A hos­tel in Sarajevo of­fers guests a taste of life in war

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FEATURES - By Aida Cerkez The Associated Press

A hos­tel in Bosnia is of­fer­ing visi­tors a unique ex­pe­ri­ence: the op­por­tu­nity to live like civil­ians in a war zone.

But at the Sarajevo War Hos­tel, guests have the lux­ury of know­ing they won’t be killed, starved or lose fam­ily or friends. And un­like the Sara­je­vans who ac­tu­ally en­dured the 1992-95 war, the visi­tors can leave any time.

Those who check in to the War Hos­tel are greeted by the owner wear­ing a hel­met and a flak jacket. They get to sleep in rooms with just one bulb on the ceil­ing, run­ning on a car bat­tery. The plas­tic sheets on the win­dows are just like the ones the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees handed out to Sara­je­vans so they could re­place win­dow glass shat­tered by bombs.

At night, they use can­dles to move around the hos­tel and to read by. The walls are plas­tered with wartime news­pa­per ar­ti­cles — most of them from The Associated Press — de­pict­ing the daily strug­gle in be­sieged Sarajevo.

At the War Hos­tel, visi­tors quickly dis­cover it is one thing to watch peo­ple sur­viv­ing wars on TV. But it is re­ally some­thing else to spend the night on a sponge mat­tress on the floor, cov­ered with mil­i­tary blan­kets, and in the dark­ness lis­ten to the sound of exploding bombs out­side. A tape of the bombs plays all night long.

In a makeshift bunker and by can­dle­light, the hos­tel owner, Zero One, 25, shares with guests his child­hood mem­o­ries of wartime and the post­war era, and tells them how wars can in­flu­ence peo­ple’s lives for­ever. His birth name is Ari­jan Kur­ba­sic, but he calls him­self Zero One, the wartime code name used by his fa­ther, who was a sol­dier in the Bos­nian Army. The code name con­ceals his eth­nic back­ground.

“I just want to be iden­ti­fied as a hu­man be­ing as this was the most im­por­tant thing to be dur­ing the war. Ei­ther you are one or you are not,” he ex­plained. “Zero One I chose to honor my fa­ther.”

The war un­folded af­ter Yu­goslavia fell apart and its re­publics de­clared in­de­pen­dence one af­ter the other. Na­tion­al­ist politi­cians were de­ter­mined to di­vide the new coun­try of Bosnia and Herzegovina along eth­nic lines and pit­ted the coun­try’s Mus­lim Bos­ni­aks, Ro­man Catholic Croats and Chris­tian Ortho­dox Serbs against each other.

How­ever, Sarajevo, as well as other parts of Bosnia, were eth­ni­cally di­verse and many lo­cals re­jected the na­tion­al­ist plans — for which they paid a high price.

The Serb siege of Sarajevo went on for 46 months — pre­cisely 1,425 days — longer than the siege of Len­ingrad, now St. Peters­burg, dur­ing World War II. Sarajevo’s 380,000 peo­ple were left with­out food, elec­tric­ity, wa­ter or heat­ing, as they hid from snipers and the av­er­age 330 shells a day that smashed into the city.

Over 100,000 peo­ple were killed dur­ing the Bos­nian war, 11,541 of them in Sarajevo.

Guests ap­pre­ci­ate the in­ten­sity of the hos­tel sim­u­la­tion. “The best way to learn about some­thing is usu­ally ex­pe­ri­ence,” said An­drew Burns, 21, a hos­tel guest from the U.S. “It pro­vides emo­tions be­hind events. I can read a text­book all I want, but most of that in­for­ma­tion es­capes from the mind im­me­di­ately. But when I come here and I see peo­ple who talk about their ex­pe­ri­ences, that makes it real, that makes me want to learn about it, to try to help, try to love.”

Zero One also of­fers guests a chance to watch doc­u­men­taries about the siege, and can or­ga­nize tours of the city’s war sites, like the front lines and a tunnel Sara­je­vans dug un­der the air­port run­way to con­nect the city with the out­side world.

“They come here, they ex­pe­ri­ence this and it changes their per­spec­tives,” Zero One says of his guests. “For one or two nights, to live like this, it changes their views and then they ap­pre­ci­ate their own life, they ap­pre­ci­ate wa­ter, they ap­pre­ci­ate com­fort, they ap­pre­ci­ate a bed, they ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery­thing else. . It re­ally gives them a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive and that is the whole point of this.”

Guests agree that the War Hos­tel is “unique,” as Eren Bas­tay­maz, 30, from Turkey, put it. “You can find bet­ter hos­tels any­where in the world, but this at­mos­phere, I’ve never seen any­thing like this be­fore.”


In this photo, Bos­nian Arian Kur­ba­sic, the owner of the War Hos­tel in Sarajevo, stands with a lit can­dle in his hand next to a wall of one of the hos­tel rooms. The War Hos­tel of­fers visi­tors a unique op­por­tu­nity to live like civil­ians in a war zone, but with the lux­ury of know­ing they won’t be killed, starved or lose fam­ily or friends.


In this photo, Bos­nian Arian Kur­ba­sic, left, the owner of the War Hos­tel in Sarajevo, talks with his guests, An­drew Burns from the U.S., cen­ter, and Eren Bas­tay­maz from Turkey in the hos­tel’s com­mon room.

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