Images from Haiti are heartbreaking. Such disasters, with their mind-boggling destruction — earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, wars — are difficult to witness, even on television. So much suffering from Mother Nature and the hand of man.
The day before the tragic earthquake in Haiti I was reading a heart warming story in The New York Times about another area of the world rising from the ashes. The Balkans, recovering from the unspeakable atrocities of the 1990s, had some good news to share. A train linking Sarajevo and Belgrade was now back on track after nearly 20 years.
The route, famous in the region, was once a literal link between Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims in this part of the world that was once known as Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia had been famously knit together by Communism and Tito, but the cohesion couldn’t hold and the region exploded into war and chaos following Tito’s death and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The bridges were targeted in the bombings and were a major challenge to rebuild.
The train ride today is not a seamless journey, but one that requires two passport checks, rail equipment from four countries, and nearly eight hours for the 300 miles between cities. This journey, which covers a shorter distance than from San Francisco to Los Angeles or DC to Boston, has become a symbol of rebirth for many in the Balkans.
Folks on the maiden voyage recalled the party atmosphere, reminiscent of the Sarajevo Winter Olympics in 1984. Those games had been a high point for many, and a positive window into their world, just a few short years before the ethnic hatred exploded into war. The political tension is still high in the region, but with much of the infrastructure destroyed in the war from 1992 to 1995, a renaissance of this train route is cause for celebration.
In late 1991 I was planning a trip to Yugoslavia (my honeymoon to be exact) when the news from the Balkans was not good. A Croat colleague in France at the time warned me not to go, so instead my husband and I traveled to Hungary and Czechoslovakia. I hope to plan a trip sometime soon to Croatia, and I may just book a trip on the Balkan Hope train.