I met a guy named Neno in Sarajevo. He conducted one of the several free walking tours in Sarajevo. I have not been on any other tours but his, but I’m quite positive Neno was, and is the best in all of Sarajevo.
The start of his tour wasn’t that promising. In fact, truth be told, Emma and Nell, my Australian and French roommates who dragged me on the tour, were having a hard time understanding him and wanted to leave. Neno liked to talk, and he talked very fast. As native English speakers, Emma and I could understand him, but we had to listen very closely to get past his thick Bosnian accent. I can only imagine how he must have sounded for poor Nell, who while fluent in English, still needed you to speak slowly to catch everything you said.
Not wanting to be rude, the three of us decided to stay anyways. It was the best decision we made. We soon realized that the reason why Neno talked so fast was because he was so excited and passionate about the stories he was sharing, and he only had two hours to tell us everything. He had so many stories from the war, both from his personal experiences, and that of his friends and family. He was also a walking encyclopedia on anything and everything about Sarajevo; historical facts, architectural styles, pop culture, ancient Ottoman gossip and myths, you name it, Neno knows it.
Of the many stories about the war that Neno shared, two stood out for me. The first one is the story of the Sarajevo Red Line. On April 6 2012, 11,541 empty red chairs were placed near the Eternal Flame on Maršal Tito Street in 825 rows that extended all the way to the Ali Pasha Mosque, to honor and commemorate the 11,541 people, 643 of which are children, who died during the Bosnian War. Mothers and widows and orphans walked amongst the chairs, some carried flowers, some left teddy bears and toy cars for the small chairs representing the children who lost their lives during the war, some offered a silent prayer or two, and others, simply cried at the memory of their lost loved ones. The atmosphere was very somber and quiet, and despite the ongoing concert and poetry reading surrounding the event, only the sobs broke the stillness of the day. Neno recounted to us the emotions he felt that day, the emotions his family felt that day, an
d the grief and anguish relived by the families of the victims.
The siege of Sarajevo lasted 44 months and is considered today the longest in modern history. Majority of the people killed in the city were hit by snipers and bombs fired by the Serbs from the mountains that enveloped the city. There was little ground combat during the war, but because the Serbian rebels cannot tell if the person in their gun’s crosshairs was Serb, Croat, or Bosniak, they fired indiscriminately and the number of casualties rose to as much as 300 in a day.
As Neno was recalling his experiences during the war and during the ceremony itself, he was getting emotional and was clearly holding back tears. Though the people of Sarajevo have tried to heal themselves and move forward into the future, the pain from their massive loss is clearly still lingering under their seemingly carefree surface.
The city’s streets and buildings are pockmarked with bullet holes and mortar damage. Throughout the city, explosion marks on the streets have been filled with red resin to mark where mortar explosions resulted in one or more deaths. These memorials are called Sarajevo Roses, referred to as such because the way the mortar rounds landed on the concrete created a unique fragmentation pattern that resembled rose petals strewn about.
The event which was organized by the city of Sarajevo and East West Theater Company also included musical performances by kids from the local schools. They closed the event by singing John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance”.