Our first day in Sarajevo as we had landed the night before in total darkness enjoying each other’s company, unaware of what’s to come. Having not seen the stunning beauty of Sarajevo the night before, the morning I awoke and set my eyes upon the breathtaking scenes of green hills and busy streets, I was truly amazed and instantly in love with the place. The view from my hotel room did not show me a city still bruised from the horror of the war and the siege that took place only twenty years ago. Yet, as you walk down the roads, and past buildings still standing, you witness the physical destruction and you come to the realisation that this beautiful city had suffered a terrible fate.
A local guide and historian, Fedžad Forto, took us through the city and told us that many people call Sarajevo ‘the European Jerusalem’ due to its multi ethnic and multi religious nature. We saw mosques, synagogues and churches side by side within a few hundred metres. Such togetherness and peacefulness in Sarajevo led us to question why something as horrific as the war took place. We soon entered a busy market in downtown Sarajevo. He stopped us to show a monument in memory of 26 innocent civilians. The so-called ‘Bakery Massacre’ is believed to be one of the first massacres in Sarajevo killing innocent Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox Christians who were simply queuing for bread. This first display and monument we came across, listing the names of the victims, emphasised just how horrific and inhumane the war was. This was the first physical evidence we saw of the war and there were many more to come.
The physical destruction is obvious in parts of the city not yet reconstructed, but the mental anguish and emotional scars left in the resilient Bosnian people is less overt. However, it’s soon realised whoever you may come across, whether it be the driver or that shop owner, each had their own story of the war to tell and each had their own view of justice. Hasan Nuhanovic was the first survivor we interviewed. He was 18 years old when the war broke out. He had lost his family when General Mladic and his Bosnian Serb army took over the UN declared ‘safe haven’. The Dutch stood by as thousands of men were separated from the women – Hasan’s parents and brother were amongst them and were murdered by the Serb forces. 8000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered. Hasan has won a nine year case against the Dutch Government for ordering his family members out of the ‘safe haven’ and to their death. Although he believes the man who ordered the death of his mother works in the same building as he does, he continues to strive for justice and commends the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for its work. Hasan’s resilience and continuous campaigning for the truth and for justice inspires me. It teaches us to never give up and to strive for what we believe in.
The first day in Sarajevo had left me inspired and wanting to learn more of the war and the stories of the victims and survivors. Hearing personal experiences such as Hasan’s made the war that took place 20 years ago, before I was even born, seem more real and even more important to learn from.