Today Sarajevo is the peaceful capital city of the nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you didn’t know history you might be able to visit the city unaware of it’s terrifying past. But it wouldn’t take much observation to see the city’s bloody past The scars of Sarajevo can still be seen as bullet holes on the walls of buildings and the sad eyes of those old enough to remember.
During the Bosnia Civil War, the city of Sarajevo was held under siege for over 1,424 days. This is the longest siege of a capital city in modern history. During the siege which lasted from April of 1992 to February of 1996 13,952 civilians and military personnel had been killed and large portions of the city were laid to waste.
From the end of World War II to the end of the cold war in the early 1990’s The federation of Yugoslavia had kept an unsteady peace by keeping the many nationalist tendencies of the nations various religious and ethnic groups in check. The nation was a conglomeration composed of Muslims, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox communities each longing for their own homeland, The nation used both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets and spoke several different languages. It wasn’t really an issue of if everything would fall apart but when. The country was held together for almost 40 years by strongman Marshal Tito who held everything together by sheer will. After his death in 1980, the slow unraveling began and reached a crescendo during the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in the early 90’s. As Yugoslavia devolved, one single nation became six (seven if you count Kosovo). Of all the new nations to break away, Bosnia and Herzegovina was by the most bloody. The Orthodox Bosnian Serbs, mostly Catholic Croats, and Muslim Bosnians all vied for control.
The city of Sarajevo is in a valley and the surrounding mountains were occupied by Bosnian Serbs and the city was shelled with artillery and sniper fire. Even within the city some Serbs had occupied buildings and created “sniper alleys”.
Civilian and the military were targeted. According to reports, the city was hit with over 300 artillery shells a day. For several years the city did not have any utility service or clean water and had to rely on airlifted supplies and a makeshift tunnel that had been built.
The civilian casualties caught the attention of the world that demanded something be done. Both the UN and NATO forces intervened. A cease-fire was reached in late 1995 and the siege formally ended in 1996. The toll the city took was severe over 13,000 deaths and 50,000 wounded and 10,000 missing and unaccounted for. Over 1,500 of the deaths were young children.
Over the last 23 years, the city has been rebuilt. A new generation has come of age. The city painstakingly rebuilt many of the historic buildings that had been destroyed.
The scars of Sarajevo serve as a warning to the world of the dangers of ethnic supremacy. We all share this world together, we have no other.