Bosnia: The Next Generation

The images posted in this entry were shot while traveling throughout Bosnia. It has been 20 years since the start of the Bosnian war. While visiting the country I was inspired to shoot a series of photographs of the cityscape of Sarajevo and buildings in the city that remain as relics of the war. There is a stark contrast in seeing new buildings sit beside these old relics. Some have transformed, masking over wounds of the past, while others remain much the same as they were after the war. The contrast of the old and new is fascinating because it reflects the transformation of the country, yet serves as a tragic reminder of the war. 

The country has moved forward and rebuilt its infrastructure since the war ended; However, the scars and memories are still evident in the cityscape and in the hearts of those who lived through the conflict. I was surprised how many people were open to talk with me about the war. Oliver Dujmović, a resident of Sarajevo who lived through the siege, told me that when speaking about the past and the present time is often divided by “what happened before the war and what happened after the war.” He recalled once how a missile landed on the side of his roof but did not explode. Oliver actually found a way to open the missile in order to extract the fuel which he used to cook with. The city was deprived of resources during the four year siege so people had to be resourceful. Food aid was transported through an underground tunnel that connected to the airport. During our conversation Oliver stated “It’s crazy the things you do to survive – things you never would imagine you were capable of doing. We lived in a state of fear for years. Even when leaving your home you risked being shot by a sniper.”

Understanding Bosnia’s religious and ethnic groups is an important part of understanding the conflict. Bosnia’s population is 44% Bosniaks (Muslims), 31% Bosnian Serb (Eastern Orthodox Christians), and 17% Bosnian Croats (Roman Catholics).

The war started during the fall of former Yugoslavia after President Tito’s death. Serbian nationalists wanted to centralize Yugoslavia. However, in 1992, the Bosniak and Croat population formed a majority which voted to secede from Yugoslavia. The Bosnian-Serb minority boycotted this decision and rebelled. With the support of the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the aid of Yugoslav Army troops, and Bosnian-Serb militias, two-thirds of Bosnia was seized.

As the war continued, Bosnian-Serb militias attempted to ethnically cleanse Bosnia’s Muslim and the Croat population from what was considered “Serb-held territories”.  It is estimated that 20,000 Muslim women and girls were thrown into rape camps. Research places the number of people killed during the war around 100,000–110,000.

When reflecting on the history of a war, the realization that people are capable of committing collective atrocities like this remains incomprehensible and tragic. It makes one question our humanity and what the future holds for our species and the world. Ultimately it reflects how primitive we still are.

Today Bosnia is divided, half known as the Republika Srpska, also referred to as the Serb Republic, and the other half is Bosnia and Herzegovina. The US government intervened in 1995 with The Dayton Agreement which was signed by President Bill Clinton. The Agreement was intended to stop the conflict. The agreement ended the war but created an intense division. 

While Aaron and I were taking the train from Sarajevo to Zagreb, I met a young Muslim man about my age. He had grown up only a short time in Bosnia. His family was granted political asylum in Belgium during the war.  He now lives in Bosnia working with a large international corporation. He said that to this day, when his parents drive through the part of Bosnia known as the Republika Srpska they do not stop anywhere even if they are hungry. They would rather wait, however long it took, to get back to Bosnia and Herzegovina to buy food because they do not want to support the economy of Republika Srpska. Ironically, as we were speaking, we had just entered the Republika Srpska and I asked him where he was headed. He said he had a friend who lived in Banja Luka. On occasion he and his friends would meet some nice girls there but as soon as they heard his last name, a Muslim name, the conversation would stop. 

Before leaving Sarajevo, Aaron and I went to a coffee shop downtown. There we met a young waitress who had grown up in Sarajevo as the city rebuilt itself in the wake of all the destruction from the war.  I asked her how she felt about the country being divided and if she held any resentment towards Serbs. She responded by saying “The older generation carries a lot of hate with them. The only way we can move forward is to start seeing each other as people, not by our ethnic or religious groups. The younger generation is starting to open up to that idea, which is the only way there will ever be peace in Bosnia.” I felt those were very wise and hopeful words not only for the future of Bosnia but the world as a whole.