Two decades later, war scars Sarajevo


Twenty years since the biggest conflict in Europe after WWII ravaged Bosnia and Herzegovina, consequences linger.

By Bedrana Kaletovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 05/04/12


A woman visits a cemetery in Sarajevo where victims of the 1992-95 siege of the BiH capital are buried. [Reuters]

On April 6th 1992, the West recognised Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) as being independent and Serbian gunmen fired on demonstrators in Sarajevo. This was the beginning of the 43-month siege that resulted in the deaths of more than 11,000 people in the city and caused countless others to flee.

April 1992 still lives on for many citizens. They knew nothing about war at the time -- the horrors were first felt by those in Southeast Bosnia, from the cities on the Drina, bordering Serbia.

''The siege brought enormous suffering and misery to some 400,000 inhabitants of the Bosnian capital at the time. Constantly shelled and sniped, people were cut off from food, medicine, water and electricity,''said Melissa Fleming, spokeswoman for UNHCR, the UN agency to assist refugees. ''Thousands of civilians were killed and wounded. During the war, people in Bosnia and Herzegovina witnessed every conceivable human rights violation or abuse – ranging from ethnic cleansing and rape to mass executions and starvation.''

The winds of war spread fast from the north. In a matter of days, thousands of people were killed, mostly men, while the elderly, women with children looked for a way to places where war horrors were less pervasive.

With children in their arms and bags of clothes, they were placed in schools and sports and cultural venues, which became places of collective accommodation for the refugees.

''We didn't have much food, but we shared with people who had nothing. Naively, we thought that the war wouldn't last long and that soon all would be over. None of us could have imagined the hunger that followed," Munira Kurbasic, a housewife from Vitez, told SETimes.

''When the leader of the state news said 'Good evening, this is war!' I still didn't get the true meaning of the words. Unfortunately, I quickly got it. The basement became our home, hunger something with which you would wake up and go to sleep, bombs and snipers a daily thing, and death, closer than ever," Branko Katana from Sarajevo said.

The siege of Sarajevo lasted 1,425 days -- the longest of a capital in the modern history. More than 11,540 people died, hundreds of them children.

Life in BiH now is viewed now in two parts -- before and after the war.

''Between April 1992 and 2012, my life has been centered around finding my son Samir's bones,'' Aisa Omerivic from Bratunac, told SETimes. She lost her family, home and hope for a better future to the winds of war.

''My family is gone; we have been destroyed and after my death, there won't be any of my offspring to talk about the war horrors which we went through,'' Omerivic said.

In the country as a whole, more than 200,000 people died -- including Muslims, Serbs, Croats and other nationalities.

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Just like Omerivic, those who lost family members are searching among the 28,000 missing people in BiH. All of them hope to live to see the day they find out about the last resting place of their loved ones.

An estimated 74,000 refugees remain displaced, according to UNHCR, which plans an international donor conference on April 24th in Sarajevo in order to raise 500 million euros for refugees, those internally displaced and returnees.

When the conflict ended, BiH was left to pick up the pieces. However, unlike the other former Yugoslav republics, the new country lacked ethnic unity inside its borders.

The 1995 Dayton Peace Accord ended the fighting, but it essentially trapped the foes inside the state borders, leading to the ethnic issues the country faces today.

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