Welcome to Sarajevo. It is now week 3, and I have had some time to become acquainted with this city after the bittersweet departure from Belgrade. Everything here is much different. Sarajevo is much smaller than Belgrade with less of an urban feel. However, the smallness of this valley city brings everything closer together which makes it feel like there is even more to explore. The first thing I noticed was the mountains. They tower over the city and add bursts of green to the landscape. (They also provide the only exercise I’ve gotten this summer.)
But to the locals, the mountains have a less beautiful, more tragic reputation.
In 1992, Sarajevo was under attack by Serbian forces of the Milosevic regime. For three years, citizens were terrorized and murdered in the streets by snipers who camped out in the mountains. At this time, the former Yugoslavia was falling apart after the death of their previous leader, Tito, and the republics within the former Yugoslavia fueled a series of wars between one another after political and economic tensions dismantled the code of unity and brotherhood. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was a center of ethnic diversity and a direct threat to nationalist agendas in the region. Home to the largest European Muslim population, Bosnia-Herzegovina witnessed a gross attack on unity with movements of ethnic cleansing. In 1995, mass killings were performed in Srebrenica which claimed the lives of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims. The politics behind these high numbers continue to stir tension among the Bosnia population. There are some citizens who deny the mass killings and there is very little international recognition on the tragedies that occurred here.
Our group visited the Srebrenica Memorial to observe the large grave site and the headquarters for the United Nations diplomats present during the 1995 crisis. It was appalling to see so many white headstones aligning the field in semi-perfect rows. There were new graves placed in between older ones– recently found remains being buried next to their loved ones– and a large list of names carved in marble to remember the lives lost. The most recent year I saw was 1982, which means that person was 13 years old when they were murdered.
A child. Murdered.
There are many other grave sites in Sarajevo. They are everywhere. You can not go anywhere without seeing the white stone erecting from the Earth. You are constantly reminded, everywhere and everyday, what has happened here.
On the mountain tops, you see them. On the mountain tops, the sounds of a tragic history echo.