Can sport help Bosnia forget the past?

Tue May 19, 2009 10:27am EDT
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By Daria Sito-Sucic

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters Life!) - The biggest sporting event Bosnia has organized since the end of its devastating war 14 years ago has excited thousands of spectators -- but left others lamenting how the old nationalist passions remain.

Bosnia's second-largest city Banja Luka is hosting the world rafting championships this week.

Teams have come from 35 countries and five continents to race on the wild waters of the river Vrbas in northwestern Bosnia and the river Tara in the east.

Following the 1992-95 war between Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, the country has been divided into two rival ethnically based regions, the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic, joined under a weak central government.

Organizers of the rafting, and many citizens, hope that holding big sports events can help ease ethnic animosities and bring people from the two regions together.

"This is one of the most positive things that has happened in the past 10 years," said Ana Lukic, whose whole family came to cheer the teams' parade in the center of Banja Luka.

"Everyone came for sports only and not for some national reasons," she added.

Certainly the competitors have been impressed.   Continued...

<p>Germany's women's rafting team prepare to practice their slalom run down the Vrbas river near Banja Luka ahead of the World Rafting Championships May 17, 2009. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj</p>