Living in the Legacy of War

June 8, 2015 • Balkans 2015, Online Content, Reporting Trips • Views: 909

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By Josh Feng

The downtown Sarajevo Markale (marketplace) is just steps from the hostel where I slept. Early every morning, the sounds of trucks would lull me in and out of consciousness as vendors set up shop for the day. After crawling out of bed and eventually making it out the door, I was greeted by heaps of fruits and vegetables that lined the streets. Sellers chatted to each other as children ran between the stands crowding onto the street.

The place was packed. Nestled between the multicolored piles of produce sits a small glass case filled with flowers, occupying the space a stand should have been. It was almost forgotten amidst the commotion. Behind it was a wall painted dark red, covered in a glass casing. Inscribed on it was what seemed like hundreds of names, a memorial serving as a constant reminder of those who lost their lives on that very spot.

On February 5th 1994, 12:10 p.m., a 120-millimeter mortar shell landed in the center of the crowded Markale. 68 people were killed and 144 more wounded. On August 28th 1995, 11:00 a.m., the marketplace was bombed again, this time with five mortar shells. 43 people died, 75 were wounded. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia later concluded that the Army of the Republika Srpska carried out both attacks; the second bombing served as one of the reasons for NATO air strikes (Operation Deliberate Force) against the Bosnian Serb Army later that year.

Perhaps strawberries were in season last week, as baskets of the fruit flooded the stands. And for just 2 convertible marks a bucket, the sweet strawberries were a hard deal to pass up as an afternoon snack. But as the red wall at the back of the market reminded me, just 20 years earlier these streets used to be flowing with blood—strawberry red.

It leaves a bitter taste.

Residential building complexes in Dobrinja, a suburb of Sarajevo. Remnants of artillery shellings remain a chilling remnant of the war, though the birds nesting inside the bombed out sections have found a way to forge life in the shadow of death (Feng/TYG).

Residential building complexes in Dobrinja, a suburb of Sarajevo. Remnants of artillery shellings remain a chilling remnant of the war, though the birds nesting inside the bombed out sections have found a way to forge life in the shadow of death (Feng/TYG).

What makes Sarajevo so interesting is this process of discovery. At first, the beauty is overwhelming. Walking among gorgeous Ottoman/Austro-Hungarian architecture in Stari Grad as the smell of ćevapčići wafts through Baščaršija, a moment of peace emerges amidst the hustle and bustle. And as the sun slowly sets over the Dinaric Alps that surround the city, it turns hillside homes into tiny specks of light that almost seem like an extension of the sky. My senses are all telling me this is paradise.

But in the back of my mind, the city’s fraught history lingers. Walking the same Baščaršija streets twenty years earlier, I would be dodging snipers firing from the same mountains proving a backdrop for the sunset today. Blown-out buildings and rubble would line the streets, covered in the heavy, overpowering stench of death—all remnants of shellings. However, these images sit buried deep in my brain. Until confronted by something like the Markale bombing memorial or bullet hole-covered buildings in Dobrinja, it’s easy to forget this history.

This is the Sarejevan process of rebuilding. It’s not just about patching up the concrete, building another BBI Centar shopping complex or Sarajevo City Cetner megamall. It’s about moving on with life while still remembering the past; it’s about somehow living while the memories of trauma are still fresh.

The bitter taste of war will continue to linger in Sarajevo for quite some time. But Sarajevans are resilient. Like the birds nesting inside remnants of destruction in Dobrinja, or Markale vendors bringing life to a site of mass bloodshed, life thrives even among legacies of death and destruction.

There’s something beautiful in that.

Josh Feng ’17 is in Timothy Dwight College. He can be reached at josh.feng@yale.edu

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