sarajevo, bosnia

Spring in Sarajevo is dreary and unbearably cold (at least when we visited in May). The city greeted us with billowing clouds ascending the surrounding mountains, and a layer of consistent drizzle pattering to the ground. It felt as if the city was in mourning.

With a weather forecast with a high of 6 degrees C (42 F) confining us inside, it was the perfect day to delve deep into Bosnia’s troubled past. We trudged through the street puddles to the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide.

The museum depicts crimes during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serbs started an uprising with support from the Serbian government to secure the ethnic Serb territory within the region. The war is most known for the mass genocide and ethnic cleansing that took place during the time.

Images and artefacts from victims were on display with anecdotes recounting their experiences of capture, abuse, rape, torture, and the killing of loved ones. 

The most memorable (and devastating) story was of the youngest child killed during the war. A Bosnian couple in Sarajevo was celebrating their wedding anniversary. They planned to stay home because of the war, but decided at the last minute to visit their favourite sandwich shop for dinner. They entered the shop with their three-year-old child, ordered their food, and decided to have a picnic in the park nearby rather than inside the restaurant because it was such a nice day. That evening, while sitting in the park, a grenade exploded, projecting shrapnel into their son’s skull instantly killing him.

So regretfully devastating.

Hundreds of similar accounts were on display, and as I read through each one I couldn’t fathom that such atrocities occurred where I was standing just 14 years ago. The torture of innocent people seems so foreign, like something that should have become extinct in the middle ages, yet bafflingly remains alive and thriving to this day.

Every Bosnian I passed on the street, workers walking home from work, servers at the restaurant, had all lived through this tragedy suffering in different ways, and now went about their seemingly normal daily lives just like any other person in Europe. Whether they felt like they were leading a normal life, whether they had grieved their losses and moved on, I will never know. I would have loved to speak to some locals my parents age, ask them about the war, and what they made of society today. How does an experience so tragic impact the way they live now?