Sarajevo Fire: Of Pieces & Pyres

 

Throwback Travel Story:

It was in Bosnia that the Balkan Wars really cut me to the quick. The stories in Sarajevo captured my imagination; that grand old bridge in Mostar won my heart.

I watched an exhibition and videos of the Srebenica massacres, and the story of a great, multicultural Yugoslavia ripped apart by ethnic chauvinism and atrocity. I walked up hills studded with the pale white gravestones of young men, cut down in their budding prime, little older than I am.

Amidst the innocuous normalcy of the Sarajevan marketplaces, and the city’s cheerful, gentle citizens was a horror barely two decades old. Everyone had a story; every face here had been touched only recently by the deadened hand of grief.

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Yet on my last evening in this serene capital I stumbled onto a group of middle-aged men gripped by an intense game of chess. And dramatic + OTT as it sounds, I couldn’t help but reflect and be moved by how things had changed. For years these men had watched their country, comrades and children ripped apart by the whims and grand visions of some great leader or other, unwilling pawns in a greater regional struggle. But here they were now, on a quiet summer evening, finally free to decide where they themselves wanted to move their pieces.

Early the next morning, I glimpsed some boys at a war memorial whose flame never went out. In the dawn chill, their young fingers were warmed by a fire kept alive in memory of all who had fought and struggled and died in the conflict.

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To have had glorious moments in common in the past, a common will in the present, to have done great things together and to wish to do more, those are the essential conditions for a people. We love the nation in proportion to the sacrifices to which we consented, the harms that we suffered.” – Ernest Renan, What is a Nation, 1882

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