Monday, 21 August 2017

Bosnia’s Bitter Bouquet: the Sarajevo Rose

Text and photographs by Ekaterina Petrova   
Sarajevo carries all kinds of traces of its past in its cityscape. And while some of them are easy to notice, one – despite its prevalence, can be missed quite easily: the Sarajevo Rose, a scar in the ground and a daily reminder of the horrors of the recent war.

The town's historical heritage is abundant and varied: from the Baščaršija, which dates to the sixteenth century when the city was a major centre of the Ottoman Empire, with its narrow, stone-covered streets, lined with small shops selling crafts and souvenirs; through the literally and figuratively western half of the Old Town, with its taller, colourful buildings in the Austro-Hungarian architectural style and sidewalks neatly covered in uniform tiles; to the New Town and Novo Sarajevo parts of the town, which sprung up during the urban sprawl of the 1960s and 1970s, with their communist-era housing and companies’ and corporations’ office buildings.

Traces of the Siege of Sarajevo – one of the latest chapters in the city’s history, in which over a period of 44 months in the 1990s, the city was blockaded by Serb forces of the Republika Srpska and the Yugoslav People's Army, are also visible. Although the city has obviously undergone massive repairs in the last 15 years: bullet holes can still be seen on many of façades and, here and there, some gutted buildings still stand.

The Sarajevo Rose, another trace of the siege, is initially hard to notice among all the changing sidewalk patterns and the varied road pavements. Bitterly named because of its almost floral pattern, it marks the spot where a mortar shell hit.

If one doesn’t know to look out for them, the marks could be mistaken simply for an irregularity in the pavement. But once it becomes clear what they are, they are literally all over the sidewalks and streets of the old part of the city, serving as a constant reminder of the horror in which the citizens of Sarajevo lived for 1,335 days while their city was under siege.

Although it is of course impossible to know the enormity of that horror in a real way, the places where the mortars have left scars are indicative enough of the full extent to which people’s daily lives were not just disrupted but constantly endangered. This wasn’t some abstract, faraway war taking place between opposing troops somewhere in the hills; there are Sarajevo Roses in front of bakeries, churches, on pedestrian streets, in open-air markets, on playgrounds, at which shells were fired.

According to some accounts, in the duration of the siege, an average of around 329 shell impacts hit Sarajevo per day, with a maximum of 3,777 on July 22, 1993.

In some places, such as the one on the old town’s main pedestrian street, Ferhadija, memorial plaques on the nearby buildings’ walls bearing the names of the Sarajevo citizens, sometimes in the dozens, killed by the mortar shell that left the scar in the pavement. In most, there is no written record.

In the nearly fifteenth years since the end of the siege, many of the Sarajevo Roses have been filled in with concrete and in this way erased, but many still remain. Some of them have been left as they were, while others have been filled with red resin, in this way turning them into a kind of memorial to those who were killed there and a reminder of the war.

It seems that, for the time being, the pavement marks will remain mostly in place, although some prefer them to be filled in, both for practical reasons – to have seamless pavements, and for moral ones – that they are becoming a product sold to tourists, which cheapens their original meaning, or that they are an unnecessary reminder of something that is now in the past. Like the tunnel, which used to link the cut-off city of Sarajevo with the neutral area set up by the UN and which is said to have saved the city, of which about 20 metres are left intact and available for visitors to go through, the Sarajevo Roses may indeed have achieved the status of a tourist attraction. They are, nevertheless, a kind of testament about what the city and its citizens lived through in a way that is much more tangible and real than any museum exhibition could show or any history book could tell.

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