Then and Now

Chris Leslie Archive / Sep 2011

15 years after I first ventured into the city and on the surface it has changed beyond all comprehension. In the city centre you have to look hard to find war damage or sign of war.

The Sarajevo Roses – memorial shell craters painted red, marking where someone was killed have all but dried up. Tourists are on the increase, and not just the adventurous and unwashed backpackers, but bus loads of Germans, Americans and Japanese who stroll though the old town eating ice cream and buying ornaments made from artillery cases.

McDonald’s opened to a fanfare and presidential ribbon cutting in July of 2011 – a key turning point for any transitional country seeking the wealth and acceptance of the Western World by being awarded its very own golden arc. For others it was simply crap fast food and crass Americanization. But McDonalds was somewhat dwarfed by the many new shopping centres that dot the city centre and suburbs. Free wifi and packed with cafes they try to tempt Sarajevans, young and old into spending what little earnings they have.

The past 4 years since I was last in the city has seen the most dramatic physical changes to the landscape, but as with all cities, you dig a bit deeper under the surface and all is not that it seems. For many of my friends in their early thirties, those who played through and survived the siege – they have employment, but getting an actual contract is hard and is usually paid for. Corruption is everywhere on the political levels and mistrust between all ethnic groups is endemic. The politicians won’t work together and neither do the citizens.

The former frontline in Sarajevo between the Republika Srbska and the Muslim/Croat Federation, scenes of the worst fighting in the city, is now just an grassy intersection between a road and rows of housing but the tensions and mistrust remain. A new generation has grown up in the city. Teenagers and young adults who have no comprehension what their peers went through to defend the city, have no idea what it was like to live 4 years under siege and bombardment. They are living in a Euro Centric Sarajevo where their conflicts are with fashion, girlfriends and boyfriends, and everyday teenage angst.

And who would deny them this? One of my friends – Edina, who took part in the photo project I taught back in 1996 – 2000, points out that its wrong that this next generation has to ‘carry the baggage and trauma’ of a siege and war that they never lived through. That is not to say that they forget about the war, but Sarajevo’s people can’t live in the past and EU membership end game seems the only way forward, whether they agree with it or not.