The Scars of Sarajevo

I remember seeing images of Sarajevo on the news as I was growing up – I was 8-9 when the war began – and I recall collecting items for the Bosnia shoe box appeals to send resources to those is desperate need. Over the past couple of days I have walked around the streets of Sarajevo, a city that still bears the scars of a brutal war that I struggle to believe was allowed to take place in my lifetime; in 1992 I competed in my first Nationals, in 1994 I went to High School, all the while the people of this charming city were being shot as they walked their own streets, and lived their lives in their apartment blocks, which are often still covered in bullet holes due either to the economic situation not enabling them to remove these scars, or in some cases, the choice the people have made to leave them there as a stark reminder of the past and perhaps the resilience they have shown to still be standing and living their lives today.

A Rose of Sarajevo. Places where bombs exploded and damaged the ground have been painted red as a reminder of the atrocities and deaths that occurred as a result of the war.

The city is recognised as a point where east meets west; the Ottoman influence of the east clashing in the centre of the city with the Austro-Hungarian rule from the west. The latter aspect proving to be pivotal in triggering the outbreak of World War I where I stood on the corner from which nineteen year old Serbian Gavrilo Princip fired the shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand as he visited the city and his driver took a fatal wrong turn on June 28th, 1914.

This marking on the ground shows where the east and west parts of the city meet. I feel confident for the future of Bosnia due to the peaceful way in which different cultures coexist.

A stone plaque marking the corner on which Gavrilo Princip stood when firing the fatal shot at Franz Ferdinand that is largely blamed for causing the outbreak of WWI.

We drove out of the city to the airport to visit the tunnel that it took Bosnian soldiers 4 months and 4 days to dig, working 24 hours a day in 8 hour shifts for which each worker was paid a single packet of cigarettes – important bartering tender at the time and in high demand. The tunnel was dug from both sides and went under the airport which was under UN control and could not be crossed even though it divided two important sections of Bosnian territory.

The red line on this map shows the boundary between Serbian forces and Bosnian territory. The narrowest part between them is the airport – clearly a zone targeted by Serbian forces prior to the building of the tunnel and the occupation by UN forces.

Although I was young when I watched images on the news, they were brought back by the video at the tunnel visitors centre today. Shooting in the streets, particularly brutal in Sniper's Alley, bombs going off, fires raging. Learning more about the situation reminded me of what I learned about Rwanda in terms of the complications associated with the UN's role – it must have been very difficult to be a UN soldier but not to be able to intervene and save lives. I wonder if those UN representatives felt guilty, traumatised or what other mix of emotions they may have experienced after 11,000+ lives were wasted in this messy war.

The B side of the tunnel. The city side of the airport was 'B' and the mountain side was 'D'. The tunnel seemed very well constructed and safe and had rails installed to move heavier materials and even people. The Serbs found out about the tunnel when the President was televised being taken through the tunnel.

The guide who showed us around Sarajevo and the tunnel had fled Bosnia with his family in 1991. He lived in Germany until the war was over when they received a letter giving them just 10 days to leave Germany and return to a war-torn Bosnia. It was interesting to hear his perspective on the desire to return to his homeland, but also the challenges – in particular the short time given to relocate, and his parents' desire for him to be able to remain in Germany where he would have greater opportunities for both success and safety. He is unsure of what his future and the future of Bosnia Herzegovina might hold, but he has worked hard for his History degree and is putting it to good use as an excellent guide; the personal touch certainly added to my ability to empathise with both his past and current situation as well as the resilience of the country.

Land mines. These were a significant problem after the war and our guide recalled lessons at school once he returned to Bosnia where they were taught about the different types of mine and what to do if one was detonated. He shared his mothers concerns about him playing in fields, and the fear associated with kids kicking a ball – something that I cannot imagine having to contend with.

As we looked on this it was impossible not to recall the work of Princess Diana with landmine victims shortly before her own death. Harry has recently urged the world to continue the important work that she started 20 years ago in her quest to clear the world of land mines. He refers to 2 boys, with whom Diana had her photo taken, in this 'Telegraph' article

It can be difficult when walking around the Old Town enjoying Bosnian coffee and looking at souvenir shops to remember that although the war is over, the scars often run far deeper than is visible on the surface.

Sarajevo is a fascinating little city. Largely accessible on foot. Plenty of accommodation options. Masses of restaurants and cafes. A fabulous brewery with delightful local beers. Sweet stuff in the form of Bosnian (Turkish?!) Delight.

Sarajevo Cathedral.

Sarajevka pivara (Sarajevo Brewery)

The flag of Bosnia Herzegovina.

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