Exploring the Past in Sarajevo

Sarajevo is a beautiful city. The hotel we stayed in was in the old town which is in the center of the city has many shops and cobblestone streets. Sarajevo is in a valley and the city is surrounded by beautiful hills. I went running up these hills and was in awe of how beautiful my surroundings were.

A street in the Old Town
A street in the Old Town

On my way up I came across several graveyards. The main graveyard in Sarajevo is nestled in one of the hills surrounding the city. During the siege of Sarajevo which lasted from April 5, 1992 – February 29, 1996, people were unable to access the main graveyard. Bosnian Serb troops were stationed in the hills around the city and to even leave your house was to risk your life. The siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.

When I told my parents about Sarajevo and how beautiful I thought it was my dad was taken aback. In his mind Sarajevo was still a war-torn city. Though the city is very beautiful today, reminders of the past are everywhere, such as the graveyards scattered throughout the city. Since people were unable to access the main graveyards, they had to create smaller graveyards within the city limits that people could access in order to bury the dead.

One of the graveyards found in the city
One of the graveyards found in the city

Walking around the city you can also see what look like bullet holes in some buildings. They are in shelling that were created by mortars. When a mortar bomb was fired from the top of the valley, it would hit the ground and the impact would send pieces of the sidewalk and other debris flying into the air, often to come in contact with a building. The holes and craters seen in many buildings today are from the debris created by mortars.

The buildings have not been fixed because the city does not have enough money but also because they serve as a living reminder of what happened there.

We learned a lot about memory on our excursion to Sarajevo. One of my favorite lecturers we had was Jasmin Mujanovic, a Canadian citizen who was born in Sarajevo. Mujanovic had many things to say to us. We talked about the current constitution of Bosnia, which was created as part of the Dayton Agreements, and the many problems its poses. We discussed the protests that occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina(BiH) in 2014 and how divisions between Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs are deepening.

If interested in learning more about the “Bosnian Spring” as the protests in 2014 were called, I recommend the following articles:

http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/the-bosnian-spring-starts-with-bang

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/02/it-spring-at-last-bosnia-herzegov-2014296537898443.html

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26093160

In southeast Bosnia lies the city of Mostar. The town is divided by the Neretva River and the iconic bridge used to cross that river. On one side of the bridge there is a Bosniak community while Croats live on the other side. While some people in the city cross the bridge everyday, others have never crossed it in their entire lives.

One of the lessons that I was most surprised to learn has to do with a story  Mujanovic told us about Mostar. While visiting Mostar Mujanovic met a young Croatian. He began talking to him and the two started to talk about the division in the town. The Croat mentioned he had never crossed the bridge because he was afraid. When Mujanovic asked what he was afraid of his response was that if he crossed the bridge he would be recognized because Bosniaks are danger.

Suddenly the division that exists between these communities became racialized. But this is not only a problem in Mostar. The way Bosnia is set-up today is causing divisions between ethnicities to grow. As I mentioned in my previous blog there are people living in Srpska Republika who are afraid to enter the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mujanovic only sees the problem getting worse as younger generations have no way to interact with peers of different background. He claims BiH will have to have some sort of revolution or some movement to cause things to change. He doesn’t think it can happen overnight, but Mujanovic points to the protests in 2014 as BiH coming closer to transformation and social change.

As we continued learning about BiH I kept this in mind.

Our last visit before heading back to Belgrade was to Srebrenica. We all knew this would be a heavy day.

On Sunday morning we left Sarajevo and headed home. In a few hours time we arrived at the Srebrenica Memorial Center in Potocari. Srebrenica is a town that became a Muslim enclave during the war in Bosnia in 1992-1995. It was the site of genocide in July 1995 committed by Bosnian Serbs and lead by the command of Ratko Mladic, who is currently being tried at the Hague. Over 7,000 Muslim men and boys are estimated to have been killed.

Potocari is located roughly four miles from Srebrenica so we did not visit the town but Potocari is a very important place as it was the base of the Dutch battalion of UN Peacekeepers.

In April 1993 the United Nations declared Srebrenica  as a “safe area” under UN protection. This peacekeeping force was called the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) and consisted of 400 armed Dutch peacekeepers.
Our guide had survived the genocide at Srebrenica. At the end of the tour he invited all of us to ask questions. Since the Karadzic verdict was to be released next week (Karadzic was on trial at the Hague for crimes committed during the war in Bosnia, including genocide in Srebrenica), I asked our guide if he felt the ICTY had provided the victims of Srebrenica with justice. His reply was that justice had come too late.

As I walked through the grave site I reflected on his words. We were all waiting to hear the verdict of the trial that would be announced on Tuesday. But I wondered if it really mattered. While our guide mentioned the ICTY was important because it was documenting the history of what occurred at Srebrenica, could the ICTY  bring justice to the victims of Srebrenica?

The grave site at the memorial center.
The grave site at the memorial center.

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