This year marks the 25th anniversary of the beginning of the Bosnian war. In April 1992, after the Bosnian parliament declared independence from what remained of former Yugoslavia, Serb forces began to siege the city of Sarajevo. The war soon spread across the country and lasted over three-and-a-half years and claimed more than 100 000 victims. We asked people from Bosnia and Serbia to share their memories about the beginning of the war.
Jasmin (*1976, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
It was an early morning in April 1992 when several grenades exploded near our house. Full of fear and panic I did not know what was going on. I looked to my father who screamed that we should immediately leave the house and then said: “this is war!”
We then moved to a wooden hut in the woods to avoid the village as it was often targeted by Serbian shells. Life was hard without electricity, water and food especially as I was 15 when the war started. Later with 18 I was recruited by the Bosnian army which had only one helicopter in the area. I was a member of the crew and we brought women and children to secure territory and wounded persons to the nearest hospital. Me and most of my colleagues managed to survive with a strong will and courage. However, the war left behind scars in people’s hearts and memories which are hard to cope with. This shall never happen again.
Vojislav Todorović (*1966, Serbia), writer from Belgrade
I clearly remember the day when war began in Sarajevo. On the fifth of April 1992, a student who took part in anti-war protests was killed by sniper fire coming from the Holiday Inn Hotel in Sarajevo*. The tension that lasted for months culminated, and the terrible, malevolent conflict became a reality. Those days I intensively listened to the Serbian radio station B 92, the only station that had, in addition to great music, uncensored news program about the events. A group of NGOs from Belgrade scheduled protests for April 6th and the radio “B 92” constantly urged citizens to gather in the city center of Belgrade. I called my sister and we immediately agreed to go together to these demonstrations.
As I approached Terazije fountain I had in mind a story of my grandma about the sixth of April 1941. The day when the German Luftwaffe bombed Belgrade. Grandma said that she did not want to go to the shelter. She remained at home, seven months pregnant with my uncle and my father of three years, praying to God – for all of them to survive or to die together. Later she found out that the bombs hit the two largest shelters and these two sites concentrated the largest number of victims.
Only about a hundred people gathered for the demonstrations at the Terazije fountain in the city center of Belgrade. It caused a terrible sickness in my stomach, not only because of Sarajevo but also due to the symbolism of the sixth of April, when Belgrade was severely destroyed by German forces during the Second World War. Fear, arrogance and national division prevailed, and my Belgrade failed, which is one of my biggest life’s disappointments. This was, however, later corrected in some way, with the resistance throughout entire Milosevic’s criminal regime and the final overthrow in 2000.
But that was too late for the sixth of April 1992 and Sarajevo.
Zumreta (*1963, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
I was at home in Austria where I have been living since 1990. I was watching the news unable to realize what this really means. Although the war had been going on in Slovenia and Croatia I did not expect it to ever reach Bosnia. I certainly did not expect that the war would get so cruel and that genocide would be committed. Back then I regularly called a friend who was working in the post office in the Bosnian town where my family lived. She used to tell me that everything is fine with my family. I later learned that she was unable to tell me the truth as the phone lines were bugged. In fact, my father was deported to a camp and tortured there for years.
Radivoje (*1960, Serbia), civil engineer from Belgrade
I do not remember clearly where I was when war in Bosnia started because I have a feeling that everything happened at the same time – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia. I cannot even remember the exact moment when the conflict started in Bosnia, but I do remember hearing about an upsetting event – the bloody wedding in Sarajevo* in 1992. As I remember it, a wedding guest or a priest was murdered and that was the first sniper fired in Sarajevo, I believe on an orthodox wedding. It has just left a bitter feeling. All other events that I remember are events such as the capture of UN soldiers by Karadžić who used them as human shields against NATO bombings or the reports about the Serbian army marching into Srebrenica. But we did not have all the information back then about the crimes and the camps.
* It is disputed whether the first shots fired in Sarajevo were the ones which killed the protesting student or the ones during the so-called “blood wedding“. This becomes evident when comparing the statements of Vojislav Todorović and Radivoje Jovanović.