Today, I bought a rug from a friend of my colleague here. The rug shop owner is an energetic and fun Bosnian who speaks great English. He is a friend to many expats here, including the US ambassador, because he is honest and has a real talent in finding and restoring antique rugs. He told a similar story about the beginning of the war as the staff member who took me to the center. He lived in a building with Bosnians, Serbs, and Croats. They were friends and drank coffee together and their children played together. Then one day, he heard that people were killing each other, and mistrust set in instantly. They were at war, and his friends were his enemies. He couldn’t understand why so few Americans seem to understand how the war started; I explained that we hadn’t even heard the tip of the iceberg about it, and the few Americans could even tell you whose side we were on in the conflict. He shook his head, dragged on his cigarette, and went to tend a customer.
This city is a human and architectural and political textbook on war and its aftereffects. The conflict and horror and mistrust are only millimeters below the surface – where before the war, it was a diverse and relatively integrated place, it is now a place of careful friendship, suspicions, and identity politics. But amidst all that, it is a beautiful and fun and cosmopolitan place.