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  • Peggy Simonsen

A Recovering War Zone

Sarajevo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, was the center of the Serbian war for years in the 1990s. The small city is surrounded by mountains which became posts for the Serbian army as they isolated and tried to starve the residents. After the death of Tito and the break-up of Yugoslavia, the former countries wanted autonomy. Bosnia is ethnically and religiously Muslim, having been occupied by Ottomans and Turks for centuries. Serbia is primarily Orthodox Christian and had a strong army built by Tito after World War I, and in the late 20th C was led by Slobodan Milosevič and his cruel general, Radko Vladič who carried out genocide in Bosnia.

On my recent trip we heard from survivors of the war who became targets if they left their houses. One woman who was a nine-year-old girl in 1994, was shot by snipers. A main street of Sarajevo was called “sniper alley” because so many people were shot there. The unarmed residents dug a tunnel under the airport runway to be able to escape the blockade to get food, water and guns to fight back. Part of the tunnel has been saved and we were able to visit it and, hunched over, walk a short distance in it. It was only about four feet high, so resisters had to crouch, carrying heavy loads. They built a rail track for a wagon to carry goods in and out. Some people, including a young woman who talked to us, had escaped through the tunnel as a toddler with her mother after her father had been killed. They were harbored in Croatia and then the US. (She returned as an adult.) The US finally responded to requests for help and bombed the Serbian outposts which helped end the war, but not until whole cities were wiped out. We visited a museum about the war criminals who were punished for genocide and crimes against humanity. Stark!

The Bosnians are resilient, but the war was so brutal against civilians that the scars remain. The house where the tunnel ended has been preserved with all the bullet holes and shell damage.

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness,” Mark Twain

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