6 of April: Remembering war in Sarajevo.

This week two historical dates were commemorated in Sarajevo: the day of the liberation of the city in the Second World War and the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo, in 1992.

Photo: the Croat representative on the collective Bosnian presidency, Zeljko Komsic, places a wreath of the Eternal Flame.

The commemorations started with the deposition of flowers in memorial monuments. Flower wreaths were placed in the Eternal Flame, which marks the victory over fascism in the Second World War, but also at the Cemetery of Kovaci, the mezarja (Muslim cemetery) dedicated to the Shehid, the fallen soldiers of  Muslim faith. Flowers were also placed at the statue of Tito at the University campus (where the JNA barracks used to be), and at the bust of Vladimir Peric “Valter”,a partisan who became a mythical figure in Sarajevo; at the Vrbanja bridge in Grbavica where on the 6 of April 1992 two young women, Suada Dilberovic and Olga Sucic, were killed when Serb forces started shooting at a peace demonstation- the bridge was renamed after them; at the Partisan memorial park of Vraca; at the Old Jewish cemetery; and at the monument dedicated to the children of Sarajevo who were killed during the siege.

The commemoration of both wars was simultaneous not only because of the coincidence of dates, but also because of the coincidence of places: both the memorial park of Vraca and the Jewish Cemetery were used as launching pads from which the Serb forces targeted the city. The connection between both wars is also made through the invocation of anti-fascism. Such approach, while establishing a connection between both wars, also allows to identify the nature of the recent war as a new episode of the confrontation between fascism and anti-fascism, and thus ‘de-ethnicise it’. But such connection is far from being consensual, and reflects the ideological divide existent in Bosnian society. Not everyone views the communist regime only through the perspective of an heroic anti-fascist struggle. Thus not everyone who went to the Mezarija in Kovaci went also to the Vijecna Vatra, and only people affiliated with SDP, the social democratic party, went to Tito and Valter’s statues.

Only a few people attend such institutional ceremonies, mostly people in official positions and  NGO activists. Most Sarajevans are rather indifferent to them, and simply spend this city holiday enjoying Spring. This does not mean that they are unaware to the meaning of such date. On the contrary. We are speaking about living memory here. Those that are old enough have their own war experience to cope with, including, for the elderly population, the memory of both wars, and for the younger ones the legacy war is present both through their family’s history and through the lack of perspectives towards the future, a consequence of the social and political environment that emerged out of the war.

Photo: the memorial dedicated to the children of Sarajevo killed during the war.

This larger mass of people, who does not actively participates in commemorations are nevertheless interpellated by the existence of the memorials on the public space, on the streets which they walk through, on the squares where they enjoy their coffee or their beer, and the flowers remind them that there is something to commemorate. This is why different political forces try to place their own imprint into these memorial sites, so that they become associated with what is there to be commemorated and through that memory assert their legitimacy.

But there is more to memory than politics, and that is why, of all the forms to commemorate the war that took place in Sarajevo on this 6 of April, the one that most challenging was an anonymous initiative: on the Ferhadija street, formerly Vasa Miskin’s street, on the exact place where in 27 May 1992 the bomb that killed 20 people hit the floor, in what became known as the bread line massacre, someone drew a square with tape, and painted it orange, and on the centre, where the impact hole is, a red rose was placed.

I sat on some door steps for a while, watching people’s reactions. Some walked through without even noticing, but most people tried to avoid stepping over it as much as they could, contorting it when they could, or bouncing sideways to in extremis avoid smashing the flower. This is the most crowded street of Sarajevo, and it was not easy to see it before getting to its spot.

Some people stopped and looked at the memorial plaque placed at the wall of the closest building, others did not stop, but through their face expressions and gestures acknowledged the meaning of this rather precarious, ephemeral. Like memory, and like life itself.


Filed under Bosnia, Duty of memory, Sarajevo

8 responses to “6 of April: Remembering war in Sarajevo.

  1. Hikmet

    Wonderful post. Thanks Sarah!

  2. Pingback: Bosnia & Herzegovina: “Remembering War in Sarajevo” · Global Voices

  3. Thank you very mch for your story!

    The day I buried my illusions
    Zijad Burgic

    The world-renowned playwright and greatest living Bosniak poet, Abdulah Sidran, described perfectly the atmosphere that reigned in almost every Bosnian town before the war of aggression and slaughter of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), the principle victims of that war.

    In his writings, Sidran explains that Bosnia was not destroyed by hatred, but by a global inability to recognize hatred. On the eve of the war, the vast majority of good Bosnians were endlessly blind in the face of ruthless, cunning evil. When the eastern Croatian city, Vukovar, was destroyed by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) in conjunction with Serb paramilitary fighters in November, 1991, we in Bosnia should have been aware that war was inevitable for us. But we continued believing that war couldn’t happen in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    From personal experience, I say that most Bosnians, including many Bosniaks, never believed that war would happen. People held this belief up until the very eve of the war. But with the start of the bombardment, massacres, imprisonment, and seeing one’s own family members being taken to concentration camps, people finally came to their senses.

    On April 6.th, 1992, or next day, I was in Sarajevo with a group of several thousand workers from the Tuzla basin. They included miners and those who work with metallurgical coke, sodium bicarbonate, and products obtained from these mineral extracts. We were naively seeking peace. Our buses were parked near the Parliament buildings of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Shots rang out from between buildings. It all seemed surreal, especially the idea of seeking peace! The protesters exited the buses and immediately formed military echelons. They appeared to be doing this instinctively, as if they were at a socialist holiday gathering.

    Gunshots came from the nearby Holiday Inn. A light rainfall added to the dreamlike atmosphere. The gathering crowds seemed scared and confused, at times dispersing, other times gathering in smaller groups at the plateau in front of Parliament. At once, surreally, singing broke out: “…we miners, we don’t drink wine, we only drink the smoke coming out of the mines…”. Miners in their echelons rushed towards the Holiday Inn, in the direction of the gunshots. They carried only miners’ and syndicate flags, along with the flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Some even carried pictures of the long-departed President Tito.

    Special government police merged into the crowds, eventually finding their way to the top floors of the Holiday Inn. They soon arrested the snipers, bringing them outside. Rumour spread that these were Serb military nationalists. The shooting ended. Everything became clear to me. A difficult future had begun.

    Later, at a hall gathering, I ran into my colleague Manojlo Tomic, a reporter for the newspaper Oslobodenje. Completely flustered, he asked, “Zijo, how are you going to return to Tuzla?!”, referring to the fact that Serb paramilitary chetniks were already stationed at all routes leading out of Sarajevo. We were told that politicians and Bosnian parliament members were in contact with military officials of the JNA and working on guaranteeing us safe passage to Tuzla.

    We returned home later that day without hindrance. The buses made their way through the mountains. We left behind the Sarajevo valley, soon to become the valley of death. The bus radio announced the possible recognition of an independent Bosnia and Herzegovina by a majority of European governments, along with the United States. My goodness, what thoughts are going through those silently sitting here with me?, I wondered. War was inevitable.

    Upon returning home that evening, I felt as though I’d aged. I was 35. I knew that people perish in battle for a better future. I asked myself what sort of battle this would end up being. Now I know; the Bosnian future is far beneath the one for which people died. The idea of freedom is far better than reality. This was the day when I buried my illusions.

    What now? Today, we all have a great responsibility in ensuring that what happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina is never forgotten or repeated anywhere in the world.

  4. Owen

    As always, Sarah, your thoughts on memory and memorials serve to remind us of harsh present-day realities. Dodik’s determination to keep the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina out of Republika Srpska’s business is its own kind of memorial.

    Thanks for the vivid account of that fateful spring day, Zijad. The evil minds that planned what happened out of a clear sky that day have their successors, but even though everyone can see what they’re up to again no-one seems able – or willing – to stop them.

  5. Owen

    Sarah, have you read Juan Goytisolo’s account of his visit to Sarajevo? See Srebrenica Genocide Blog at http://srebrenica-genocide.blogspot.com/2011/04/siege-of-sarajevo-eyewitness-account.html

  6. Sarah Correia

    Thanks, Owen!

  7. elishagabriel

    Thank you Sarah for this -another good article.