Remembering the Cellist of Sarajevo and What He Represented

Reprinted from Reuters.

Bosnia remembers war, still scarred and divided

By Daria Sito-Sucic

SARAJEVO | Fri Apr 6, 2012 11:48am EDT

(Reuters) – With row upon row of empty red chairs, one for each of the 11,541 victims of the siege of Sarajevo, Bosnia on Friday remembered when war broke out 20 years ago and the West dithered in the face of the worst atrocities in Europe since World War Two.

The anniversary finds the Balkan country deeply divided, with power shared uneasily between Serbs, Croats and Muslims in an unwieldy state ruled by ethnic quotas. It languishes behind ex-Yugoslav neighbors on the long road to the European Union.

“The victims fell here because we wanted to preserve the state, but I fear they fell in vain,” said 32-year-old social worker Kanita Hulic, one of thousands gathered in central Sarajevo for a memorial concert.

Some 100,000 people died and 2 million people were forced from their homes as Bosnia gave the lexicon of war the term “ethnic cleansing”. Slow-motion intervention eventually brought peace, but at the cost of ethnic segregation.

Underscoring the disunity, Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic ignored Friday’s solemn remembrance of the day shots fired on peace protesters in downtown Sarajevo marked the start of the war.

In a blood-red symbol of loss, empty chairs stretched 800 meters down the central Sarajevo street named after socialist Yugoslavia’s creator and ruler for 35 years, Josip Broz Tito.

Smaller chairs represented the more than 600 children killed in the 43-month siege by Serb forces that held the hilltops. Thousands of people gathered for a concert in remembrance with a choir of 750 Sarajevo schoolchildren.

On Thursday, cellist Vedran Smailovic, who became an icon of artistic defiance when he played on a central Sarajevo street as the city was shelled, played again for the first time in his hometown since he left in 1993 as part of an exodus of thousands.

Queuing for water or shopping at the market during the siege, Sarajevans were picked off by snipers and random shelling. Running out of burial places, many of the bodies were interred beneath a hillside football pitch.

“We were moving targets with only one principle left – that we would stay in the city,” said Bosnian artist Suada Kapic.

The war happened on NATO’s doorstep, a few hours’ drive from Vienna or across the Adriatic from Italy. Its grisly imprint survives today in the bodies still being dug up in eastern Bosnia and the million people who never returned to their homes.