Other than being the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo is mostly known for being the epicentre of the Bosnian war between Bosnian nationalists and Serbian army on behalf of Yugoslavia.
The war started soon after the separation of Slovenia and then followed by Croatia from the former republic of Yugoslavia. With increasing nationalism growing throughout Yugoslavia Bosnia called for a referendum with 94% voting to become independent.
Things quickly escalated as a day after the result Serbian army troops had pushed up to the mountain tops that border Sarajevo. The country was fiercely fought over due to it’s central locality and large mixture of differing nationalities co-existing within the country; with 44% Muslim Bosniaks, 17% Catholic croates and 33% orthodox serbs. The war lasted between 1992 and 1995 when the US and NATO forces were involved and brought all parties to the table to sign the Dayton peace agreement.
Having not known much about this recent history we were very keen to find out more about Yugoslavia and why Sarajevo was such an important target for the war.
Times of Misfortune Tour
This was run by Ermin, a local man who served as a military police during the war. He gave us his perspective of what life was like living within the city during the war.
When I say war, it wasn’t what you’d think was a typical war; it was under siege. The entire city of Sarjevo were held hostage by the Serbian/Yugoslavian army who set themselves up around the entire border of the city. Our guide believes that the goal of the Serbian army was to create a wall running through the city to separate orthodox Serbs and the other people (similar to Berlin wall). However this in practice would not work as there were many mixed group marriages and couples living in Sarajevo.
Throughout the war over 500000 bombs, rockets and grenades were fired and approx 62000 Bosnians were killed with about 50% being civilians.
Life within the city at the time was exhausting. They received basic humanitarian aid from the UN however most people required food and supplies to be smuggled in from Croatia and outside the city. This was done by initially running across the air field controlled by the UN in order to get across the siege line in what was termed ‘Sarajevo roulette’. Approx 200 people died from this.
In 1993 a tunnel was built to aid in transporting goods and supplies within the city to help aid the defenders of the city. This was mainly used by the military as normal civilians would require special permission to use the tunnel that stretched 800m across. We visited this tunnel which on the outside just looks like an old weatherboard house.
The war ravaged on, but in 1995 NATO commenced bombing of the Serbian siege line. Along with this Bosnia and Herzegovina got political backing from the US and began deliberations of the Dayton agreement which ended the war.
To this day Bosnia and Herzegovina is a democracy which has over 190 parties, 3 presidents (1 Croat Catholic, 1 Muslim and 1 orthodox Serbian who take 8 month rotations of ruling). According to our guides unemployment is 44% with political corruption largely being blamed for the state of the country and lack of prosperity. Even 20 years on from the war there are many buildings still destroyed and showing constant reminders to the people of the effects of the war. Sarajevo is home to some of the biggest cemeteries within the city with many housing over 6000 graves with even an old football field converted into a cemetery.
Free Walking Tour
This tour was run by a self professed ex-communist who’s aim seemed to be to offend everyone, from asking the Brits in the group if they voted to ‘remain in’ for the Referendum, to finishing off different parts of the tour with ‘so does anyone else have any more stupid questions?’ and to calling everyone in the recent political history ‘idiots’ which offended a member of the public so much she got out her chair at a restaurant and stormed through the tour group to abuse our guide. So to say the tour was interesting was an understatement. We were very tempted to leave within the first 15 minutes but managed to persist til the end and actually ended up enjoying it and learn quite a bit a about the city including the areas where many massacres happened which were marked as splatters or red paint all over the city.
Olympic Bobsled Track
Driving here was Jason’s worst nightmare. Our trusty GPS lead us through narrow, steep and windy backstreets which eventually turned into an off-road track that definitely scraped the undersurface of our rental car. “Oh well, that’s what we have insurance for” we thought to ourselves.
When we finally arrived, we were met with an eerie scene of an abandoned concrete bobsled track covered in grafitti and hidden amongst overgrown grass. It was actually a really sad sight to see. It was once a place of pure joy and hope during a time when the locals actually thought the Olympics would bring the country prosperity. Little did they know how crushed their dreams would be only a few years after the Olympics.
We did some research to find the best Cevapi in town, the dish this city is known for. Ferhartovic was mentioned as a local favourite in a few blogs so of course we had to check it out. We ordered it with a bit of sour cream and OMG it was amazing! The meat was well seasoned, onions very finely shopped and the bready crispy and fluffy. Definitely visit this place for possibly the best cervape you will ever have!
It is not hard to realise why the war is still such a sore topic between the people as many people are still alive who lived through it and there are constant reminders of the war all around. However after every tour there was still an air of optimism with our guides, that this war will help remind us that in the end of the day we are all people. And that despite our different religions Sarajevo has shown strength through unity.
Til next time
Ann & Jason xo