Latest Reading – Sarajevo

While I was in Sarajevo last month I picked up a couple of books about the wars of Yugoslav Secession of the 1990’s. I wanted to try to understand the conflict a bit more, especially the long siege on the city. The first book I read was “Sarajevo: Exodus of a City” by Bosnian author and professor, Dzevad Karahasn. He wrote the book during the seige in 1992-93, shortly before finally fleeing Bosnia. It is a short book, but it gives the reader an idea on what it is like to live in a city in the middle of a war.

The most disturbing thing about the wars of the 90’s in this region, was the fact that so many civilians were right in the center of the violence. I can’t believe that people survived that experience, when there was danger just in going out of your apartment. Karahasan’s essays bring out different aspects of life under the siege as well as a lot about the history and culture of Sarajevo. He sadly described how the city was torn about and a once multicultural city, is now changed. I noticed in driving around the city that there were clearly Bosniak (Islamic) sections and other new areas that were clearly Serbian. He also wrote about how all of the Jewish people also left during the war and today, there is not a viable Jewish community in the city. I do think that he exagerrates the diversity of pre-war Sarajevo a bit. Most US cities have more diversity than Sarajevo ever did. I don’t see the country of Bosnia staying together because of the split between Serbs and Bosniaks.

The other book was “The Battle for Sarajevo: Sentenced to Victory” by former Bosnian Military Commander, Kerim Lucarevic. The book describes the lead up and the battles of 1992. A couple of salient take-aways I got from the book were as follows:

  • I didn’t realize that the Bosnian Serb army gave weapons to Serb civilians living in the city. Not only was the city attacked from the surrounding hills, but from within.
  • He exaggerates the accomplishments of his soldiers and makes it sound like the “chetniks” were an incompetent army with an overwhelming amount of firepower that was offset by his daring and strategic attacks. I’m sure it was different than what he depicted. I thought he should have been more realistic.
  • It was odd circumstances in the lead up to the siege. The army of the country, Yugoslavia, was digging in around the city. I understand that it was a crazy time and many people thought there wouldn’t be a war, especially with your own (Yugoslavian) army setting up to “protect” the city. I don’t know what I would have done if I was a civilian living in Sarajevo at the time. If I had a family, I would have hoped to get out of there somehow before the fighting began. I can’t believe how many families with children were trapped in the city.

The two books helped me understand the fascinating city of Sarajevo a little better. It is  a sad city but a wonderful place to visit and we hope to go back there again. I do want to read more about the years of the siege and about Bosnia today and the effects from the war.


4 thoughts on “Latest Reading – Sarajevo

  • Sarajevo was a divided city with the front lines going through the middle and they ran nearby to the infamous Holiday Inn which was shown a lot on TV with some damage.
    It was the Bosnian Muslim Government forces which prevented people from leaving the city. They blockaded and took control of all the roads out in the parts they controlled. The Serbs did not do the same in their sections of the city.
    The international community had to ask and get permission from the Bosnian Muslim Government to get the Jews out – and the Jews generally left for Belgrade.
    The Bosnian forces did fire into the Serbian sections, which included some suburbs.
    Serb civilians trapped on the Bosnian Muslim side were often beaten up in their homes or taken to camps and illegal prisons. The Bosnian Muslims had a lot of hardened criminals leading their militia’s in 1992 – and these were good at terrorizing, capturing, beating and killing the “soft” targets – Serbian civilians.
    One such criminal was Jusuf Prazina who was praised by Alija Izetbegovic on TV during the time he had Serb captives in his illegal and brutal jails.
    But in 1993, these criminals, who were a bit out of control and sometimes robbing Muslims as well, were attacked by the more disciplined Bosnian Muslim Army units more firmly under Izetbegovic’s control.
    Jusuf Prazina managed to escape Sarajevo but went to Mostar where he joined the Croat side. There he robbed and ethnically cleansed the Mostar Muslims and put them in concentration camps were the Croats and Muslim had formerly kept Serbs. But he was a targeted man and eventually had to flee Bosnia. He was assassinated in The Netherlands under orders of Izetbegovic’s son.

  • Sad that there is comments like this that spread lies about Sarajevo seige.I was 12 years old when war started and my family had a lot of friends that lived and worked abroad, including family.It was our choice to stay and not let Serbs run over our city and kill everybody in it like they did thry out Bosnia.My family is extreamly mixed, from muslims , ortodox and catolic to jews.We lived together,we fought,together and we won together.
    Sarajevo is not , nor it will never be just muslim or ortodox or catolic city, it is Bosnian city and Bosnians dont care what religion you are as long as you are good hearted person.
    Bosnian Army had every nationality in it and even some forigners who were studying in Sarajevo stayed to defend the city.We even had Serbian-ortodox commander .It is sad that Serbian propaganda had started the hatred in Balkans and made people embarke on war that they could not win.Bosnians were defending ours- families, friends , neighbours…we never cared to go and seize Serbia nor do we want to.Serbia is the distruptive neighbour on the block- dont get along with anyone.

    We pride our selfs for our tolerance and big heart and this is why we are who we are.Everybody is welcome.Good intensions only!

    • Don’t spread lies, there is no such thing as “Bosnians”. Ask any Orthodox or Catholic in BiH what (s)he is and in 99% the answer will be Serb or Croat respectively. Only “Bosnians” are Muslims who started calling themselves Bosniaks during the war in 90’s.

      • Gojko,

        Americans are masters at re-defining ourselves with every generation and even more often as we move across the big nation of America. I agree that the “Bosniaks” are ethnically Serbian or Croatian (Slavic). It is interesting that their ancestors adopted Islam, when most of the Serbs didn’t, despite 500 years of Ottoman presence. I wonder if there is any research behind why these groups did convert. Thanks for reading my blog.


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