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.