Grave reunites lovers killed by Bosnia's tribal passions

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The Independent Online


The young lovers whose front line murder came to symbolise the madness of the war waged in Bosnia for ethnic purity, were buried together in Sarajevo yesterday, fulfilling the hopes of their parents, three years on.

Admira Ismic was a Muslim and Bosko Brkic was a Serb. His father was dead and his family was in Serbia but he stayed in Sarajevo with Admira for the first year of the war, until she agreed that the future lay in a new life abroad.

In May 1993, they set off to cross the treacherous front line, believing that they had paid enough money to guarantee their safety from soldiers on both sides.

But as they crossed the desolate stretch of tarmac in no man's land, surrounded by gutted buildings full of snipers, the two lovers, together since the age of 17, were met with a hail of gunfire. Bosko fell first and Admira crawled towards him for her last embrace.

For eight days the warring armies argued over who was to blame. The lovers' bodies lay entwined on the sunlit street, as weeds pushed through the tarmac One morning they were gone.

Bosnian Serb soldiers said they had rescued the bodies; but Muslim prisoners of war later said that the Serbs had sent them out instead to fetch the corpses. "If to live means to hope, then there is a little hope for me to bury them together, as they lived together," Admira's father, Zijah, said at the time.

The first joint funeral, at a Serbian cemetery in Lukavica, just outside Sarajevo, was attended by Bosko's mother, Rada. Yesterday, friends and relatives gathered in the Lion cemetery to pay their farewells.

"If I could have, I would have organised music and trumpets, because I am so joyful to have returned them here," Zijah Ismic said. He stepped up to the open grave and hurled in the first handful of earth. Friends and family followed suit, tossing in flowers.

The crowd stood silently as the four gravediggers covered the wooden coffins, which lay side by side. Mourners stepped forward to lay wreaths of bright daffodils and red carnations, while Mr Ismic led his family up the path, away from the valley, where a football pitch is obscured by war graves.

Admira's mother, Nera, paused to embrace the wooden grave markers, as her tears flowed and the crowd of mourners followed. The gravediggers sat nearby. They also wept. They had performed the same task for hundreds of families throughout the war, in daylight under mortar fire, or at night, to hinder snipers, but this was harder.

"A funeral is a funeral, but this was a little more difficult," Ivan Maric said. "It's very sad because they were so young." At 25, the two were older than many of the other war victims buried in the Lion cemetery. Youth alone cannot explain their place in the mythology of the conflict.

To the people of Sarajevo and to the outside world, the journalists and film-makers who wanted to retell the story, the love of Admira and Bosko was a symbol of the normality of life in Sarajevo before the war, when inter-ethnic unions were common. And their deaths personified the madness and the evil of those who would put such ties asunder. But what of their reburial?

"These should be the last war victims to be buried here - it must never happen again," Mr Maric said. It was a very Sarajevan affair - a Muslim and a Serb buried by a Croat, Mr Maric.

Bosko's family, however, was absent, because Admira's family was not able to contact his relatives across the former front line. His mother had earlier agreed through friends to the couple's exhumation and their reburial in Sarajevo. Her only stipulation was that they should occupy the same grave.

"Their death was a message," Mr Ismic said. "They were born the same year, they were living together, they died together. I just continued what they left behind. I respected their message."

It is far from clear that post-war Bosnia will be able to do the same.