Dark Tourism | Sarajevo, A Case Study

*I’ve been a bad blogger recently because I haven’t posted for a while. I blame studies! Anyway i’d much appreciate you check out this post because a fair amount of research when into it and i think it touches an interesting topic.

There has been debate between the media and travellers over the emergence of ‘dark tourism’, which is a tourist destination that is some way connected to death or disaster. This could range from Auschwitz to the Parisian catacombs to the 9/11 Memorial site. Generally, the destination is connected to a “dark chapter in history”. The debate stems from the ethics of visiting these places and the obsession with the macabre. In this article I will use Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, a destination I visited a couple of months ago as a case study. It is here I discovered the phenomenon of ‘dark tourism’ and came to question my own stance on the subject.

Sarajevo has been considered a dark tourist destination since 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. However, it is Bosnia & Herzegovina’s recent history; the war following the countries succession from Yugoslavia in the 1990’s that counts for most of Sarajevo’s tourism today. This is noticeable walking around the city as it is not long before you are confronted with a building still full of bullet holes or the ruins of a house. I didn’t visit any of the memorial museums because that is not to my taste. However, I still felt that the effects of the war were very fresh and visible in everyday life for the people of Sarajevo. After a couple of days in the city I began to realise that almost every place of interest was connected to the war. Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984 and so I made the journey to the abandoned bobsleigh course because I wanted to see something out of the city. It was an eerie experience, this was partly due to the weather and partly due to me being the only person there. Saying this, there was still an atmosphere of paranoia, that made me constantly turn my head around because I thought someone was walking behind me. I researched the site once I was back in my hotel and discovered that the track was used as artillery defence during the war. This hit home the reality of what happened historically there. It was once a celebration of sporting achievement and the coming together of nations through friendly competition. Now it has much darker associations.

I had to do some research into dark tourism. My initial view was that it was for tourists who found pleasure in seeing the destruction and misery that had happened to other places and people. However, I have come to realise that this is not the case at all. We are essentially all dark tourists; the umbrella term covers sites of huge historical significance such as the Berlin Wall, all the way down the spectrum to a War Museum. All these sites have in common is that they relate to death, destruction or dark history – either natural or man-made. The term can be adjusted to include just about anything. Dark tourism has received a bad reputation in the media. It is this idea of voyeurism that is the main reason. Tourists visiting these sites are seen as glamorising the disaster and getting pleasure out of the trauma of those effected. It could be compared to the ‘snuff video’ movement that you sometimes see on social media. While I am on the subject – social media also contributes to dark tourism’s bad reputation. Most recently there was controversy over people posting selfies at Holocaust memorial sites. It was this particular incident that made me aware of my own position on dark tourism. While I was in the city I came across a ‘Sarajevo Rose’, which is the remnants of a mortar explosion that has been filled with red resin, making it look floral in its appearance. A tourist brochure also told me it was “the most instagrammed picture of Sarajevo” – I was also guilty of this! Is there a moral stance of posting pictures from these sites on social media? Is it right that a mortar explosion is Sarajevo’s most popular photo, instead of its beautiful old town?

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After researching dark tourism and visiting a dark tourism site I have come to my own conclusions on the subject. I think that generally dark tourism is misunderstood. It is viewed as being consumed by a small portion of travellers, when in reality we are all involved in some way. I think it can be very educational. The Yugoslav wars happened during the first years of my life so I had next to no knowledge of that part of history. However, after visiting Bosnia I have become a lot more clued up on what happened; including the extraordinary stories of the people of Sarajevo and how they coped with the war. Dark tourism also shows that we can’t forget that these events happened, although that would be easier, it isn’t the right thing to do. Only by learning from the past can we stop these events happening again in the future.

 

Most of my research came from; http://www.dark-tourism.com/ so if you are interested in the subject then feel free to learn more!

 

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