There are still riddle-de-me holes in the scarred paintwork – no, in the stone itself – yet the green city with a road that was once called ‘Sniper’s Alley’ does not now feel beleaguered or albatrossed by its past. It has moved on into a future that seems more ‘it’, somehow, than the smashed rubble I remember from 1993 reportage.
I was ten when the war was on – when the Ten O’Clock News on BBC 1 was forbidden viewing for me because of the horrific imagery coming from shellings such as that on the the Sarajevan Mercale marketplace in early February, 1994. I remember begging my parents to let me see the Six O’Clock News so I could know what was going on, and even though the images were toned down, I can still see in my mind’s eye blood, a body which may or may not have had a head, childrens’ tiny coffins. I can still hear my thoughts of ‘they were younger than you’ and ‘why?’. I can also still hear the wailing of the mothers who had lost sons and daughters, of some armed men themselves who had seen relatives killed. There were paid-per-head snipers in the steep hills overlooking the main road to the airport deliberately maiming children with carefully aimed shots so that adults would come running. To get water meant going outside. Going outside meant snipers who got money to kill. More often that I dared to think, it was the children who ventured out of their shelled apartment blocks, girls in torn dresses and oversized jackets, boys huddling in coats in the cold running to pick up aid from anyone who made it through the tunnel. They were quick, and snipers weren’t paid for children’s deaths.
I felt I had to visit Sarajevo – to see the city that had for at least two years been choked by tank fire, shelling, inhuman violence and hatred. The deep scars are etched in the buildings and in the minds of those residents who survived, and I didn’t feel, until I was on the bus from Belgrade, that I could even begin to imagine the horror. Tears leaked on that bus – many of them, hidden from the people around me – as I read about the atrocities. I felt as though I was looking into my own past when we crossed the Bosnia & Herzegovina border, trying to leach out some understanding of humanity I still lacked from the beautiful cragged scenery and the gaudy rings of colour standing out at the top of each minaret in the hills. The beauty felt symbolic; some kind of rank, sick contrast with the terror waged on the city twenty years before.
And as we got closer I held those images of the dead in my mind.