Besides the busy avenues crowded with tourists and attractions, Sarajevo's suburbs hide an intense history that shaped its international fame. I dedicate this second part of our story to the Bosnian War of Independence, with it's devastating Siege on Sarajevo, and the scars it left behind. About 20 years ago, the life of its inhabitants changed radically. The image of those times is still alive in the locals' mind still struggling to overcome the economical damage. We went on a quest for finding the war marks in Sarajevo, and we are goingto show you what we discovered.
What you should know about Bosnia
The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a truly unique place to experience the Balkan culture while traveling. This country is an ethnic, religious and cultural mixture of Bosnian Muslims (44%), Orthodox Serbs (31%) and Catholic Croats (17%) often named the “Jerusalem of Europe”. As the country's name suggests it is composed of two geographical regions: Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the administration is divided between Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republic of Srpska. To understand why we need to have a quick look at the country's tumultuous recent history.
Bosnia's War of Independence in a nutshell
In the early '90s, when the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia was falling apart, and its integrated territories were asking for independence, Bosnia and Herzegovina tried to do the same, achieving UN recognition as an independent state. But the Bosnian Serbs weren't happy, so they declared a new autonomous state inside the country, a vast territory from north to south, going along the border with Serbia, and partially surrounding Sarajevo; they called it Republika Srpska (RS). And it doesn't stop here: the Bosnian Serbs leaders had a bigger goal: to create a greater Serbia, so in order to reinforce their territory , they asked for the help of Serbian government of Slobodan Milošević, which was happy to lend them a “hand”, and soon the war started across the country. On the process, also the Bosnian Croats thought it was the right time to ask for independence. Things got ugly really fast: Sarajevo was under siege for almost 4 years, and the war crimes reached an unprecedented number. Following the confusing line of events, we reach the final battle when Bosnian Muslims and Croats shake hands against the Serbs. Plus, NATO interferes in restoring peace, after some “Guinness record” massacres, too sad to detail here. The result? The Bosnian War with it's Siege on Sarajevo won the title of the most destructive conflict since World War II ! As usual, the war can be seen from many perspectives, but let's say this is the most common version of the events.
In search of the war signs
Coming here we were imagining a grey city, traumatized by war, with half of its buildings bombed. A ruined capital, of a forgotten country. Not only we deleted completely that picture from our minds but even the war signs weren't that common as one may think. We had to search for them: we saw some bullet signs carved in the walls of buildings in the suburbs, and some small houses collapsed. We recognized one of the Olympic halls of Sarajevo's '84 Winter Olympic Games, the peak for Bosnia's tourism; Skenderija Ice Hall, that used to host the Hockey Competition, was completely falling apart, stripped of her glory. What we thought to be ruins from the civil war, was in fact due to heavy snow. One month before we were arrived in Sarajevo, the roof of this Sport Hall collapsed under the tons of snow, that transformed Southestern Europe in a small Ice Age at the beginning of 2012. But there were more symbols to remind us what was the reality less than 20 years ago: surrounding the glass memorial monument from the central park for the 1500 children killed during the Sarajevo Siege, a brass ring made of melted bullet scraps was imprinted with the footsteps of their brothers and sisters. The hills are full with vast cemeteries, for the people killed during Bosnia's War of Independence from which the majority were Bosnian Muslims. Seeing these memorial places and imagining the line of events which led to their creation, is an emotional roller-coaster.
The Siege of Sarajevo
The memory of Sarajevo's Siege is still alive in the minds of the locals: between 1992 and late 1995, for almost 4 years the city was surrounded by 18.000 Serb snippers in the surrounding hills, assaulting the city with weapons and blocking any escape. With no running water, electricity, and heating in heavy winters, the people of Sarajevo were obliged to leave their homes in search for food and water in order to survive. The Bosnian-Serb snippers were rewarding their courage with a bullet in their heads, leaving no place for hope in their hearts. At the end of the Siege of Sarajevo, an estimated 100.000 people were killed, between 20.000-50.000 women were raped and 2.2 million people were relocated. No wonder the Bosnian War was considered the most devastating conflict in modern European history.
The painful memories of the Siege are still present in the minds of Sarajevo's inhabitants, but it's a whole different reality for the tourists visiting Bosnia's main attractions.Their experience is full of taste, color and cultural diversity. The contrast in architecture, stories, souvenirs, tradition vs modern, is intense and lovely to watch just like a beautiful Bosnian carpet. Lots are buying this new face of Sarajevo and coming for more. Plus, it is totally safe, in case you were wondering. The war is long gone, no one wants it back. Sarajevo is developing fast and so does Bosnia's tourism. A lively bustling city with an international atmosphere, a great place to travel and experience the Balkans!
If you haven't read the colorful side of our story, check out our experience in Sarajevo!
For more pictures from Sarajevo, have a look at the complete Foto Album.