Bosnia and Herzegovina dispatch: 31 years after gruesome siege, Sarajevo is still a city in sorrow Dispatches
largher / Pixabay
Bosnia and Herzegovina dispatch: 31 years after gruesome siege, Sarajevo is still a city in sorrow

Mykyta Vorobiov is a student at Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine. He is currently in Zagreb, Croatia, He recently spent a few days in the city of Sarajevo, in neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

The infamous Siege of Sarajevo started in April 1992, more than 31 years ago. The city experienced bombardments on a daily basis, and snipers killed civilians who did not have a place to hide. The protection of Sarajevo remains one of the biggest failures among the UN peacekeeping missions, contributing to the modern townspeople’s resentment of the organization. The Siege was the longest in Europe’s modern history, lasting almost four years (almost twice as long as the Siege of Stalingrad). 

Due to the mountainous landscape around the city, Sarajevo was at the mercy of Serb nationalist forces. According to one report, 11,541 civilians, 1,601 of them children, were killed, while more than 50,000 were injured. An average of 329 mortar shells were fired on Sarajevo every day, with more than 500,000 bombs dropped in total. Obviously, all this left scars on the face of the city and on the people who experienced all these horrors. The UN peacekeeping mission, created to save city dwellers, could only give inadequate food and water to citizens. 

Living in the Balkans, it is always insightful to observe people’s attitudes towards the wars that the region experienced in the 1990s. I have not heard much about this period in Zagreb, Croatia, where I live at the moment; people seem to have gotten over that decade. In Serbia and Bosnia, however, the situation is entirely different. Hitchhiking from Belgrade to Sarajevo recently, I met many people from both countries. Those who experienced the bombing of Belgrade in 1999, as well as those who experienced the Siege, were very keen to share their memories. Nationalistic stances, sometimes seen clearly in Belgrade, are primarily based on this experience. Still, the work done in Sarajevo to commemorate the victims of the war is integrated into the city’s life as nowhere else.

I visited Sarajevo and talked about this horrible period with a colleague, who experienced it as a child and prefers to remain anonymous here. I’ve done a number of reports about the tragedies of the full-scale war in Mariupol, war crimes in the Kyiv region and elsewhere, but the stories I heard in Sarajevo made my blood run cold. It will be best to write only one of them here, which describes best what local people have gone through and why they are hostile towards international organisations.

During the Siege, it was forbidden to drive cars in Sarajevo because, as I mentioned above, snipers quartered in the mountains and could see any movement inside the city. Cars were no exception. Still, my colleague’s father had the right to drive because he worked for the city’s administration.

While driving through Sarajevo, sometimes he heard explosions nearby, and then he came out and drove people to the nearest hospital. It almost became a routine which he did on his way to work. One day, there had been terrible shelling near him, and when he got out of the car to help out one person (no more could fit into a two-seat car), he saw nine wounded people lying on the ground. The decision on whom to take came naturally to his mind. The person who is screaming the most has the highest chance of staying alive. He took one girl and hit the gas. After a moment, she said, “My hand, it is there, I want it back, maybe doctors will be able to sew it back.” Without any complaints, they returned to the place of shelling, and my colleague’s father was trying to find the hand of the girl among the eight other wounded people lying on the ground. He found it and drove the girl to the hospital. The future fate of the girl is unknown. The family of my colleague tried to leave the city 14 times through a “tunnel of hope”, but even when they managed to do this, the UN troops told them that they had the principle “no one in, no one out” and sent them back to the besieged city under constant fire. The story speaks for itself.

The number of war-dedicated museums in Sarajevo dwarfs those in any other capital in the world. Each of them is connected to a different aspect of wartime reality. There is the Museum of Wartime Childhood, the Museum of Genocide, the War Museum 1992-1995, and many others. Each of them is a reminder of the horror. There are a lot of scars of war on the face of Sarajevo as well as in Bosnia in general. The lovely view of blue streams and gorgeous mountains is combined with the ruined villages or the traces of shrapnel on the walls of houses in Sarajevo.

The Bosnian war ended with the Dayton agreement, which was supposed to be temporary but has remained active until now. This agreement made it impossible to govern the country properly, and now the political system of the government has three presidents, 13 PMs, hundreds of lawmakers, three national assemblies, and hundreds of other bureaucrats. It is one of the most complicated political systems in the world (if not the most complicated). It took me dozens of hours of studies and a special course at the University of Zagreb to grasp how this peculiar system is organised.

Moreover, the governmental system is not only complicated, but completely inefficient. The country spends more than half of its gross annual income to maintain the governmental administration, has a considerable level of unemployment and there is broad pessimism among citizens, many of whom do not believe it is possible to change something within the country. There is a lack of trust in any organisation, the trauma of war lingers, and so does the population’s aggression. Despite all attempts, Sarajevo feels like a city that that is stuck in a vicious circle of sorrow.