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The Bridge on the Drina
This book describes the relations between Serbs and Muslims during the occupation by the Ottoman Empire.
The story lasts about four centuries so there aren't any main human characters. Instead the main "character" is a bridge over the Drina in Visegrad, now eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska.
In the 15th century the Ottoman Empire conquered a large portion of Balkan peninsula. The Turks did not force the Christian populations to convert to Islam but Muslims had many privileges. They had to pay extra taxes and once or twice a decade the Turks selected some young boys to be taken to Turkey, given Turkish names and raised into soldiers. In 1516 one of those children was taken from the village Sokolovići near Visegrad and he was given a Turkish name Mehmed, later Mehmed pasha Sokolović.
He promoted quickly and approx. at the age of 60 he became a grand vizier and he decided to make a tribute to his homeland so he ordered to build a bridge over the Drina river in Vishegrad together with a caravanserai (or han). The construction works started in 1566 and 5 years later the bridge was completed which signified very important connection of Sarajevo pashaluk (the territory of the present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina) with the rest of the Turkish empire and replaced unreliable boat transport across the river. Already at this phase a reader learns how serfs were forced to build it and how they tried to strike and sabotage the construction site because of poor working conditions.
The middle of the bridge, called "the gate" was wider and it quickly became a popular meeting place for people from Vishegrad and surroundings, a relaxed mood which is still typical for the present-day Turkey and most of Balkan peninsula. A reader also learns that there were no tensions between the Muslims (referred as the Turks during the whole novel), Christians (the Serbs), Sephardic Jews and the Roma. Rather, they stood in solidarity with one another during regular floods of the Drina.
About a century later Habsburg Austria conquered what is now Hungary and thus a crisis in Turkish empire began. Due to lack of state funds, the caravanserai was abandoned while the bridge was projected and constructed well enough to stand for centuries without maintenance.
The first nationalistic tensions started in the 19th century when the Serbian uprising in the neighbouring Belgrade pashaluk (now Serbia) begun. But a neighbour didn't raise a hand over a neighbour, instead the soldiers from all parts of the empire established a guarding point at the gate and were beheading suspicious Serbians and potential rebels.
After the Congress of Berlin Serbia and Montenegro became fully independent counties while the Austro-Hungarian Empire received a right to occupy Bosnia and Herzegovina and thus turn it into a protectorate. Since the completion of the bridge the time seemed to stop, so the local people had several troubles to accept all new things that came with the Austrian rule. And there were many changes. First a barracks was built at the site of the caravanserai and suddenly the town experienced what would now be called globalisation. People from all parts of the Austrian - Hungarian kingdom came, opened their businesses and brought their local habits. A narrow gauge railway line was built to Sarajevo and the significance of the bridge was soon reduced, but not completely as it will turn out later.
The modernisation included among other things that children were started being educated in Sarajevo and later some of them continued their studies in Vienna. They brought home ideas from the rest of the world and along with newspapers that were available in Vishegrad, too, nationalistic ideas, esp. among Serbians emerged. Another "contribution" to this was year 1908 when a crisis in Turkey gave Austrians an excellent chance to formally annex Bosnia and Herzegovina. During this annexation crisis it got evident that Austria saw the Kingdom of Serbia and its royal dynasty Karađorđević (in 1904 it threw another dynasty Obrenović from the Serbian throne) as a serious obstacle to their further conquering of the Balkans. And the Balkan wars in 1912 and 1913, when Turkey was almost completely pushed out of the Balkans, did not help to better relations between Serbians and Austrians as they undermined the middle column of the bridge. Many young Serbian men were passing it at nights and smuggled themselves across the border to Serbia. The reader does not know if the most famous of them, Gavrilo Princip, passed this bridge as he's not mentioned.
In 1914 Gavrilo Princip assassinated Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo which started World War I. The Kingdom of Austria and Hungary declared a war to Serbia and Austrians started to incite non Serbian people of Vishegrad against the Serbian population. The bridge with the old road to Sarajevo suddenly regained importance as the rail line was not sufficient to transport all war material and soldiers who soon invaded into Serbia. As the history teaches, the Serbian army defeated the Austrian one at their first invasion and started progressing towards Bosnia so the Austrians decided to establish the front line on the Drina. They evacuated Vishegrad and blew up the bridge.
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