Our history teacher decided to take our class to the small but beautiful town of Konjic, about an hour from Sarajevo, to see Tito’s nuclear bunker. Yes, the Cold War existed in Yugoslavia. Based on the size of this bunker, it was a pretty relevant issue. The bunker was actually never visited by Tito, who died shortly after its completion. This is very sad, because it took 26 years and about 8 million dollars to construct. They began the project in 1953 and didn’t complete it until 1979, the entire time keeping it incredibly secret. It was also supposed to be blown up, under the direction of a top military commander, but it was very fortunately preserved. Today, it functions as a museum and as an underground modern art gallery. Here’s a lot more information on the bunker for those who are interested! The visit made me marvel at the cost of the Cold War. It really showcased how afraid people were of one another. I’ve never seen anything like it in the United States, and it will remain a unique memory from my time in Bosnia.
Later in the afternoon, we had time to walk around the small town of Konjic. This included going to a cafe with some classmates. We were enjoying our coffee when an elderly man approached us and began talking about how Katie looked like his wife, who had died. He stood talking to us for about fifteen minutes, and when it became clear that he didn’t want to leave, we offered him a chair. He told us about his life. He was 91 years old and had fought as a partisan in WWII, in Mostar. The best days were under Tito, he told us. He could afford to buy pants back then. That morning all he’d had for breakfast was a bowl of milk because he couldn’t afford bread. The conversation was sporadic, it went back and forth. “Kako se zovete?” we asked. What’s your name? “Halil,” he said, pulling out his tobacco box to show us his engraved name. Even though his hands were shaking, he still rolled a cigarette better than the other people at the table; he had “smoked since he was six years old.” There was a little confusion when he said that. “Šest?” I asked in disbelief. Our friend Amila confirmed it. She was the only native Bosnian speaker at the table- everyone else spoke Bosnian at various levels (Javi from Spain, Lorenzo from Italy, and the Americans). Lorenzo mostly held up the conversation, asking questions that prompted him to tell us stories. He spoke softly and didn’t have any teeth so it was difficult to understand, but it was worth the concentration. The whole time I kept thinking about how much he must know, and how much he’d experienced in his life time. I feel that our society doesn’t give older generations enough respect. Their cumulative life experience makes them a vast wealth of knowledge, and even if their bodies have aged, their minds are still sharp and memories sharper. They are still people, and hopefully, one day you and I will be as old as they are now. I hope to treat everyone with the respect they deserve.
Overall, Konjic was a very beautiful albeit small town, the bunker was mind-opening in understanding the Cold War, and I met a living partisan (for those of you who don’t know much about the Partisans, click here), something that is so remarkable that I still can’t really process it.