Present-day Sarajevo is a tourist-friendly place with bustling promenades, trendy boutiques, art galleries, traditional restaurants, cozy cafes, and pastry shops. But these are not the reason why I came here to visit. I came to learn about The Siege of Sarajevo that wreaked havoc here from 1992 to 1995…
My first impressions came during my taxi ride from the bus station to Travelers Home Hostel near the tourist district. Along the way, I observed what seemed like normal workaday city life as well as a curious mix of modern architecture and drab communist-era buildings…
This tram in particular felt like a living relic from the time of Marshal Tito.
But then… Notice the pock marks on the building, left…. artillery, rocket, and sniper damage from the 1990s siege. I am still not sure if this should have surprised me or not.
My guide, Faruk. Bosnian and Muslim, and now in his thirties, he survived the four year siege when he was a teenager. We connected quite personally… an authentic human connection, despite the horrific history that brought us together. I consider him both a friend and teacher. Here we are visiting one of many places considered a “no man’s land”, a totally exposed crossing of the airport runway…
A visit to the surrounding hills makes the profound vulnerability of Sarajevo eminently clear….
Surrounded by hills in every direction except for a narrow slot to the West, there was nothing beyond the reach of artillery and no street safe from the line of sniper fire.
Notice the cemetery marked by hundreds of white pillars.
The Holiday Inn, then…
… and now.
Can you find the Holiday Inn?
Suada Dilberović and Olga Sučić were the first two casualties of the siege. Suada, a Bosniak medical student, and Olga, a Croat were killed by a Serb sniper during a peace rally at the Vrbanja Bridge (now renamed in their honor).
The church in the center of the city was spared by the Serbs not out of reverence, but because the bell towers were a convenient visual targeting reference.
Visible reminders of the siege are not hard to find. This is the blast pattern from a mortar shell that approached from the right. By the way, Faruk said that collecting the tails from the mortar fired grenades was a form of playful competition between him and his friends.
To this day, landmines are a very real danger when working (and travelling) in the hills and countryside. In fact, a farmer was killed here just the week before my visit.
The Siege Tunnel, the only way that food, medicine, fuel, weapons, information, and people entered (or exited) the city.
Faruk pointing out the name of his cousin, who was killed at the age of thirteen.
The bobsled run built for and used during the 1984 Olympics…
During the siege, the track was used as a fort and artillery position by the Serbs…
Faruk recounts some of his first-hand siege experiences as a teenager.
Try to imagine spending your childhood under constant threat of being killed, with little to nothing to eat, no electricity, no running water. Try to imagine that your summer fun was getting to the only swimming hole in the river that was shielded from the snipers’ many lines of fire… and where trying to outwit the snipers was turned into a game.
Sometimes laughing is the only way to not cry…
That evening, I visited the Srebernica Gallery, where I took two hours to watch, listen, and learn. No photography was allowed inside, but this was the invitation inside the elevator to the exhibition. Expect to be exposed to the horrors of war, the evils of genocide, the insanity of religious and ethnic division… and to be transformed as a human being. My visit inspired me to go to Srebernica the very next day (see next post).
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