News / Europe

Sarajevo Marks 15 Years Since End of Balkans War

The US ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Patrick Moon, signs a book of condolences in memory of US diplomat Richard Holbrooke in Sarajevo, Dec 14, 2010
The US ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Patrick Moon, signs a book of condolences in memory of US diplomat Richard Holbrooke in Sarajevo, Dec 14, 2010
Henry Ridgwell

Fifteen years ago, the Dayton Peace Accords ended a vicious inter-ethnic war in the former Yugoslavia that left 100,000 people dead and spawned the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II. As the accords are being remembered, the world also is mourning the death Monday of U.S. Envoy Richard Holbrooke, who guided the peace deal to completion.

Sarajevo's busy streets are now filled with coffee shops, bars and boutiques. Only the shrapnel and bullet holes in some buildings give a clue to its recent history.

The city was held under siege for 43 months during the early- and mid-1990s. Its people lived in terror as shells and sniper fire rained down from the surrounding hills. An estimated 12,000 people died.

The only escape from the city was a tunnel dug beneath the airport that brought supplies in and people out. The battle scarred house where the tunnel emerged is now a museum. Edis Kolar, a former soldier who owns the house, says the people of Sarajevo want to move on.

"When Bosnian people come to see the tunnel, I can see they are trying to move on," Kolar said. "They are trying to keep the war in history and museums. "The problem is the politicians are not letting us forget."

The U.S.-brokered Dayton Peace Accords were signed 15 years ago, bringing together Serbian, Bosnian and Croat leaders. Bosnian politicians agree that the accords were successful in bringing peace and stability to the Balkans. But otherwise, many say, the region is divided.

Former Bosnian President Haris Silajdzic was part of the delegation at Dayton in the U.S. Midwestern state of Ohio. He said that by giving the Bosnian Serbs their own autonomous region known as Republika Srpska as part of the agreement, the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia is being perpetuated.

"What we now see is the attempt to legalize what happened here, to put the international stamp on it like it was okay.  [Former Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic's project is being completed as we speak now."

Former Bosnian Croat politician Kresimir Zubak also was at Dayton. He agrees that ethnic divisions need to be addressed. Zubak said that "after the goals the different sides had in 1992 were not achieved by force, they are now trying to achieve them by political means."

Most Serbs, though, want to preserve the terms of the Dayton agreement. Slavko Jovicic is a Bosnian Serb politician in parliament. "One thing can never happen in Bosnia-Herzegovina and that's the dominance of one group over others," he said. "We say that without a Republika Srpska, there will be no Bosnia-Herzegovina."

Such divisions are mirrored in Bosnia's education system, as different ethnic groups are taught different curricula in separate classes.

At the United World College in the city of Mostar, however, scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the war, things are different. Bosnian Muslim, Serb and Croat students mingle inside and outside the classroom, where they study together.

Students of each ethnic group are optimistic about Bosnia's future.

"I think the situation will change, maybe in this generation," said one female student. "We are the new generation that should definitely lead into something more bright," replied a male student. Another male student opined, "It's a process and it's going to take a while."

Mostar is famous for its Ottoman bridge, which stood for more than 400 years - until it was shelled during the war.

The destruction of the bridge came to symbolize the wanton destruction of the war. Its restoration in 2004 showed that many of the physical scars of the war are being healed.  But many of the political and mental scars remain.

Most politicians here agree that Bosnia's future should lie within the European Union. That future, analysts say, depends on the ability of the people here to overcome the conflicts of the past.

Related video report by Henry Ridgwell:

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