Two decades later, ‘endless sadness’
Sarajevo marks 20th anniversary of Bosnian war. Red chairs in rows symbolize lives lost.
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.