Monday, April 9, 2012

20 Years Later

Friday April 6th was a somber day in Sarajevo.

As everyone knows, Sarajevo was the "home" of one of the most brutal sieges in human history- some say the most brutal ever. For nearly four years (don't  speed over that number.... think about it.... 4 years!?!), the city was surrounded by snipers and "mortar-throwers" making no distinction between targeting the military and ordinary citizens. People were killed while being on the streets, standing in bread lines, and resting at home. And while being at home, supplies were regularly cut off- which meant no running water, electricity, heating, or normal food items.... again, for nearly 4 years! The result was catastrophic physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and probably any other "ually" you can think of.

In case you hadn't noticed, I have made it a point during my time here to never write about the war. Why? I feel that too much of the world thinks of Bosnia ONLY in regards to war, and anytime they report back that's the first thing they talk about! People don't realize how much this country has to offer, like getting lost in the stunningly beautiful mountains and their bluish green streams, the depth of the culture and history, and, my favorite, finding a city full of people ready to sit down and enjoy a nice cup of Joe with you at a moment's notice.  For me, while it can be tough to be an expat adjusting to a new language and culture and being a world away from family and friends, I can count on just one hand the days I've wanted out (and 99.9% of reasons have been related to bureaucratic messes!).

For a taste of what I'm taking about, here are my favorite pictures I've taken over the last 2 and half years:
Downtown  Sarajevo at the Sebilj fountain
Near the Airport in Sarajevo 
In Mostar
Hiking in the mountains surrounding Sarajevo
Skiing on Jahorina- an Olympic mountain

Rafting on the Neretva River- 
Near Ajvatovica
"Wilson's Walkway" in Sarajevo- named after Woodrow Wilson

An aerial shot of Sarajevo, taken the fall of 2011
So, coming back to the post... why do I bring up the war now? And what's the significance of April 6th? Well, Friday, April 6th was not only "Good" Friday, it was the 20th anniversary of the siege on Sarajevo. In total, 11,541 of Sarajevo's inhabitants died. Again..... 11,541. If you're like me, 11,541 is just a number, not one that to comprehend fully. That's why I think the organizers of this memorial did something brilliant- they shut down the main road and lined it up with 11,541 empty chairs- each representing one person that died.

(To see more pictures, I recommend this post by Aljazeera, who now has a station based here in Sarajevo)

(Foto: Feđa Krvavac/

In addition to having these chairs placed out, there was somber music being played loud enough for all to hear and screens naming one by one each of the people who died. I can't confirm this anywhere, but I heard that due to the amount of names, the list ran all day but never repeated a name twice.

I was holding myself together pretty well until coming upon this part....

In case you can't tell, each one of these chairs is child-sized. Included in the 11,541 were 1500 children under the age of 16 killed during the siege. By the end of this day, each one of these chairs had something on them: a flower, a toy, a stuffed animal, a kickball, balloons, etc.  As people lined up to walk next to these chairs, pay their regards, place gifts on them, etc. the atmosphere was thick with sorrow, memories, anger, resentment, sadness, "blankness." 

As I stood there with tears in my eyes, I knew I couldn't comprehend what the people around me were going through. I was an observer- one who watched the war on TV, heard horror stories, walked on the mortar holes. I may live here and may experience GLIMPSES of the effects of it culturally, emotionally, spiritually, "governmentally," mentally.... But, again, I am an outside observer.  What was it like to have lived through this and see this memorial? That was the reality for the majority of those who surrounded me as I took it in. 

To think I live in a city (not a country, mind you) that lost 11,541 sons, daughters, brothers, sisters over the span of 4 years- and 1500 under the age of 16..... is incomprehensible. I've of course thought on this before, but never before has the truth of this sunk in as deeply as it did on April 6th. 

Today, the Monday afterward, life goes on as usual for people here. The chairs are gone and the street is opened up again. I know they wouldn't want the world to bring pity on them after this memorial but would want people to not forget what happened and honor the ones who died. Yes, I have come to increasingly realize that the Bosnians are a remarkably resilient people.

I took one last look at the chairs and that's when the reminder came... today is "Good" Friday. God used this somber moment to bring about a deeper understanding of what "Good" Friday is about. Due to  prejudice, pride, sin... these people lost their lives, and countless others were affected. And on this same day, we remembered One that due to prejudice, pride, SIN- willingly gave his life up and affected multitudes of others.

A new picture came to mind... what if we were to place a memorial with one red chair representing Him and then surround it with a white chair for each person affected... each person redeemed?  What an overwhelming picture that would be indeed!  Then again, seeing how God promises that people from all the families of all the nations will one day worship before him together (Psalm 22:27), this picture would be better served with the red chair being surround by every color imaginable, huh?

Till next time,