Remembering Sarajevo

It is a courageous decision to renovate or leave a building as it is when the stories behind them are painful. This was not something I ever thought about before I visited Sarajevo.

On the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre, I want to write about the country which has affected my soul deeply and tell some of their stories from the perspective of memory and remembrance through monuments. Bosnia has a special place in my heart as the land of the most courageous and beautiful souls I have met.

Visit the virtual museum on the Srebrenica Massacre to learn more:

I got to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina twice, once in 2009 and the other time in 2016. I got to see in between my visits how the persevering Bosnian people rebuilt their land after the horrible war took place between 1992-1995. The first time I went to Sarajevo, the city was pretty much still healing itself. The ruins of what once were the homes of Bosnian Muslims were a usual sight while travelling in the city. Many houses had bullets inside their walls left there because they had not gotten to renovate the buildings yet. The second time I went, most houses were repaired with the exception of a few. I learned that they chose to leave some buildings and monuments as it is to tell the story of war and pain. 

Disclaimer: I will be writing about a sensitive topic therefore please reach out to me if I made a comment which is not correct in your own lived experience. 

I was thinking how one might choose which monuments tell this story in the best way. After all, keeping memories of genocide and destruction within one’s city can have a traumatising effect on the people living there. It is a courageous decision to renovate or leave a building as it is when the stories behind them are that painful. This was not something I ever thought about before I visited Sarajevo. In this post, I will be writing about the two buildings which have a special place in my heart after my visits. I present to you the National Library and Tunel Spasa in Sarajevo and how they aid our understanding of memory preservation.

The National Library is a beautiful building in the middle of Downtown Sarajevo. There are some photos under this post of the National Library both in 2009 and 2016. The library is restored for next generations to benefit. It was newly opened when I went there in 2016, it took a long time to restore, as I remember that they had started the restoration process back when I was there in 2009 as a kid. The message that the National Library gives is clear, we are restoring this building because we look towards a better future for our youth. A library best symbolizes education, learning, and leaving valuable information to the next generations. This library even though it is renovated, still reminds us that remembering what happened is important. 

The sign on the door of the library says: “On this place Serbian criminals on the night of 25th – 26th August 1992, set on fire National and University’s Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Over 2 millions of books, periodicals and documents vanished in the flame. DO NOT FORGET, REMEMBER AND WARN!” 

Another important site in Sarajevo that stuck with me was Tunel Spasa which translates to The Tunnel of Hope. This tunnel was dug by Bosnian forces because the city was cut off from resources such as food and humanitarian aid. Dug 800 metres deep, it was wide enough for a person to pass. It is said that during the war 1000 people passed through it to go in and out of the city. President Alija Izetbegovic also got to visit the people in Sarajevo through this tunnel during the war. Tunel Spasa kept Sarajevo alive until the NATO intervention. 

I would highly suggest reading the whole story of this amazing monument of hope and perseverance:

The tunnel is now a museum, they haven’t restored most of the tunnel because it shows the hardship of a city under siege and how the world watched them die without intervening in the situation. (The UN technically intervened in the Bosnian War but the mission was a huge failure) The house by the tunnel is a museum which has stayed the same since the war. The entrance of the tunnel is also open for visitors to see how narrow the tunnel was. “Leaving it as it is” has helped the Bosnian people to convey the memory of war to other generations in Tunel Spasa. I wasn’t even born when the war was happening in Bosnia but when I went there both as a child and a teenager, I got to see the pain. I am thankful that the tunnel was kept as it is even though it might remind people of painful memories. 

I remember asking myself: 

“Is forgetting the pain easier rather than keeping memories alive?” 

“Should we try to forget pain or keep it as a part of our personality?” 

I still do not know the answer.

The decision to restore the library is a nice way of looking at the future as bright. The decision to leave the tunnel as it is, is a way of preserving the past and learning from it. Sarajevo is an incredible city to visit because it is a great synthesis of the past and the present. There is a lot to learn from the people, the monuments, and their stories.

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