Nostalgic Serbs board the 8.15 to Sarajevo

After 18 years, rail link between the Serbian and Bosnian capitals reopens

The last time Husein Kratina boarded a train in Belgrade bound for his native Bosnia-Herzegovina was more than 18 years ago. That last trip was made as the wars leading to the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia tore his homeland apart in 1991.

In the icy cold of yesterday morning, the retired Belgrade university professor became one of the first passengers to climb aboard the Belgrade to Sarajevo express, a direct rail link between the two capitals which has only finally reopened after almost two decades of interruption.

Well in his eighties now, Mr Kratina was too excited to say a thing, but his Serbian wife Zora, 75, said she was delighted with the "unique opportunity" to travel with her husband to his native town of Zenica, close to Sarajevo.

"We waited for the right moment to go and this is it," said a beaming Mrs Kratina. "Maybe this is the last chance for us, but it has finally come."

It was nothing much to look at, a rather drab three-carriage train, which departed the Serb capital for the Bosnian capital at 8.15am on the dot, with only 17 passengers on board. Yet for many reasons, it represented more a symbolic re-establishment of ties between the two nations than a real breakthrough in relations between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Belgrade backed Bosnia's Serbs in the cruel conflict that took more than 100,000 lives. The Bosnian Serb army, under the command of the notorious fugitive from justice, Ratko Mladic, mercilessly shelled Sarajevo and kept it under siege from 1992 until 1996. The Bosnian capital lost 10,000 people in the war, more than under the German occupation in the Second World War.

Deep scars have been left in Bosnia and reconciliation has been slow, but there are still many people in Serbia who cherish the memory of pre-war life, frequent visits to Sarajevo and friends who still live there.

"I travelled to Sarajevo by train almost every weekend, as I had many friends there and I loved skiing," Belgrade woman Katarina Malbasic said. "But unlike now, the train had fancy carriages. And it took only five hours to reach Sarajevo."

Today, it takes more than eight hours to reach Sarajevo from Belgrade, as the train crosses two borders, Croatian and Bosnian, running along the old pre-war railway route of more than 500 kilometres.

Parts of the track were blown up or became front lines as an ethnic Serb rebellion cut Croatia in half, and ethnic Serbs, Croats and Muslims fought against each other in Bosnia.

The deep political suspicion among the leaderships of three nations hampered post-war re-connection of the ethnic populations.

Almost all communications were broken by the end of the last century. Telephone lines between Belgrade, Zagreb and Sarajevo were totally cut, as well as postal services, and any form of transport, even air. These communication lines were re-established only after the downfall of Serb President Slobodan Milosevic.

But for many Serbs, such as Belgrade lawyer Branko Rogosic, Sarajevo holds only good memories.

"I served in the [Yugoslav] army in Sarajevo in 1987. I love Sarajevo," Mr Rogosic said as he boarded the train yesterday. "This is really a special event – to travel there again by train, to re-establish the communications. But the train does not look the same as before the war."

Apart from the dilapidated appearance of the carriages, the dining car is modestly furnished. The price could not be faulted however; traditional meals of the region, salads, sandwiches and coffee, are on sale for only one euro. The train ticket for the journey costs €31 (£28).

For the train's engineer Dusan Bosnjakovic, yesterday was a matter of fierce pride.

"I'm proud to take the first train to Sarajevo after so many years," he said. "It's good that links between people are being rebuilt again."

News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer was final surviving member of seminal punk band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice