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Sarajevo Marks 20th Anniversary Of Beginning Of Siege

Empty Chairs Pay Tribute To Sarajevo Victimsi
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April 06, 2012
On the 20th anniversary of the start of the siege of Sarajevo, the city commemorated the victims with 11,541 empty seats along the main avenue, one for each of the civilians killed in Sarajevo during the war. Video by Tina Jelin Dizdar, RFE/RL's Balkan Service
An event called the "Sarajevo Red Line" consisted of a line of empty chairs, one for each of the 11,541 citizens killed during the siege of the Bosnian capital in the years 1992-95.

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Chairs At Sarajevo Siege Ceremony Come From Serbia

As part of commemorations marking the 20th anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo, 11,541 chairs will be placed in the center of the city to honor those who died. But organizers have confirmed that the chairs for the event come from Serbia. The news is raising eyebrows in the city.
SARAJEVO -- Exactly 11,541 red chairs were lined up in rows along the main street of Sarajevo -- one for every man, woman, and child killed during the siege of the city that began two decades ago.

Many of the chairs were small, representing the hundreds of children killed.

The dramatic "Sarajevo Red Line" project was one of many exhibitions, concerts, and performances held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the start of the siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces, which launched the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia in which more than 100,000 people were killed and more than 2.2 million fled their homes.

According to RFE/RL's correspondent in Sarajevo, Daisy Sindelar, events organized to commemorate the anniversary were seen by many as the first opportunity for the people of Sarajevo to collectively remember the victims.

"This is a city where the war dead were buried wherever space was available, at a time when people could not move far from their houses," she said. "So parks and soccer stadiums in ordinary neighborhoods all served as impromptu graveyards. So many people feel there has never been a chance for the city to come together en masse to pay tribute to the adults and children lost during the siege."

Many Sarajevans wiped away tears as they remembered their loved ones who died during the 44-month siege, the longest in modern history.

Biba Mehimovic stands with her granddaughter Sara in front of the small red chairs symbolizing the 643 children who died in the siege.Biba Mehimovic stands with her granddaughter Sara in front of the small red chairs symbolizing the 643 children who died in the siege.
Biba Mehimovic stands with her granddaughter Sara in front of the small red chairs symbolizing the 643 children who died in the siege.
Biba Mehimovic stands with her granddaughter Sara in front of the small red chairs symbolizing the 643 children who died in the siege.
Biba Mehimovic, 65, looking at the sweeping rows of small red chairs with her granddaughter Sara, 5, said she felt a range of emotions.

"I'm very sad," she said. "But at the same time, I'm very proud, because Sarajevo is still a city for everyone, still a multiethnic place -- for Serbs, Croats, Jews, Roma -- everyone."

Elma Ocuz, a 14-year-old schoolgirl, also came to Titova Street to attend the commemoration events. She's too young to remember the war herself, but she has heard many stories from her parents and her older brother, who was just 6 months old when the war began.

"My brother was very little, and the food was gone, and it was very hard for [my parents] to see the baby with nothing to eat," she said. "When they talk to me about it now, it's hard for me to listen because it's a very hard story. But I'm proud of my parents, because they made it. They made it."

Bosnian Serb forces laid siege to Sarajevo after the European Community recognized the independence Bosnian Muslims and Croats had voted for in a referendum opposed by the Serbs.

Hundreds Of Children Among Victims

Bosnian Serb forces aided by Serbia went on to occupy 70 percent of the country, killing and persecuting non-Serbs.

Lamia Alibegovic, 13, and Elma Ocuz, 14, visit the "Sarajevo Red Line" installment.Lamia Alibegovic, 13, and Elma Ocuz, 14, visit the "Sarajevo Red Line" installment.
Lamia Alibegovic, 13, and Elma Ocuz, 14, visit the "Sarajevo Red Line" installment.
Lamia Alibegovic, 13, and Elma Ocuz, 14, visit the "Sarajevo Red Line" installment.
In the siege of Sarajevo, which began on April 6, 1992, some 380,000 people were left without electricity, water, or heating as they tried to take cover from more than 300 shells that smashed into the city each day.

Many of those who died during the siege -- including hundreds of children -- were killed by snipers.

The Bosnian conflict ended in 1995 with the Dayton peace agreement. That deal ended the fighting but left the nation strongly divided along ethnic lines, with Bosnia-Herzegovina comprising the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska.

PHOTO GALLERY: Sarajevo Then And Now
  • A Bosnian teenager carries containers of water in front of destroyed trams at Skenderia Square in Sarajevo on June 22, 1993. A woman passes through the same square on April 4, 2012.
  • The wreckage of a tram is seen on a street following shelling in the Skenderija district in Sarajevo in March 1992. A tram travels down along the same street on May 30, 2011.
  • A man carries firewood across a destroyed bridge near Sarajevo's burned-out national library on January 1, 1994. A man carries a box over the same bridge, now repaired, on April 1, 2012.
  • People climb on an abandoned tank standing at a crossroads in front of a ruined building in the Kovacici district in Sarajevo in February 1996. People walk along the same road on May 30, 2011.
  • A UN peacekeeper stands in front of the damaged United Investment and Trading Company towers and an Orthodox church in Sarajevo in March 1993. The renovated towers on April 1, 2012.
  • A building burning after being shelled in the Pofalici district in Sarajevo in April 1992. The same building pictured on May 30, 2011.
  • A Bosnian woman does her laundry in the Dobrinja River in the Sarajevo front-line district of Dobrinja on August 2, 1993. The same river is seen April 1, 2012.
  • Three boys run behind a UN armored personnel carrier as it moves past a burned-out tram in Skenderia Square on August 10, 1993. Vehicles, including a tram, in the same square on April 1, 2012.

Bosnian theater director Haris Pasovic, the organizer of the "Sarajevo Red Line," maintains that the city "needs to stop for a moment and pay tribute" to those killed during the siege.

"Those people gave their lives for the freedom of this city," he said. "They loved this city. They were killed just because they were citizens of this city, because they were in their homes, at their schools, at their playgrounds. They were killed in the hospitals, in the streets, in the apartments, everywhere."

Events to commemorate the anniversary included a "virtual museum" depicting the siege.

On April 5, Vedran Smajlovic, known as "the Cellist of Sarajevo," performed his first concert in the city since the end of the fighting.

Smajlovic had played his cello in the streets, bomb shelters, and at funerals as mortars rained on Sarajevo, becoming a symbol of resistance to war.

PHOTO GALLERY: Remembering The Siege
  • A Bosnian Muslim woman walks near a banner with the number 11,541 -- the number of Sarajevans killed in the 44-month siege.
  • "Sarajevo Red Line" was a musical-theater performance that took place in front of 11,541 empty chairs -- one for each citizen killed during the siege.
  • Many of the chairs were small to represent the hundreds of children killed.
  • A baby doll rests on a red chair that is one of 643 representing the children who died in the siege.
  • A man pays his respects at a memorial to the children who died.
  • Sarajevans look at memorial scrolls bearing the names of some of the children killed.
  • A delegation from the city of Sarajevo, citizens, and state officials, along with guests, laid flowers at the Memorial Eternal Flame.
  • A light rain fell as thousands of Sarajevans gathered on the city’s central Titova Street for the “Red Line Sarajevo” commemoration.
  • Sarajevans stop to look at pages from war-era newspapers posted in shop fronts along the city’s main Titova Street as part of the commemorations.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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Comments page of 2
by: Jack from: US
April 06, 2012 19:24
Bosnia war as well as Kosovo war, as well as Syrian war, as well as Lybian war was instigated by US government which used its NATO minions and proxy regimes like Saudi Arabia to incite murderous Muslim mobs to violence againce Christians.
In Response

by: Rob from: Europe
April 06, 2012 21:29
Jack are you crazy? It had nothing to do with that. You might want to educate yourself and spare us the hate.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
April 07, 2012 16:45
it is you who needs to be educated, not by reading state-controlled NATO minion media, but independent news sources. It is well known and publicized fact that Pentagon propaganda department was deliberately inventing stories about "Serb autrocities" to incite Muslims mobs to more violence against Christians. It is also well known fact that US government illegally supplied weapons to Muslims "mujahedeen" so they could kill more Christians, even when NATO minions refused to do so.

by: Bojana from: New York
April 06, 2012 20:24
It is libel to claim that "Bosnian Serb forces aided by Serbia went on to occupy 70 percent of the country, killing and persecuting non-Serbs" and to nowhere mention how many thousands of Bosnian Serbs were a) massacred and b) forced to flee their homes and become refugees. That tragic war had victims and perpetrators on all three sides, and it seems your facts are not checked.
For an independent news outlet, there sure seems to be some special interest and lobby seemingly behind the scenes.
In Response

by: Adis from: BiH
April 06, 2012 22:09
and how much bosnien become refugees. Compare this: from 1991 with this: from 2011.
In Response

by: Stefan
April 06, 2012 22:16
Agreed, this is a very biased site and should not be taken seriously
In Response

by: Vesna from: Sydney
April 07, 2012 00:19

You really need a reality check (like many others who think like you after so many years since the war)! That is also tragic in a some "special" way.
In Response

by: James from: UK
April 07, 2012 02:13
You seem to be biased, Bojana. Your name is Serbian, right? That gives you a tag of a biased person because wherever I read stories about the Bosnian war, I always find at least two-three Serbians who post their comments about conspiracy theories. Do you guys have life at all? I mean, are all Serbs waiting for news like this to be published so they can claim they're innocent? I mean, come on, I've watched things on TV for years, if you were truly innocent, you would have stopped the war in a matter of months. But, as far as I remember, the siege of Sarajevo (and the rest of Bosnia) was from 1992-1995. If you had lifted the siege, the war would have stopped, and you know it ;)

Now go to your Serbian forums and indoctrinate young minds with your foul stories, for this is a site for REAL info.
In Response

by: Adam from: LA
April 07, 2012 06:17
Bojana, again you go with the typical serbian propaganda that ''tragic war had victims and perpetrators on all three sides'' that just shows YOU don't have all your facts straight.
Sure, there were deaths on all three sides, but the crimes perpetrated by the croatian and especially muslim side were in no proportion to the organized and brutal wiping out of whole areas off anything that wasn't serbian, perpetrated by the chetniks and JNA soldiers; children were slaughtered, women were raped, whole families wiped out. In fact, most of the war crimes of the other two sides were often merely an angry reaction (nothing less condemnable because of that, but still) to the awful and gruesome things the serbian side did on MORE than 70% of the country.
So, please, get YOUR facts straight before writing bullsh**.
In Response

by: Mark from: UK
April 07, 2012 13:45
Wait I'm sorry, the 30 000 Serbs that were killed in the war must have committed suicide, correct? And clearly Sarajevo's Serbs, who once counted for over 30% of the city's population just simply handed over their homes and possessions to their innocent muslim neighbours and happily left for greener pastures (i.e. disgusting refugee camps in Serbia). And lemme guess, Mostar's Serbs must have done the same thing, right? Cause god knows that the Muslims and Croats were just defending their homes and obviously committed no crimes, right? The Serbs on the other hand raped, pillaged and destroyed everything in their site, therefore they must have just killed themselves. Crazy Serbs....

by: vn from: Belgrade
April 07, 2012 12:00
Oh, you brave, pathetic pro-Muslim "innocents" - how about saying if Izetbegovic had called off his 30,000 mujahedeens and other paramilitary Muslim terrorists non of these tragedies would have happened in Bosnia. And it goes without saying that whenever you read a story on Bosnia you'll find some Serb talking about it - it's because the Serbs have also lived in Bosnia and not in bloody, one-sided BS Muslim TV newsreels, you morons!

by: Meredith from: Australia
April 07, 2012 16:23
Wow James do you have a life besides watching lots of TV shows?? If that is where you get your education from you make a typical goof from the western societies armed to his teeth ready to invade any country and kill innocent people for any reason really that is defended on TV shows you mention. Well done James lots to be proud of. On the other hand we all know there are two or in this case three sides to every story. People of all nationalities got killed and unfortunately even 20 years later people are just looking to blame instead of forgiving and moving on so that the children of Bosnia have a chance of a peaceful existance and not a repeat of their history. History cannot be changed but unfortunately can be repeated.

by: American Troll
April 07, 2012 21:57
Judging from the women and advertisements in the contemporary photos, Bosnia obviously lives under sharia law, complete with mandatory chadors and not an inch of hair or female flesh visible. Clearly those two teenage girls are basij enforcers just waiting for the next brazen mixed couple to administer a good righteous thwacking. The spirit of Caliph Umar lives on.

"Izetbegovic's mujahedeens." Love it. Absolute God-level trolling. Also, the perfect name for a Sarajevo leather-fetish gay bar.

by: M Sanderson from: U.S.A.
April 08, 2012 04:52
For some reason, the powers that be wanted an extreme muslim Kosovo. I believe it was Bill Clinton bombed Serbia. If my memory serves me correctly. General Wesley Clarke also had a lot to do with it. To me, it is obviously a war on Christians!

by: Ado from: Sarajevo
April 09, 2012 12:09
Dear all,

1.) I agree that comemorations like this one in Sarajevo might evoke another use of the term "Serb" in a negative context, but I frankly don't believe that's the reason why this commemoration has been staged. Ideally, it would be best to use phrases like
"war criminals" (lead by karadzic, mladic, and aided by slobodan milosevic's regime...etc., without mentioning the word "Serb" at all) to describe those that beseiged Sarajevo and killed its citizens daily.

Even if this commemoration was staged for political reasons (that might evoke the dissemination of negative connotations atached to the word "Serb" and stir up some interethnic hatred),
I asure all those who failed to focus on empathy and sympathy for the victims and the survivors (but instead focused on interethnic political skirmishing and conspiracy theories) that me, my family and all of my fellow-citizens that survived the siege of Sarajevo that I know personally got out to street with red chairs on 6th April 2012 only to pay homage to the victims-children, women, elderly and our fellow-citizens killed in Sarajevo under the siege...and to pay homage to the admirable survival of the citizens of Sarajevo under siege, who, by the way, were of different ethnicities-most were Bosniaks, but there were Serbs too, Croats, Roma, and many others....( this is easy to check and confirm).

We DID NOT commemorate this day in order to express some "haterd" towards the Serbs, to disseminate negative connotations atached to the word "Serb", or to support any potential politcal agenda that might have staged this commemoration with any such aim.

2.) I personally never ascribe the siege and the killing of Sarajevan civilians to "Serbs", but to war criminals...most people I know share my position...The fact that the war criminals who besieged Sarajevo and killed its civilans daily happen to be of Serb ethnicity will NEVER make me blame all Serbs... NEVER! In fact, I don't even call those war criminals "the Serbs".I call them "war criminals". I don't care what ethnictiy they were.These ones that besieged Sarajevo happend to be Serbs because of political situation..they could have been Visigoths, for all I me they were murderers. Every criminal has his/her name and surname, and they shold be called by their personal names not by theri ethnic, religious, racial, regional or any other collective name.

When I pay homage to those killed under the siege of Sarajevo, I don't pay homage only to those that belong to my ethnicity,(for that would be completely insane for me). I pay homage to every victim of the siege, and among them there certainly were Serbs ( my forst door late neighbour), Croats, Roma, etc. etc...

3.) Finally, for those who are sceptical about what happened there, there is plenty of live camera video footages on the internet, taken both by professional cameramen and local civilians (,, etc.)

May Peace be with you all!!

A.A. from Sarajevo

by: D. from: Bighton
April 09, 2012 12:49
To those that talk about collective guilt-the guild and responsibility of "Muslims" ("Bosniaks"), "Serbs", "Croats"....or wheatever collective identity or collective guilt:

Can any of you guys who focus on interethnic mutual blame game explain to me where the killed civilans come in this perspective?

Is it really so hard for you guys to focus on relevant facts- civilans killed and those that survied with traumas?

Who cares what ethnic bacground they were? They were of many different ethnic bacgrounds, from my personal account as a person who happened to be in Sarajevo under the siege.

Civilians are civilians everywhere, aren't they?

vn from Belgrade says: "Izetbegovic had called off his 30,000 mujahedeens and other paramilitary Muslim terrorists non of these tragedies would have happened in Bosnia. And it goes without saying that whenever you read a story on Bosnia you'll find some Serb talking about it - it's because the Serbs have also lived in Bosnia and not in bloody, one-sided BS Muslim TV newsreels, you morons!"

Mark says: "Sarajevo's Serbs, who once counted for over 30% of the city's population just simply handed over their homes and possessions to their innocent muslim neighbours and happily left for greener pastures (i.e. disgusting refugee camps in Serbia)."

Ok guys, even if this were the case (and I honestly have my reasons to doubt it were, as an eyewitness, sorry), how does that justify the complete absence of any sympathy of yours for the civilans killed in Sarajevo?

Is it " let them feel sorry for "our" victims first ,and than we will feel sorry for theirs" logic?..or perhaps "this is all american propaganda" thing?

I'm not saying there is no US propaganda , nor am I saying there were no innocent Serb victims in Bosnia, but this specific article is about human casulties in Sarajevo under the siege..

Sorry if I had dissppointed your ideology expectations, but yes, there was a siege actually and there were innocent civilans killed in that city by mortars and sniper shots from the surrounding hills.

Now, if that does not promt some sympathy, I don't know what will.


by: Ado from: Sarajevo
April 09, 2012 13:33
Without ever wanting to underming any suffering of people of Serb or Croat ethnicity during the war in Bosnia, and wihtout denying the fact that there were casulties among people of all ethnicities during the Bosnian war, I feel extremely sorry that commemorations like this one are received by some young people not with empathy and sympathy but perceived as some sort of a threat to their own ethnic stock.

That's rather sad indeed.

The only reason I commemorate and mark this day is not because I am biased towards my own ethnic stock ( in my case Bosniaks) but because I like to speak about things I witness personally rather than being eager "defenodor" of some historical victims among "my people" ( e.g. defending the victims among my people during the WWI, WWII, during the Balkan Wars etc.", for I wasn't even born back at that time and did not witness that in person)...

For those who certainly have trouble trusting my first hand wintess account of the siege of Sarajevo, here is what some sources in Wikipedia in Serbian languge say about the siege:

" Велики број Сарајлија убијен је током опсаде. Према различитим изворима сматра се да је у просеку убијено 8 особа дневно током опсаде, док су 44 особе у просеку рањене сваког дана. УНИЦЕФ такође наводи да од 65.000 до 80.000 укупног броја деце у Сарајеву, 40% je било изложено директној снајперској ватри, 51% је видело да је неко убијен, 39% је видело убиство једног или више чланова породице, а 89% је живело у подземним склоништима."

I balieve that I have a rigth to pay homage to my fellow citizens killed by those who besieged the city and to those that survived the siege, and I very strongly believe that this homage in no way undermines anyone in anyway.



by: vn from: Belgrade
April 09, 2012 17:02
A commemoration like the Sarajevo one is very sad. Unfortunately, it is not the only one in the Balkans, and it seems the victims are breaking the silence, for the truth about the Serbs will come out eventually. It is enough to see all the RFE headlines and stories to realize the amount of demonization that has been created about the Serbs and the stigmatized world of biased law and justice.

For instance, every year on April 6th Serbia and Belgrade are commemorating the bombing of Belgrade committed by Hitler in 1941 thus starting the WWII in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Bosnia included. Not a single world on the subject.

April 6th, ever since the NATO mission in 1999, commemorates the full swing of the atrocities committed by this organization against Serbia and Montenegro, especially Belgrade - again not a single word. At the time, Sarajevo as we heard was celebrating to the fullest. The NATO "Angel of Mercy" mission lasted from 24 March until 7 June 1999.

Belgrade, on the other hand, was never in a festive mood about Sarajevo. To the contrary, it was a host to most of the refugees arriving from all over Yugoslavia, Sarajevo included. Do you think we were talking, working, living with people from Sarajevo and were relishing in delight with them?

The tip of the iceberg for fatal tragedies in ex-Yugoslavia was marked by violent secession of Slovenia. A number of young army conscripts were killed by Slovenian paramilitaries. Before Sarajevo there had been numerous other signs of warning for what could happen in this central Yugoslav republic, and they came in the form of unspeakable atrocities in Croatia, making the way for Izetbegovic and his Muslims to get in action.

My point is that Sarajevo did not happen out of the blue, from nowhere, and it is absurd that all you can smack for atrocities are Belgrade and the Serbs.

Already in unspeakable trouble waters due to difficulties with the international community, especially with the UN, in 1995, mostly the streets of Belgrade, Novi Sad and Nis were flooded with 800,000 Serbian refugees coming from Croatia and Bosnia. This number exceeds the present population of the Republic of Montenegro. Those people are our relatives, our blood-line, not some strangers. Again, do you think that the Serbs are complete idiots and have no idea what was happening in Croatia and Bosnia? To them, and to us, the extreme Muslims and Croats are murderers, and until the time all the criminals are found and brought to justice we will not be quiet.

Yes, peace.
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