Two decades later, ‘end­less sad­ness’

Sarajevo marks 20th an­niver­sary of Bos­nian war. Red chairs in rows sym­bol­ize lives lost.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - FRONT PAGE - By Aida Cerkez As­so­ci­ated Press

SARAJEVO, Bos­nia-herze­gov­ina — Bos­ni­ans walked silently and sobbed on Sarajevo’s main street, leav­ing flow­ers and gifts on 11,541 red chairs ar­ranged in seem­ingly end­less rows — the num­ber rep­re­sent­ing the men, women and chil­dren killed in a siege that ended up be­ing the long­est of a city in mod­ern his­tory.

Sarajevo marked the 20th an­niver­sary of the start of the Bos­nian war Fri­day. Ex­hi­bi­tions, con­certs and per­for­mances were held, but the im­pact of the empty chairs re­duced many to tears.

“It’s as if the whole tragedy ma­te­ri­al­ized, be­came vis­i­ble,” said Asja Rasavac, who cov­ered her face with an um­brella, em­bar­rassed for not be­ing able to con­trol the tears. “One can­not even de­scribe the feel­ing. It’s not ha­tred. It’s not anger. It’s just end­less sad­ness.”

Hun­dreds of the chairs were small, rep­re­sent­ing the slain chil­dren. On some, passers-by left teddy bears, lit­tle plas­tic cars, other toys or candy.

“The amount of the chairs re­ally hit me, es­pe­cially the lit­tle ones,” said Ana Ma­canovic, who placed white roses on seven chairs — each for a mem­ber of her fam­ily killed by mor­tar shells dur­ing the siege.

The Serb siege of Sarajevo went on longer than the World War II 900day siege of Len­ingrad, now St. Peters­burg. Its 380,000 peo­ple were left with­out food, electricity, water or heat­ing for 46 months.

On April 6, 1992, around 40,000 peo­ple poured into a square down the red street to de­mand peace from their na­tion­al­ist politi­cians.

The Euro­pean Com­mu­nity had rec­og­nized the for­mer Yu­goslav repub­lic of Bos­nia as an in­de­pen­dent state af­ter most of its peo­ple voted for in­de­pen­dence. But the vote went down along eth­nic lines, with Bos­ni­aks and Croats vot­ing for in­de­pen­dence, and Bos­nian Serbs pre­fer­ring to stay with Serb­dom­i­nated Yu­goslavia.

The eth­nic unity be­ing dis­played on the square ir­ri­tated Serb na­tion­al­ists, who shot into the crowd from a nearby ho­tel, killing five peo­ple and ig­nit­ing the 1992-95 war. The Serbs, helped by neigh­bor­ing Ser­bia, laid siege to Sarajevo and within a few months oc­cu­pied 70 per­cent of Bos­nia, ex­pelling all non-serbs. Bos­ni­aks and Croats turned against each other, so all three groups ended up fight­ing a war that took more than 100,000 lives.

11,541 chairs ar­ranged in 825 rows form the ap­pear­ance of a red river. The Serb siege of Sarajevo left 380,000 peo­ple with­out food, electricity, water or heat­ing for 46 months.

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