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Twenty Years On: The Unfinished Lives Of Bosnia’s Romeo And Juliet

The gravestone for Admira Ismic and Bosko Brkic at Sarajevo's Lion Cemetery.
The gravestone for Admira Ismic and Bosko Brkic at Sarajevo's Lion Cemetery.
SARAJEVO -- The story of Bosko Brkic and Admira Ismic ended with two short bursts from a sniper's rifle on a Sarajevo bridge the afternoon of May 19, 1993.

Bosko, a 24-year-old ethnic Serb, was killed instantly. Admira, his 25-year-old Bosniak girlfriend, was fatally wounded. She crawled to Bosko and, after about 10 minutes, died with him.

One eyewitness described the scene in an interview years later.

"The girl was carrying a bag and waving it. They were running and holding hands. It looked like she was dancing," the witness said. "Suddenly, I heard the rifle shots. They fell to the ground, embracing each other."

The bodies remained in the no-man's land of besieged Sarajevo for nearly four days before Serbian forces surrounding the city sent some Muslim prisoners to gather them.

Both sides blamed the other for breaking the shaky cease-fire under which the star-crossed lovers were trying to escape the siege. No definitive conclusions were ever reached.

'Each Other And A Dream'

The story flashed around the world in a now-famous dispatch by Reuters correspondent Kurt Schork. For millions around the world, this modern-day "Romeo and Juliet," a love destroyed by the hatred that surrounded it, brought home the tragedy and senselessness of the destruction of Bosnia-Herzegovina's capital.

Twenty years later, the classic Yugoslav rock band Zabranjeno Pusenje (No Smoking) has issued a new song and video called starkly "Bosko And Admira," a piece suffused with the sadness and dashed hopes of the original story:

"The times get worse around them; they had no chance.
But difficult times always bring great romance.
They weren’t from the same tribe, nor did they have the same god.
But they had each other and a dream of escaping out from under it all."

"This is [a] well-known Sarajevo story -- about Sarajevo's Romeo and Juliet, about Bosko and Admira, young people killed in the war who were trying to find a place for their love and their freedom," Zabranjeno Pusenje front man Davor Sucic tells RFE/RL's Balkan Service. "This is a symbolic story, very relevant, even today. After so many years of peace we are still searching for love and freedom in this country. In this story, I found a lot of things in common with life today and what is happening to us now. "

The video was directed by Croatian Zare Batinovic, who tells RFE/RL about the challenges of making the film of a story so intimately tied to a city -- the prewar, multiethnic Sarajevo -- that essentially no longer exists.

"The theme is here. Everyone knows the story," Batinovic says. "So many years have been passed, and it was not easy to evoke the Sarajevo of the 1990s."

Haunting Question

If Bosnia's capital little resembles the scarred Sarajevo of 1993, it also remains far from the smiling, confident city that hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984, the year that Bosko and Admira first kissed at a New Year's party at the age of 16.

Admira's parents say they plan nothing special to mark the anniversary of their daughter's death beyond visiting the graves and leaving flowers. Her father, Zijo Ismic, still wrestles with the forces that swept over his daughter, his city, his country.

Bosko Brkic and Admira Ismic are buried in Lions Cemetery in Sarajevo.
Bosko Brkic and Admira Ismic are buried in Lions Cemetery in Sarajevo.
"War intervened in love -- that's the problem," Ismic says. "In such situations, the laws of love do not exist. Only the laws of war."

Bosko's mother, Rada Brkic, left Sarajevo during the war and never returned, unable to face the familiar streets and neighborhoods where Bosko and Admira lived and loved.

She tells RFE/RL that she tries not to dwell too much on the fact that her son's killers were never identified.

"I don't think too much about the person who killed them," she says. "But if I ever saw him, I'd ask: 'Why did you do it?' That's all."

Bosko and Admira are buried in Sarajevo's Lion Cemetery along with thousands of other victims of the siege. Schork, who told their story, was killed while on assignment in Sierra Leone in 2000. Half of his ashes were buried next to the grave of Bosko and Admira.

RFE/RL correspondent Robert Coalson contributed to this report from Prague

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