Sarajevo War Love Story, stronger than Nationalism, Hatred, War and Separation

February 15, 2019 8:00 AM

Chris Leslie, reporter of the Guardian, visited Sarajevo again after 20 years to take photos of this city two decades after the end of the war. This time, he accidentally discovered a story of two love relationships that survived in spite of the nationally divided city.

While he was in the Underground club, Leslie said that he was scanning the crowd looking for interesting faces. “One couple who were just about to kiss drew my attention. I did not felt pleasant as a paparazzo, nor knowing that I am secretly invading someone’s intimate moment. However, I took the photo and left, feeling headache from all the heavy metal and cheap beer, but happy that I managed to take at least one photo,” Leslie wrote for the Guardian.

Two weeks later, the Guardian Cities publishes the photo as a part of their project. Not long after that, the photograph is contacted by Lejna Čelebić, 20-year-old girl from the photo, a radiology student who was born in the same week when the war in Bosnia ended, in 1995.

Her mail stated:

“I saw you took a photograph of me and my boyfriend. People told me that my photograph is on the Guardian and what you did is incredible, because it perfectly fits this article – my boyfriend is a Serb and I am a Bosnian”.

Lejna and her 19-year-old boyfriend Damir Marilović are definitely a rarity in a country where the war story is still fresh and painful. Nationalism is still present here, tensions and divisions are still there, promoted by many politicians and media. The separated school system only deepens the separations, while each side clings to its historical perspective and political ideology. There seems to be no hope for integration. Young people such as Lejna and Damir are an exception; they defy the belief that nationality matters.

Lejna also told Leslie the story about her parents.

Lejna’s mother, Ivona, is a Catholic Croat and her father Elvir is a Muslim. They met on the Valentine’s Day in 1994, in a small village near Sarajevo. Ivona and her family lived there as refugees, while Elvir was stationed there as a soldier.

This was a period of intensive fights between the two sides and other people disapproved their relationship. Several weeks later, Ivona and Elvir decided to return to Sarajevo through the tunnel under the airport.

Sarajevo in 1994 was not an ideal place for lovebirds to start a life together. The war has raged, Sarajevo was completely surrounded by Bosnian Serbs and systematically destroyed with shells and snipers day after day. However, Ivona decided to follow Elvir into the city they called their home.

“While the majority of people desperately wanted to leave Sarajevo, I was going to Sarajevo. I wasn’t thinking about risks, I knew that Elvir is my soul mate, my other half. When I got out of the tunnel to the other side, there was Sarajevo before me – destroyed, desperate, but mine,” Ivona recalls.

12721814_1105530626164559_711581162_nElvir was born and raised in Sarajevo and, as other citizens of Sarajevo, is proud of his city and feels very protective towards it. Despite of the siege, his cherishes the memories of that period.

“Despite of the horror we lived in, we laughed and felt more alive than we do now. People loved each other, mutually shared whatever they had, although they did not have much. Some of the best rock bands appeared precisely in this period, ‘rock under the siege’. I went to see “Waiting for Godot” directed by Susan Sontag, who visited Sarajevo. It all kept our city alive,” Elvir said.

Ivona and Elvir got married in Sarajevo in August 1994. Ivona got pregnant with Lejna in March 1995. During her pregnancy, Elvir ended in a hospital after being wounded in a fight, when he almost lost his leg. Ivona coped with the situation the best she could, she walked nine kilometers a day, avoiding snipers, to visit Elvir at the hospital.

Living under the siege had nothing to do with luxury. During last weeks of her pregnancy, Ivona’s neighbors used wood from floors and parquets to light fire and keep her warm. Lejna was born on November 14, 1995 and seven days later the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed.

Sarajevo today, 20 years after the war, is a lot different than Sarajevo 20 years ago, the city where Ivona and Elvir started a family. Scars from the war can still be seen in the city center. Process of reconstruction of the city includes the construction of shopping centers, hotels, residential units, in order to make the city look more like other European cities.

However, for Ivona and Elvir, something seems to be lost.

“Sarajevo and its citizens demonstrated strength during the war. Strength, courage, solidarity, sacrifice, pride and spite. Nowadays, we don’t have it anymore. The period of war in Sarajevo will have a special place in our hearts forever”.

Lejna admits that it can get tough in Sarajevo and she is not sure if she and Damir will stay in this city after they graduate. However, they are happy for now, happy to be young and in love, living the love of Lejna’s parents in Sarajevo, but this time without the war.

“In the end of our conversation via Skype, Lejna thanked me again for taking the photo of her, but she told me I was quite wrong in one thing. Children born 20 years ago, when the war ended, are not the children of war, as I called them, but the opposite. She and other young people of her generation, regardless of nationality and religion, should be known as the children of peace,” Chris Leslie ended his story for the Guardian.



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