Wounded Sarajevo: How the city “remembers” the siege and the war crimes of 1992-199514.06.2021
The original article was published on the Balkans in-site. Any reprints of the article only with the permission of the author and the Balkans in-site.
By Kateryna Shymkevych
In 1946, the adoption of a new Constitution by the Yugoslav Federation legalized the emergence of six union republics. One of the federated states was The People’s Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the capital of Sarajevo. This Balkan city has repeatedly become the epicentre of important political events that have influenced other countries. This contributed to the formation of Sarajevo’s “public space”, where memories of the wars, Slavic, Turkish and Austro-Hungarian periods, human losses, and different cultures are recorded.
The public spaces “memory” is especially valid for the Liberation War or the Defence Patriotic War (1992-1995). In this period Sarajevo was completely cut off from the outside world for 1,425 days. The city’s public space today is an important part of the reminiscence of the events of the first half of the 1990s, which allows Sarajevo residents to preserve their memories and the history of the Bosnian capital.
The First World War began in the Balkans and Sarajevo. On June 28, 1914, a member of the Young Bosnia organization, Gavrilo Principe, assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, and his wife. 78 years later, Sarajevo again became the epicentre of a new confrontation, but of regional significance this time. On March 1, 1992, a Bosnian paramilitary soldier, Ramiz Delalic, killed a Serb, Nikola Gardovic, the groom’s father, Milan Gardovic.The open phase of the interethnic conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina began on that day, attracting the attention of the world community much more than the Homeland War on the territory of Croatia.
Sarajevo played a key role in the confrontation between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs, who laid siege to the city in early April 1992 and did not remove it for 1,425 days. The siege destroyed the lives of the residents and the infrastructure. Sarajevo began to be called a “city of trauma”, a “city of pain and despair”. The years of the siege ingrained in the local memory, atmosphere, culture, and people of Sarajevo.
Each tourist map of the city shows places associated with the siege and the suffering of the civilian population in 1992-1995. The tourist centres located in the old part of Sarajevo recommend visiting the Alley of Snipers, go to the Tunnel of Life, to visit Mount Trebevic, whose forests are still dangerous to walk because of the risks of mines.Such dark tourism is very popular, new excursion routes, locations, and museum spaces are open.
Traces of shelling from the facades of houses and asphalt are not removed so that the guests of Sarajevo became more conscious of them. It is difficult not to notice damaged houses, schools, hospitals, administrative buildings because they are marked by smallpox. The traces of shelling are everywhere. However, on the asphalt, they are gradually rubbed, unless they are specially marked with red paint.
So-called places in Sarajevo are red and framed in metal. Why roses? Thus, the city pays tribute to those who died during the siege during 1992-1996. In the Bosnian capital, there are about 200 locations known as the Sarajevo roses.Most of them are in the centre, near the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH, Markale Market, the Catholic Cathedral, the Orthodox Church, the streets of the Old Town, the Alley ran along with Zmaja od Bosne Street from Bosnia and Mesa Selimovic Boulevard, etc.
They were first seen on the asphalt in the municipalities of Stari Grad, Centar, Novi Grad, and Novo Sarajevo in 1996, when the Serbian siege of the city was lifted (the day of the end of the siege is February 29, 1996). In 2007, the Sarajevo Canton Ministry of Veterans Affairs decided all places where more than three people died to call Sarajevo Roses and mark them in red. Similar craters on the asphalt remained due to artillery shelling and the rupture of shells, from which fragments flew in different directions. It is a symbol of the shed blood of children and citizens of Sarajevo.
Numerous monuments are reminiscent of the injuries and the loss of population. The visitors get used to the latter almost immediately because the graves are located in parks, near houses, cafes, and restaurants. A walk around the city will introduce the visitor to another characteristic feature of the Bosnian capital – monuments and memorial plaques. At first glance, there is nothing strange here. Monuments, plaques, and complexes are dedicated mainly to the military of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina though. There are far fewer memorials in the city’s public space dedicated to the dead journalists, humanitarian workers, and locals.
On every street or municipality within and outside the city, monuments recount the story of heroes who died during the Great Patriotic War. It is usually a small object with a photograph of a soldier and a story about his life, the cause of death.
There are also monuments erected in honour of a separate military unit that was part of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A characteristic feature of such memory symbols is the presence of illumination, which allows each guest of the city to notice objects in the evening and at night. This emphasis proves that Sarajevo’s public space is heterogeneous and asymmetric.
The commemoration also takes place through the names of city objects. In particular, it is the Children’s Square of Sarajevo and the Sauda and Olga (Amira and Bosko) bridge. There is a fountain in Sarajevo’s Children’s Square that symbolizes children who died during the siege (author Mensud Keco). Nearby is a sculpture-installation by the same author, called “Nermine, get out”. Thus Mensud Keco conveyed the suffering of a father who lost his son in Srebrenica.
In Sarajevo, the so-called Srebrenica flower is found on many houses and buildings. Residents of the Bosnian capital claim that they will never forget the events of July 1995 in Srebrenica. The memories of Srebrenica are sporadic and local. Attempts to narrate about child victims and the heroism of the servicemen of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina seem to be more widespread.
The war crimes committed by Bosnian Serbs against the inhabitants of the occupied city are described not only by the traces of artillery shelling on the asphalt or facades of houses. A major role in this belongs to museums, which form and preserve the memory of crimes against the people of Sarajevo, which act as educational, scientific, cultural, and tourist sites.
Almost all museums are located in the Old Town. There are Museums of Crimes against Humanity and Genocide, Gallery 11/07/95, the War Childhood Museum, the heroes of the Liberation War. Separate exhibits have been made at the History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina and private institutions about the siege of Sarajevo.
Such places in the Bosnian capital are situated everywhere. There are many signs and stands on the streets of Old Town, which help tourists to quickly find the necessary locations.
The main themes of the museum exhibits are the genocide in Srebrenica, the siege of Sarajevo and the lives of its inhabitants, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed during the 1992-1995 Liberation War against Bosniaks. In museums, thanks to the painting of the walls in dark grey colours and the use of local illumination of photographs, exhibits, written stories of witnesses to those events, visitors are completely transported into the atmosphere of those events. The effect is complemented by appropriate musical accompaniment and demonstration of documentary videos.
The memory of war, casualties, war crimes are present in the public space of Sarajevo. Its characteristic features are asymmetry, locality, the use of various forms and means for the transfer of memories, and the formation of a culture of memory. Despite the uneven coverage of the 1992-1995 events, the authorities, residents, NGOs, and activists were able to show the city’s major injuries and losses. There is a lack of complexity in the public space that can be provided by facilities dedicated to Bosnian Serbs, Croats, and national minorities.
- Sarajevo, Sarajevske ruže (2015). Retrieved from https://kulturasjecanja.org/sarajevo-sarajevske-ruze/.
- Galerija 11/07/95, Retrieved from https://galerija110795.ba/.
- Razgovor sa Jasminkom Halilovićem: Upoznajte Muzej ratnog djetinjstva u Sarajevu (2021), Iniciativa mladih za ljudska prava. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hn6IOjKNZSE.
- Bošnjak K. (2017) Skulptura u javnom prostoru Sarajeva. Retrieved from https://aabh.ba/skulptura-u-javnom-prostoru-sarajeva/.
- Banjeglav T. (2019) Exhibiting Memories of a Besieged City. The (Uncertain) Role of Museums in Constructing Public Memory of the 1992-1995 Siege of Sarajevo. Südosteuropa 67 (2019), number 1, pp. 1-23.