My family and I visited Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia last summer. All three countries were part of the former Yugoslavia. I was interested in learning about the war that started in 1992 and ended in May 1995 with the Dayton Peace Agreement.
In Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the remnants of war were everywhere. The building across our hotel, the Bristol, was filled with bullet holes. The people of Bosnia have decided to keep reminders of the war, in order to honor the memory of those who perished. As we walked in the beautiful city of Sarajevo, the host of the 1984 Winter
Olympics, we encountered numerous memorials for the 11,000 people who died during the four year war.
Red colored spots called “Sarajevo Roses” are dedicated to places where five or more people lost their lives. A Sarajevo Rose is a concrete scar caused by a mortal shell explosion that was later filled with red resin. Mortar rounds landing on concrete create a unique fragmentation pattern that looks almost floral in arrangement. Because Sarajevo was a site of intense urban warfare and suffered thousands of shell
explosions during the Bosnian War, the marked concrete patterns are a unique feature of the city.
It’s a grim reminder of Sarajevo’s recent history.
It’s surprising to learn that modern Bosnia has three Presidents: a Bosniak (Moslem), a Croat (Catholic) and a Serb (Orthodox). There needs to be a unanimous vote among the three in order to accomplish the passage of any legislation and each president has the veto power. Sarajevo has 4 million people and 85 political parties as well as the Parliament. The population consists of 47% Bosniak, 41% Serb and 14% Croat.
We met our guide, Neno, in the town square on our second day in Sarajevo, where he gave us a history lesson about his hometown. Sarajevo has a rich history dating back to the Ottoman empire. It is split by the Milijacka river, which is 35 kilometers long. Sarajevo became a city under the Ottoman rule, which was followed by the Austro-Hungaraian empire in the 19th century.
Next on Neno’s walking tour was the site of Prince Ferdinand’s assasination by Gavrilo Princip, which led to World War I. A new country was formed called First Yugoslavia when the Austro-Hungarians lost the First World War. In 1922 it was called Second Yugoslavia or Tito Yugoslavia – a socialist country. When Tito died in 1980 the country faced economic and political crises as Tito did not have a successor. Slovenia and Croatia declared their independence in 1991. Bosnia became independent a while later.
Bosnia and Herzegovina are two separate entities divided by imaginary borders. We then walked to the Children’s Memorial, a structure that was built from mortar shells used during the war. It features a sculpture of a mother and child in the circular pool. Children’s footprints in cement line the edge of the pool. Next on the tour was the building on Tito Street housing The Eternal Fire – erected when the city was liberated on April 6, 1945. Ironically, the Bosnian War started on that same day, April 6, in 1922. The Eternal Fire did not burn between 1992 and 1995 since there was no fuel in Sarajevo. Further up was a red memorial wall dedicated to citizens of Sarajevo who died on February 5, 1994 in one of the bloodiest days during the four year siege of Sarajevo. The United Nations delivered canned foods to the people during the war. Neno, who hid in the basement during the bombing, said that his family had to burn books, plastic shoes and other household items to heat their food since there was a gas shortage.
Another guide, Zijad (pronounced Ziyad), enlightened us with some numbers: There are still 2000 American soldiers in Bosnia & Herzegovina. There is 15% unemployment in Sarajevo and 45% unemployment in the country. Zijad believes that the transition from communism to capitalism was very difficult for Yugoslavia–that the people were not ready. The country is still deeply divided over historical ethnic and religious divisions.
Zijad and our driver Ibrahim told us about a dark secret of the war known as “Dark Tourism.” During the war, tourists from other countries came by and paid the soldiers for their guns and bullets in order to hunt civilians! Zijad, who worked for the Red Cross during the war, said that many are still suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He also said “there are killers walking the streets among us.” He admitted that he doesn’t have inner peace because of what he has experienced.
I shall be forever haunted by his words and by what I learned about “Dark Tourism,” but I promised him to write about the war and to raise awareness about this horrific concept. I wish him and his people lasting peace as well as inner peace.
Information about Neno: http://www.sarajevowalkingtours.com/pages/about-me
Information for Zijad Juicsufov: http://tourguides.viator.com/tour-guide-zijad-jusufovic-25884.aspx