Sarajevo draws new generation of tourists, 15 years after war

For decades in the former Yugoslavia, school textbooks had a question to which everyone knew the answer: what is the geographical centre of our homeland? That was simple – Sarajevo.

And then came the brutal wars that broke the country apart along ethnic and religious lines. Yet, almost two decades later, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina has once again become a buzzing hub. Sarajevo had already attracted foreign "war" tourists but has this summer become a place of rediscovery for many former Yugoslavs eager to find out what their former homeland looked like.

Coaches with Slovenian, Macedonian or Croatian plates are now clogging the narrow streets surrounding Bascarsija, the heart of the old town. Tourists roam the 400-year-old market district, where streets are named after coppersmiths, fez makers and other traditional crafts. "I thought my sons should know what our former homeland was about," said Miran Zbajc, 54, from Slovenia, whose teenage children ventured through a carpet shop in the Morica Han bazaar. "For them, it's a discovery; for me and my wife, it is a rediscovery of former Yugoslavia." He added: "And it was high time, after all."

During the bloodiest of the Balkan wars in Bosnia, Sarajevo endured three-and-a-half years of shelling by Bosnian Serbs from nearby hills, which left 10,000 people dead, more than under the German occupation during the Second World War. "People here don't talk about the war so much," Zijad Jusufovic, 45, a tour guide who specialises in notorious wartime sites in Sarajevo, said. "They are anxious about their jobs, the economic stagnation."

But while many in Sarajevo have tried to move on from the devastation of the wartime years, the painful past is hard to avoid.

Thousands of people lined the city's main street yesterday as trucks bearing 772 coffins passed through on the way to Srebrenica – some 100 miles to the south-east in eastern Bosnia – the UN-protected enclave that was the scene of Europe's worst crime since the Nazi era when nearly 8,000 men and boys were killed in July 1995. Weeping members of the crowd tucked white and red roses into the canvas for four trucks that drove slowly down a street sprinkled with rose water.

Thousands of families will gather again tomorrow at the Memorial Centre of Potocari, close to Srebrenica, for a mass burial at 1 pm. The victims were all killed by Bosnian Serb forces under the command of the fugitive army chief Ratko Mladic, and have been found in mass graves and identified in the past year.

So far, the remains of 3,749 men and boys killed in Srebrenica have been buried at the site, dug up from more than 100 mass graves surrounding the remote town.

It is only on 11 July each year that the area sees large numbers of Bosnian Muslims return to the area. More than 250,000 Muslims were driven from the area and only a few have returned permanently. But the region is changing, even though Mladic remains at large. The Serb President, Boris Tadic, will be among foreign dignitaries in Srebrenica tomorrow to pay their respects. Earlier this year, the Serb parliament voted to apologise to the victims of the massacre and for not doing enough to stop it.

In Sarajevo, Mr Jusovic, the tour guide, says Serbs have even started to join his groups. "They seem a bit confused to hear this side of the story; but we have to know what we did to each other in order to go on; after all, we are neighbours," Mr Jusufovic said.

Mirsad Tokaca, 55, head of the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Centre, says it will take decades to heal the wounds from the war.

His Bosnian "Book of the Dead" has named 97,207 people of all ethnicities who were killed or went missing in the war. This mild, yet determined, man says he wants to "bust the myths" surrounding the Bosnian war as the numbers of victims were subject to manipulation from all sides.

"Only when the past is put behind with the truth, we can look into the future," he said. "Due to the nature and character of the war, its deep wounds and traumatic effects we need the long-term approach, the process of reconciliation will be trans-generational.

"After all, there are no distinctions between people who live here – we look the same, dress the same, speak one language and share the same heritage and customs."

scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Banking - London - £550 - £650

£550 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Business Analyst - Traded Credit Risk - Investmen...

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape