After 22 years, Sarajevo’s reopened city hall brings BiH together

26/05/2014

Funding for the reconstruction was provided by the EU, several EU member states and several regional cities.

By Ana Lovakovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 26/05/14

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Light comes through the restored stained glass of Sarajevo's city hall. The building is considered one of the finest examples of its type from the Austro-Hungarian period. [Ana Lovakovic/SETimes]

The reopening of Sarajevo city hall 22 years after it was destroyed in the 1990s conflict is a sign of trust and reconciliation, officials and experts said.

"Bringing this jewel back to the city, to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), to Europe and to the world is a lasting message of solidarity from the citizens of the EU to the citizens of BiH and the city of Sarajevo in particular," Peter Sorensen, the head of the EU Delegation in Sarajevo, said at the re-opening ceremony on May 9th.

"Our motto is 'United in diversity,' and we find that in BiH today. Sarajevo city hall is the perfect illustration because it stands as a symbol of architectural vision, learning, institutional memory, craftsmanship, municipal democracy and the resilience of the people of Sarajevo," Sorensen said.

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The reconstructed building opened on May 9th. [AFP]

The city hall, known as Vijećnica, was built in the neo-Moorish style and first opened in 1896. In 1947, it was converted into the National and University Library of BiH.

In August 1992, the building was destroyed and 80 percent of the library holdings were ruined after bombing by Serbian forces.

The restoration project, which cost more than 12 million euros, began in 1996 and was funded by EU and Balkan countries.

The restoration was timed to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, triggered by the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand just after he left a reception at the city hall building in June 1914.

"The reconstruction was financed through the citizens of the EU because what Vijecnica represents is close to our hearts too," Sorensen said. "But our message of solidarity goes well beyond bricks and cement. The 500 million citizens of the EU want the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to have what we have been able to achieve during the last decades through the combined efforts of EU governments, societies and citizens."

Sarajevo Mayor Ivo Komsic said the reconstruction would not have been possible without the help and understanding of the importance of the building by the many friends of BiH.

"Vijecnica is a symbol of Sarajevo and a metaphor of the violence aimed at destroying the culture and the city, collective histories and memories of Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thanks to the persistence of local authorities and the generous support of our friends from the Balkans and Europe, the hall provides a new perspective and becomes a place of international cultural events," Komsic told SETimes.

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Peter Sorensen, the head of the EU Delegation in Sarajevo, speaks at the opening ceremony. [Ana Lovakovic/SETimes]

At the re-opening ceremony, Komsic honoured those who aided in the reconstruction, including the EU, Austria, Spain and Hungary; the cities of Budapest, Podgorica, Vienna, Prague, Ljubljana, Tirana, Niccosia and Pecuj; and the libraries of Serbia, France, Austria, the Netherlands, Cyprus and Norway.

The hall now houses the Sarajevo city administration, the National and University Library and the Museum of Sarajevo.

"The hall is like Sarajevo and its citizens. After total destruction, it is once again brought back to life in its full glory," Kemal Bećirević, a Sarajevo resident, told SETimes. "It will be good again to see how the building is crawling with students in the pursuit of knowledge."

What signs of reconciliation do you see in your town or country? Tell us your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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