Monday, October 22, 2012

Sarajevo: A Rose by Any Other Name...

Welcome to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  We spent two days exploring the city, which, during the 1990's, suffered through the longest siege in military history.  But now, the kebabs are back on the grill, the bazaars are back in business, and the city has returned to being a friendly, lively destination for travelers.   You can still see many "Sarajevo Roses"--flower-like scars of mortar shell explosions on the pavement--but there are now more actual roses flowering in this vibrant city.  Click the link to read more.

 Sarajevo is divided by a river, and has many bridges spanning the river.  The most famous of these bridges is the Latin Bridge, where, on June 28, 1914, a Bosnian-Serb nationalist named Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie.  This assassination led directly to the outbreak of World War I.  Above are photos of Shane and I recreating the assassination on the Latin Bridge.
After we "recreated" the assassination, we took a tour of the city, and learned from our tour guide that the assassination actually took place a few yards away from the bridge.  Oops. 
Above is a photo of the assassination from a museum.  Earlier on the day of the shooting, another Serbian Nationalist threw a grenade at Archduke Ferdinand's car, but one of the Archduke's bodyguards caught the grenade and threw it into the river.  Because of the assassination attempt, Ferdinand changed the planned route of his motorcade.  Gavrilo Princip, who was waiting further down the planned route for his chance to kill the Archduke, realized that the route had been changed, and thought he had lost his opportunity to kill the Archduke.  So Princip walked to a cafe and had a cup of coffee.  By sheer coincidence, Princip emerged from the cafe just as Archduke Ferdinand's car was driving by.  Princip withdrew his gun and killed the Archduke and his wife, which precipitated the start of World War I.

Sadly, the more pertinent military history of Sarajevo began in 1992, when a majority of Bosnians voted to declare independence from Yugoslavia.  In response, on March 2, 1992, Serbian paramilitary forces attempted to stage a coup d'etat by barricading the Bosnian Parliament; this coup attempt was thwarted when tens of thousands of Bosnian civilians surrounded the Serbian barricades and the Serbians retreated.  On April 5, 1992, 18,000 Serbian forces encircled the city of Sarajevo in the surrounding hills.  From there, they assaulted the city with sniper rifles, tanks and artillery.  Beginning on May 2, 1992, the Serbian forces blockaded the city.  For the next four years, the siege continued unabated, with 12,000 civilians being killed and another 56,000 wounded in Sarajevo.  (Sadly, the 12,000 civilians killed in Sarajevo represented only a fraction of the more than 100,000 killed in the overall Bosnian War.)  Above are photos of civilians during the siege attempting to avoid the ever-present snipers.  Also above is a recreation of a typical Sarajevo apartment during the siege, when all windows had to be covered at all times, and the living spaces had to be centered in rooms without windows to avoid the indiscriminate sniper and mortar fire that continued day and night for four years.  Because the blockade prevented almost all food and supplies from entering the city, the 450,000 residents of the city increasingly had to improvise and ration to survive.
Above is a picture of the ground scarred by a mortar attack on a Sarajevo market in 1994 which killed 68 and wounded 200.

Even today, buildings throughout Sarajevo bear the marks of the holes created by sniper bullets and/or the the repairs of those holes.
One of Sarajevo's proudest moments was hosting the Winter Olympics in 1984.  But after the siege in the 1990's (and still today), the above-pictured sign beside the bus station is faded and full of bullet holes.
Because the fighting consisted of a conflict between ethnic groups with different religions (Serbs being Serbian Orthodox Christian; Bosniaks being Muslim and Croats being Roman Catholic), mosques and Catholic churches became targets of the Serbian forces.  The above photo shows the bullet-riddled wall of the largest Catholic church in the city.

Today, Sarajevo contains many memorials (both official and improvised) related to the siege in the 1990's, and it is clear from these  how fresh the war is in the minds of Sarajevo's citizens.  Notice the memorial which ends with the admonition: "Do not forget.  Remember and warn!"  Srebrenica, referenced in the spray-painted sign above, refers to the July 1995 killing of more than 8,000 Bosniaks in the Bosnian village of Srebrenica by Serb paramilitary forces as part of their campaign of "ethnic cleansing" of the Bosnian Muslim villages.  The Srebrenica massacre was seen a major failure by the United Nations, which had declared the village to be part of a "safe zone," protected by 400 Dutch peacekeepers who failed to stop the massacre.

After the Srebrenica massacre, as well as other similar massacres, the United States and NATO commenced air strikes on Bosnian Serb forces to stop the attacks on U.N. safe zones and pressure the Serbs into a peace accord.  President Clinton deployed U.S. peacekeepers in late 1995, and he oversaw the subsequent Dayton Agreement (negotiated in Dayton, Ohio) which ended the conflict.  President Clinton was and remains very popular in Bosnia.  Our tour guide went so far as to say that Clinton's actions prevented the outbreak of World War III.

We heard from a few locals that the United States is very popular in Bosnia.  And we saw many Bosnians wearing outfits featuring American flags.

We happened upon a political rally in Sarajevo.  Above is a video showing the rally at its conclusion, with Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" being played over the loud speakers.  In the next video, Queen's "We Are the Champions" is being played at the rally, and Shane makes a crack about the music being "local Bosnian stuff."
Does the above family name sound familiar?  The Blagojevic family is now a prominent family in Sarajevo.  In the 1940's a Bosnia-Serbian couple immigrated to the United States, changed the spelling of their last name to Blagojevich, worked in a steel mill, and had a son named Rod.  Rod Blagojevich eventually became Governor of Illinois, only to later be impeached for trying to sell President Obama's vacant Senate seat, and he's now serving time in federal prison.

Tensions between the ethnic groups living in Sarajevo remain.  Our tour guide cried as he described the horrors he lived through during the Bosnian War, and then he waved his arm around a crowded square and said, "Every other person you see is murderer....  This war will only really end when all of the adults are dead, and the children take over."  Above is a poster advertising a peace conference in Sarajevo.

As part of the conference, there was a large mass held at the above-pictured church (you can see the television monitor playing the mass to the overflow crowd outside).  Sadly, the organizers felt it necessary to have a very large military presence around the church to prevent violence.

But despite the tensions, normal scenes of daily life can be seen around the city.  As you can see from the above photos, many of the shops around Sarajevo are reminiscent of those seen in Turkey.  Bosnia spent over 400 years as part of the Ottoman Empire, which was based in Turkey, and Ottoman influences can be seen in the shops, mosques and buildings around the city.

Ottoman influences can also be seen in the local cuisine, which features kebaps (or "kebabs," as they are also called), savory pastries, grilled meats with pita bread, and salads consisting of just tomatoes, cucumbers and onions.

Above is a photo and video showing entire sheep (including hooves, which have been cut off and tied around the sheep's waist) being turned on a spit. 

We took a bus ride across the Bosnian countryside, which features nice scenery, but also features numerous war-time cemeteries marking the sites of fighting and massacres.

We also watched an intense chess match, which seemed to be the subject of much attention among the locals.

Although Sarajevo's tragic recent past is still a part of its present, the city has taken major steps toward moving beyond the tragedy.  The travel guide Lonely Planet has ranked Sarajevo the 43rd best city in the world, and ranked Sarajevo among the the top ten cities to visit during 2011 (I guess we were a year late...).  And in 2011, Sarajevo became the first city outside of the European Union to be nominated for the European Capital of Culture.

Maybe the most famous reminders of the recent Bosnian War are the "Sarajevo Roses," which can be seen on the streets of the city.  As pictured above, a Sarajevo Rose is a scar in the concrete caused by a mortar shell's explosion that was later filled with red resin.

But as the years since the conflict pass, maybe the "Sarajevo Rose" can come to represent the actual flowers which now grow around town, or the good people who inhabit this revitalized city.


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