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Entries in Bosnia (4)


Through the eyes of a baby

Just back from our great trip through the Balkans, I can only imagine those few moments that captured the imagination of Hayden:

Splashing everyone outside the mosque in Mostar

Eating chocolate ice-cream with daddy in Belgrade

Going for a good splash in Lake Ohrid

Playing with his new dinosaur toys in Pristina

Going around the merry-go-round six times in a row in Skopje


Sarajevo scars

Sarajevo is a beautiful city to visit. It is high summer and the middle of Ramadan; the city holds it breathe during the day, fasting and escaping the blazing heat. At sunset a canon rings out over the city announcing the end of the fast and the streets flood with families out to enjoy a meal together, talking deep into the night before heading home. The city oscillates between languid and vibrant, but always feels interesting.

But Sarajevo is not just another European capital. Even without its unique bleed of Ottoman and Austrian influence, an Islamic European capital, Sarajevo would stand out for the scars it bears from war. The siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a major city in modern history, with the city under bombardment for four years. Unlike the wounds from the World Wars, Sarajevo's are still fresh - the city was only relieved in 1996. This is not ancient history. Every adult today was alive during the siege. The soldiers who took part are still in their 30s. The Spice Girls were at #1 on the charts at the time.

Across the city people live in apartment blocks still scarred by grenade attacks and machine gun fire. Most of the residents still remember the days when their building was shaken by mortar. 

The sidewalk craters are much more sinister than mere pot-holes, being the impact site of grenades. Rather than replacing the shattered stone, the city filled the wounds with red concrete, the "Sarajevo roses" once filled with the blood of those torn apart by war.

And surrounding the city lie the dead, more than 10,000 graves. 

Does the Sarajevo war condemn the world? We watched on live television as a city was shattered. It was not a momentary lapse, the chance to end the tragedy dragged on for four long years. We cannot plead ignorance - many residents had video cameras, the internet was live and international journalists watched the events from the local Holiday Inn. Even in the aftermath of the war, only the smallest handful of violators have been convicted for the war crimes they committed, typically on the grounds of "insufficient evidence". The briefest walk through the city will have you shaking your head like the locals at the idea that there is insufficient evidence for the crimes committed during the world; the epithet given to the United Nations by the locals, "United of Nothing", is understandable.

And yet. Could the international response be considered a success, simply by the repugnant standards of all prior efforts? In a city of 500,000, surrounded for four years by an army bent on genocide, how much greater would the death toll have been without the UN presence keeping the boil down to a simmer? Ultimately the war was ended without a major invasion, a peace was negotiated and today the relationship is still being negotiated at the political, rather than military, level. It would have been too easy to dismiss the war as "ethnic tension" and leave it to burn out by battle. There was no real geopolitical or economic imperative, and yet something did (eventually) happen. The fact that it is hard to find a better prior example of international intervention is ultimately more an indictment on the the international community than the evident failures of Sarajevo. But perhaps contemplation on the Siege of Sarajevo needs to invoke both the guilt of 10,000+ needless deaths on our conscience, and also the glimmers of hope that we can do something if there is just the will to do so.

Or maybe that is the overly optimistic view of someone who was playing Warcraft while other teenagers were being bombarded nightly by the machines of modern war.


Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Old Bridge of Mostar

Hayden's favourite part - ablutions for the mosque. He made sure we all washed our feet and then turned on all the taps and splashed everyone nearby.

Bridge diving


Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Pigeon square

One of 200 active mosques in Sarajevo

A mother cat peaks out from a madrassa

Spite House, so called because the owner forced the Austrian Empire to relocate his house stone-by-stone to the other side of the river when the National Library was built

The tunnels of life, built under the UN-controlled airport to resupply Sarajevo during the four year siege by Serbian Forces

Kitten watching

The abandoned Jewish cemetery, the second largest in Europe

One of the many cemeteries that line the hills around Sarajevo, containing the bodies of the 10,000+ dead from the 1992-1996 siege