Its the 6th of April, 2015 — making it 23 years today since the start of the Siege of Sarajevo. I remember watching snippets of bloody footage on the TV as a teenager; horrific events always involving death in a mid-nineties Europe. Sarajevo was ignored for years.
We travel on the main southern motorway entering the city. The bus staggers in and out of traffic as I glue myself to the visions of the suburbs, passing slowly to my right. My window is half obscured, smeared with dirt and the lower section frosted shattered glass. I strain to see as we pass some tower blocks bearing giant blackened holes from mortar fire. More signs of destruction mark buildings to our left. The rebuilding has been slow in some places and poverty among residents in the suburban tower blocks remains unbearable. People try and get over desperate times first.
As the city centre nears, the environs improve with most central locations showing little war damage. The radio pounds out Euro dance as our relic enters the bus terminal. The volume and the heat makes one want to leap for the nearest exit; for air and clarity. I was nervous. Anticipation had kicked off a sickly feeling in my gut as we drove in to the city.
Sarajevo was a city where the let down had been immense. A siege running three years ten months three weeks and three days had turned local parks into graveyards. The local population had been left to die under constant bombardment and starvation, while their fellow humans across the world watched from the comfort of their warm homes. I remember watching in Ireland as a teenager, a Sarajevo in flames, in madness. The siege ended in February of 1996.
Now years on from the nightmare times, and on a sunny and warm day, four teenagers approach me just off Sarajevo city centre. As I walk down a dusty track leading onto a main street, one teenager has his eyes closely fixed on me. Black hair cut tight and brown eyes; he looks at me with blank emotion. Coming closer I receive a sudden cold hard slap into the face. My cheek stings. He studies me for a moment while I am frozen with shock; then the group continue to walk on. I step out onto the main street off the dirt track, in a daze; like emerging from a dream. The smack still burns hot as I try and compose myself.
That’s for forgetting about us, that’s for ignoring the terrible horrors we had to go through and the dead we had to bury. That’s for all the empty rooms that fill this broken city.
Written by Eamonn Sheehy