slight ledge.) The two hoisted Mango up and I followed (of all days to wear white jeans, I cursed to myself); we chatted for a bit and in perfect English they told me how they come here a lot and were working on a small art project on the top floor. They left and Mango and I took our time walking around and exploring the bright yet cavernous space; there is a lot of interesting graffiti inside, and broken glass is everywhere (despite all of his intense sniffing, Mango walked away with just four dirty paws and no cuts, phew).
On one of the floors I ran into a guy dismantling a pipe from the wall. Seeing me, he stopped what he was doing to excitedly lead me through the building’s dark corridors to the ladder to the roof. I climbed up and the view from there was incredible with a generous panorama of the city and mountains. Standing there, I realized how painfully, sadly, simply appropriate the tower’s name was. After pulling Mango from a pile of what must have been some delicious-smelling junk, we made our way back to the entrance. We ran into the guy again, this time proudly carrying the large rusted pipe he had extracted from above and he again stopped what he was doing, rested the pipe against a wall, and helped me (then Mango) over the ledge. I offered to help him and (thankfully for my pants) he said he was okay, so Mango and I headed home after taking one last look at the forlorn building, another gap in the beautiful smile of Mostar.