Friday-Saturday, 17-18 June 2011
I have been here since Wednesday and plan to leave for Podgorica in Monte Negro on Sunday. Sarajevo (capital of BiH) is a pleasant city these days, unlike the four years 1992-95 during the siege when it must have been hellish. Visiting an exhibition with photos and artefacts from that time, the house with the tunnel dug under the airport which helped Sarajevo to remain in contact with the outside world, and talking to locals who were here then, you start to get a sense of what an awful time it was. Being here you can see the hills surrounding the city on three sides and imagine the daily shelling and sniper fire raing down from them, the destruction and loss of life, going on for almost four years. The population were sitting ducks and took their life in their hands every time they crossed the street to get water or try to find food. Almost every building still standing from that time in direct line of sight to the hills is pockmarked with holes from bullet to basketball size. Eventually the international community took notice and got involved, breaking the siege and stopping the attacks in late 1995, and starting a peace process which led to the Dayton Agreement which is basically still in force.
This map of Sarajevo illustrates the situation 1n 1992-1995. The airport is in the south-west corner.
I went up on one of the hills with a former combatant and saw the old front-line, near the bobsleigh run for the 1984 Winter Olympics. I was told to stick to the road and walk behind my guide. Officially the area has been cleared of land mines, but they are still being discovered and marked with tape until they can be deactivated. I also went to a museum in town with an exhibition including photos and information about life in Sarajevo during the siege. Very interesting how people can try to find a normal life even in such extreme conditions. Every spare plot of land was used to grow vegetables, while concerts and plays were still being performed. The daily newspaper, Oslobođenje, never missed an edition. It had to operate out of a makeshift bomb shelter after its 10-storey office building was destroyed. Other museums around town were interesting too, including the Jewish Museum, and the National Museum with great exhibits on archaeology (especially the Greek and Roman section) and ethnology (rooms transferred from 19th c. Sarajevo Muslim houses with intricate wood carving on ceilngs, doors, windows etc.). The National Museum houses a copy of the priceless Sarajevo Haggadah, a 14th century book of coloured illustrations from the Torah, brought by Sephardic Jews from Spain after they were expelled from 1492, and came to Sarajevo via Northern Italy and Dubrovnik. It is amazing that the Haggadah survived through all the wars in that time, including the conflict in the 1990s.
An important historical event thet took place in Sarajevo was the assassination in 1914 on the Latinska Bridge of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to the throne of Austro-Hungary which had control of Bosnia at this time) and his wife Sophie, sparking World War 1.
Tomorrow to Monte Negro.
Update: I bought a book, “Survival Guide Sarajevo”, written during the siege with tips for living in such a situation. The first section was entitled “Dart Board”. Quote:
On the fifth of April, 1992, around Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Hercegovina, which had about 500,000 inhabitants, around the city in the valley of the Miljacka surrounded by mountains which made it the host of 1984 Winter Olympics, in the very center of what was Yugoslavia, appeared: two-hundred-sixty tanks, one-hundred-twenty-mortars, and innumerable anti-aircraft cannons, sniper rifles and other small arms. All of that was entrenched around the city, facing it. At any moment, from any of these spots, any of these arms can hit any target in the city. And they did hit, indeed – civilian housing, museums, churches, mosques, hospitals, cemeteries, people on the streets. Everything became a target. All exits from the city, all points of entry, were blocked.