Sarajevo Day 2 – Afifa Gill

Our second day in Sarajevo began with a trip to a youth centre in Zetra. Here we were scheduled to interview a group of survivors that were teenagers during the war years, to get a different perspective in our search for the meaning of justice. The interviews were set against a backdrop of vibrant graffiti, though the years since the war had caused some fading. Although many depictions were difficult to interpret, there seemed to be a common theme of the attack on innocence. There were many disturbing images of fierce monsters and unusual, sinister creatures; dark images that could only be fashioned in dark times.

One of the survivors we met here was a journalist, he was a teenager when the war broke out and joined the army at the age of 16. An age at which for most of us our biggest concern is GCSE results. He described how he felt like a 45 year old man trapped in the body of 17 year old, facing ordeals that few grown men even experience. It reminded me again how much we take for granted. As well as provision, shelter and safety, we rarely appreciate our mental and emotional peace in comparison to victims of war. For many of us, recalling carefree childhood memories is a source of comfort and joy, while there is a generation of Bosnians that will only remember pain and danger.

Of all the survivors we met that morning, a woman named Sabina left the greatest impression on me. I never imagined we would meet someone who would have positive memories from the war. There was a look of longing in her eyes as she described the unity and humanity that the war brought about; a sense of unity that she has never experienced since. Her words were haunting; ‘now we have three countries in one country, and everybody hates each other’. Twenty years after the war, I felt a strong desire for unity and humanity still resounds in Bosnia.

The idiom ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is a common one, but for me speaking to these survivors made that statement ring true unlike never before. On greeting them, they all seemed like ordinary people with average lives, so effortlessly concealing the scars left by their past. It was only when they began relating their recollections of the war that it became obvious just how extraordinary their lives are. This applied to everyone we met over the next few days in Sarajevo – everyone had a story.

From the youth centre we headed towards the tunnel which was a means for people to escape during the Siege of Sarajevo. On the way we stopped to see a block of flats that had not been repaired during the post-war developments and still had visible signs of shelling. Seeing such serious damage to domestic quarters was a reminder that it was civilians, defenceless civilians that were targeted. Even more shocking was that people still live in these flats, constantly surrounded by reminders of a horrifying past.

On arriving at the tunnel, we could see just how difficult escaping from Sarajevo must have been, and how much endurance people had to have. Even in broad daylight the tunnel is small, dark and frightening. We spoke to Lejla who travelled through the tunnel herself to escape from Sarajevo. Undoubtedly it takes great courage to leave your home behind and travel in difficult conditions to unknown territory, but she told us that when going through the tunnel, people didn’t think about bravery; they just knew that had to survive.

Being in a place where unthinkable crimes, and unimaginable heartache took place, there are moments when you feel useless; how is making this documentary even going to help? But after the interviews at the youth centre that day, I felt confident that we can, and we will make a difference.  Even just storytelling, letting others know what happened in Bosnia, its fulfilling one of the wishes of the survivors that has been denied for too long – to be heard.

Sabina’s words regarding this project encapsulate what many of us hope will be achieved:

‘I hope that people will see how we suffered, and how the war is hard and how they change the people… people are damaged. They’re sad, hurt. Everyone must come here, meet people, talk with them and then they will see what the change is and how the war changed us. It’s too deep and I think no one can forget. They can push that inside but they never forget’.

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