Nationalism makes a hell of tolerant Bosnian haven

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The Independent Online
IF YOU climb up one of the hills around the Bosnian capital, advises a guidebook to what was once Yugoslavia, 'it becomes clear why Sarajevo has been described as the fairest city in the Balkans. It is a vision of a suburb of Xanadu.'

Before the war that turned it into a suburb of Hell, Sarajevo was known mainly for the incident which set off an earlier conflict - the assassination of the Austro- Hungarian heir, Archduke Ferdinand, by a Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip. This led the Austro-Hungarian government to mobilise against Serbia, beginning the First World War. The city then lapsed back into obscurity until it hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.

Sarajevo's site, at the point where the River Miljacka comes out of the hills into a wide valley, has been inhabited since Neolithic times. The Illyrians, Romans, Goths and Slavs were followed in the 15th century by the Turks, who established the city - its name means 'palace in the fields' - as a centre for administration, trade and Islam. Most of Sarajevo's principal historic buildings, such as the Begova Dzamija mosque and the Sahat-kula, a 17th-century clock tower, were built in the Ottoman era. Austro-Hungarian architecture, which led to Sarajevo being described as 'a mingling of East and West', came after 1878.

Much of this heritage was damaged during the Second World War, when there were savage battles between the partisans and German occupation forces, and Sarajevo's Jews, who founded the Cifuthani quarter in the 16th century, were purged. Under Tito the city settled back into its role as transport and market centre for Bosnia, the hub of the region's road network with rail links to the Adriatic as well as Yugoslavia's other cities. It retained its reputation for crafts such as metalware and carpets, and moved into chemicals, textiles, electrical and metal goods, and car assembly.

If there was nothing distinguished about the way Sarajevo made a living, its mix of languages and religions was unique in Yugoslavia. When the country fell apart, the Bosnian capital had a population of just over 450,000. Almost half were Muslims, close to another third were Serbs, and the remaining 100,000 included some 30,000 Croats. This might have afforded the city some protection from vicious nationalism, but its habits of tolerance could not survive the battering from the hills.

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