The Miljacka River flows gently between two mountain ranges covered by woods, creating a narrow valley that gives the city a slim elegant body, from which two wings of houses open covering the mountain slopes: Sarajevo is like a butterfly, gently leaning on the valley as if it were on the stem of a flower. The bright red Sarajevo Rose grows all along its streets. There is no real break between countryside and city, slowly the white of the houses are less and less visible until they become just some milky drops on the green surface of the woods.
The noise of the cars vanishes, from the city center the road crosses the river and goes uphill. Quietly the wind blows and shakes the trees, a few children play in the street, a woman passes by, then a man on a bike. The doors of the houses are open, inside people cook, watch TV, read newspapers or simply sit. Clouds float gently. It is a landscape of a peaceful life. I sit on the roadside and I close my eyes.
A detonation. One more, and more and more, hundreds of sounds like syllables of the same, repeated word: death. The siege began. From this same landscape of a peaceful life a rain of bombs falls on the city. The bodies of children men women are opened burnt torn apart mutilated. The air smells of flesh, blood, gunpowder. Screams, crying, detonations: the voice of the war overcomes the city.
The massacre will go on for 1425 days, 13,952 human beings will lose their lives. Civilians provided entertainment for snipers, in the areas occupied by the Serbian Army people were gathered and killed, just like that, easily, simply, gathered and killed. 13,952 human beings died, the rest lived to witness the horror, the raping, the brutality, the massacre.
Probably the people of Sarajevo struggled not only to survive but to keep themselves human in a world where human dignity was forgotten. Actors in a theatre company continued their work under the siege to give the illusion of normal living in a world dominated by death. Students and teachers gathered once a week simply to study, or that woman, she made a cake, a war cake she said, because it was the 8th of March and they would celebrate, they had to, they had to do whatever they could for their souls.
The wind blows and shakes the trees, 21 years have passed by but signs remain, the Sarajevo Rose is not a flower. Every one of the 470.250 shells that fell on Sarajevo left scars on the body of the city, their shape is like a flower’s. After the war, the people of Sarajevo filled the scars with a blood-red resin as a reminder of those who lost their lives. Each was named a Sarajevo Rose, a sweet, gentle name to witness the horror, so as not to forget, even though maybe the loss of memory looks like the only way to reach salvation.
Some Serbian soldiers took a baby, they put the baby into an oven, they turned the oven on, they forced the mother to look at her baby. They took the baby out of the oven only once he was cooked, to give him back to the mother. For over a month 12 women from the Kalinovik Camp were selected by Serbian soldiers. They were raped, night and day. The youngest was 16 years old.
The wind blows and shakes the trees, a bird flies lightly to west, the sun is high, warm. A man saw two of his neighbors captured in the woods whilst trying to escape from Srebrenica. Serbian soldiers carved Christian crosses onto the skin of the two prisoners and then they had fun with their cigarettes, smoking laughing joking and putting the cigarettes out on the prisoners’ skin until they get bored and slaughtered the men. Maybe the loss of memory is the only way to salvation.
I walk back to the city centre. There are people shopping, talking, looking, sitting in a bar, buying tomatoes in a market, 21 years have passed by since the horror, still the signs of bullets decorate the buildings, still the Sarajevo Rose flourishes unexpectedly behind a corner, but the bars are open, the coffee is good, the life flows.
What I was expecting to find? Corpses in the streets? A destroyed city good for taking pictures for this article? What am I here to do, to see? To see how far men can go? Did I really need to see the Sarajevo Rose? What am I expecting to learn? Maybe just that a massacre can become a tourist attraction.
The old city is elegant, light, there is nothing of that monumental attitude of other European capitals. Eastern and western art converse to create a unique intimate space of beauty. For so long Muslims, Orthodox, and Catholics lived in peace, most of the marriages were mixed and there was just one society, until somebody created a war, brainwashed the populations, made people perceive those different to them as an enemy, as television still does now, creating reasons for the rage, reasons to fight, reasons to go on with holy wars, reasons to paint millions of Sarajevo Roses.
Would you imagine? From one day to another those who were friends and relatives start to kill each other. Fortunately the reasons are clear to everybody here in the Balkans: economy and politics, after the war the west took over ex-Yugoslavia.
The gentleness of the Sarajevo people seduces me, but cemeteries fill the city, cemeteries like white constellations of steles pointing at the sky as if to blame the heavens. Cemeteries like a swarm of white, like dead hands, cemeteries, cemeteries. I breathe together with the dead, Sarajevo breathes together with her dead, but life goes on, there are people shopping, talking, looking, sitting in a bar, buying tomatoes in a market.
I came to Bosnia curious about the war, is that not a bit sick? As I arrived in Mostar, instead of war people brought me life: I was invited to a puppet show for children, later on a guy gave me a kilo of peaches, another offered me a coffee, another one gave me a bag of Bosnian tobacco, another charged me no entrance fee, – Welcome to Bosnia he said. I was so sure of myself that I was almost disappointed, because instead of atrocity I smelled sweetness. There were signs of the war, but too few, or less spectacular than I expected, at least where I went.
What did I come to Sarajevo to learn? How deep the darkness of the human soul is? I knew this already, it is what history has taught me, that is why sometimes I forget, because memory seems to be useless.
The First World War should have been the last war, should have been, it should have been the last one but no. We needed to kill again and another was planned and fought: 60 million people died in a conflict that made all of the world join togheter in the name of death. Nobody forgot the horror of the Second World War. The Nazis were Germans. Are the Germans bad? Later the Jewish bombed Palestine. Are the Jewish bad? For three days Moroccan soldiers raped and murdered the people of Ciociaria (Italy). Are Moroccans bad? The Italians troops massacred 175 civilian at Domenikon (Greece). Are the Italians bad? Serbians massacred Bosnians. Are the Serbians bad? Muslims and Catholics both killed in the name of God. Others men killed and kill in the name of politics, economy, even in the name of love. Horror looks to be a cultural value we all share. The whole world would be a garden if everywhere we spilled blood was painted a Sarajevo Rose.
“Do not forget” is written on a wall. Don’t bother yourself brother, we will never forget but memory seems to be useless, history has thought us very little, or just one truth: it will happen again.
“SDF fighters captured Hal-Market east of Raqqa and several strategic buildings. Nine IS members were killed including 2 snipers”. It is the 2nd of July 2017, 21 years have passed by and this is the latest news I received from Syria when I was in Sarajevo.