A (VERY) BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SIEGE OF SARAJEVO
Sarajevo began as an ancient Ottoman town and has a long history of multiculturalism: for generations, Muslims and Christians, Serbs and Croats, had peacefully shared their lives here. There is a line drawn (literally) in the market place that celebrates the ‘meeting of cultures’ in central Sarajevo. In 1984 the city played host to the Winter Olympic games - the first communist country ever to do so, and the first olympics in years to not have been boycotted by one country or another (the USA and Russia had ‘boycotted’ each other during previous years) - a fact of which the city was (and still is) immensely proud. While Sarajevo was far from the ‘perfect’ city, the citizens felt safe from the turmoil that was brewing in broader Yugoslavia which, following the death of President Tito in 1980, was being re-divided into independent countries. Many Sarajevans could not fathom the possibility of an ethnic war - their world was such a melting pot of different cultures, to carve it up would be akin to trying to separate the egg from the yolk long after it’s been scrambled. Even with independence, the assumption was that Bosnia & Herzegovina would be able to form an ethnically diverse republic with all cultures continuing to live peacefully together.
In 1992, though, after a referendum resulted in an almost unanimous vote for Bosnian & Herzegovinan independence (the question being asked was: “Are you in favour of a sovereign and independent Bosni-Herzegovina, a state of equal citizens...of Muslim, Serbs, Croats and others who live in it?”), Serbian armed forces began taking over the mountains surrounding Sarajevo and blocking access in and out of the city. What ensued was the longest siege in recent history - for 4 years the people of Sarajevo lived mainly in their basements, trying to go about their lives with the constant threat of shells and gunfire. Approximately 14,000 people died.
Sarajevo’s rich past is in the conglomerate of stones beneath your feet, in the shadows of the hills, and in the pockmarked faces of its buildings. It’s in the domed helmet of the ancient silk market, in the heat radiating from the old fire ovens, and in its thousands of gravestones carved with numbers of those tumultuous years: 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995. White peaks spearing the fields of gentle green.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Sarajevo’s siege (and you really should) we’ve compiled a list of things we enjoyed reading and watching in order to more fully appreciate what happened here in another blog post which you can read here.
Also, we can’t recommend the free walking tour enough. We went with Neno & Friends which was brilliant.
Now you know the brief history of this amazing place, check out this blog post for the best things to do during your visit!