A frontier is both one thing and another. The very meaning of the word suggests two sides, where something comes up against the unknown, or the other. The Bosanska Krajina - or "Bosnian Frontier" - is a place where war has always been close at hand, where the people are quiet and tough, where minarets rise beside cornfields and river trout jump at flies. This is the most beautiful and wild corner of Bosnia and Herzegovina, pushed up into the sickle of Croatia and overflowing with rivers and pretty towns.
An old name for the Krajina was the "Ljuta Krajina," or the "angry frontier." It's been at the heart of almost every conflict fought in this part of the world: the fault line between Roman Dalmatia and the invading slavs, the grating edge between Austro-Hungaria and the Ottomans, the headquarters of the Yugoslav partisans during WWII, the bloody site of Serb concentration camps during the conflict of the nineties. War is ingrained in the landscape.
the Hungarian Puszta. Tractors rumble through the streets, lamb grills on roadside spits, the food is a hearty mix of grilled meats and potatoes - with some river fish mixed in.
Cazin, not far away from Omarska, up at the very point of the frontier, came to life in the evenings after the daily Ramazan fasting. We ate dinner at Papillon restaurant, which served proudly national food. A man popped in and out of the kitchen with plates and bags of cevapi. Only one other man ate in the restaurant, but there were plenty of other people waiting to bring food home. We have stopped trying, in this land, to reconcile normalcy with horror.
Joseph Broz Tito, the daring young Partisan leader (and later ruler of Yugoslavia) hid his base in a cave near Dvar, in the thick of the Krajina's mountains. Thousands of German paratroopers failed to capture him there in the embarrassingly unsuccessful Operation Rösselsprung - his escape and the Yugoslav victory helped create a legend after Tito returned.
For us, this is also the frontier of our journey - the last push into the hinterlands of the Balkans, of southern Europe, middle Europe, wherever it is that we are. In a few days, we'll be ensconced in Sarajevo, then headed home, then on our last leg - Scandinavia, the British Isles, places that feel especially far removed from heat and confusion, tiny cultures, bombed buildings and Turkish coffee. We'll leave behind a tangle of roads traveled and looped, borders crossed, towns with impossible names. This is the last foray into this particular wilderness, and, standing in the breeze atop the castle, we began to sense the end. Fitting, probably, that this historical middle ground felt like a perfect place to finish the chapter.