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  • Writer's pictureGregory T. Wilkins

Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

June 27 - 30, 2023 It was after my graduation (1990) and the Olympic Games (1984) that Sarajevo was the victim of 1,425 days of violence during the Bosnian War from April 1992 to February 1996. (The war ended officially on December 14, 1995, when the Dayton accords were signed.) This was the longest siege of a capital in modern history. The war was part of the breakup of Yugoslavia, following the Slovenian and Croatian secessions from the Yugoslavia in 1991. Muslims, Orthodox Serbs, and Catholic Croats passed a referendum of independence in February 1992. Political representatives of the Bosnian Serbs boycotted the referendum, and they rejected the outcome. Ethnic cleansing soon began afterward leaving the nation torn apart. (This is of course overly simplified on my account.)

The conflict was initially between Yugoslav Army units in Bosnia on one side, and the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the other. Tensions between Croats and Bosniaks increased throughout late 1992, resulting in the escalation of the Croat-Brosniak War in 1993. The Bosnian War was characterized by bitter fighting, indiscriminate artillery shelling of cities and towns, ethnic cleansing, and rape and torture. Events such as the Siege of Sarajevo and the Serb Massacre later became iconic markers of the conflict.

The Serbs, although initially militarily superior due to the weapons and resources provided, eventually lost momentum as the Bosniaks and Croats allied against the Republika Srpska in 1994. The country of Pakistan ignored the UN's ban on supply of arms and airlifted anti-tank missiles to the Bosnian Muslims. The war ended after the signing of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina in Paris on 14 December 1995.

In 2008, the International Criminal Tribunal convicted forty-five Serbs, twelve Croats, and four Bosniaks of war crimes in connection with the war in Bosnia. Estimates suggest approximately 100,000 people were killed during the war. Over 2.2 million people were displaced, making it, at the time, the most devastating conflict in Europe since the end of WWII. In addition, an estimated 50,000 women were raped, mainly carried out by Serb forces, with most of the victims being Bosniak women. Living in the USA during this time, I remember the horrific accounts. Olympic sport at one moment while bringing nations together... and the next, war and destruction. It was hard to believe all the chaos. I still don't have a total grip and understanding of what transpired. My guess is this is probably true for most people who are not from the country. It makes me realize the fragility of peace, democracy, and the transition of power. This is especially true for me in the USA on January 6, 2021, when Donald Trump attempted to overthrow the USA government by stating the presidential election was rigged, and he was not willing to support a peaceful transition of power as he called his supporters to come to the US Capitol to support him -- with 4 people dead (all his supporters) the day of the incident and five police officers who later died after the event. The insurrection was something I never thought I would see in my lifetime and something the far right is now trying to back pedal. Politics is often an ugly bedfellow. Yes, the USA has domestic terrorists; it's not only on foreign soil. ************

I arrived to Sarajevo via plane from Milan, Italy. I was ready to leave Milan. My 9 days there, while enjoyable, were a stark contrast to the last 2 months of my international travels. As soon as the sun rose, I was in the shower, packed, and ready to leave the hostel. By 5:30 a.m. I was off and by 6:00 a.m. on the Metro to the airport. There is something calming when I arrive to an airport. Yes, it can be chaotic with luggage and people searching for their flights with lines for security, etc. For me, it is about bringing the familiar into play. I feel like I have returned to normalcy and something I can manage and somewhat control. While I know this is far from the truth, it's the familiar that I find calming. And while I have arrived here more than two hours before my flight, I take a deep breath and relax into what is to come. The flight was smooth. There was a connection from Belgrade with a short wait over of a couple of hours before boarding to Sarajevo. The flight was delayed about 45 minutes, but all the same, I was fine to wait as I prepared myself for something new. There were a few things I would need to do as soon as I landed: SIM card for Bosnia and money exchange. I was advised to get the SIM card from the mini-market shop versus the e-SIM store because their prices were better. While there, I inquired about money exchange and was told to go to the money exchange counter versus an ATM because the banks would take a greater commission. After getting this all completed, I was off to the bus stop to get me to the city center. ************

Sarajevo is the capital and fastest growing city in the region. The name (Sarajevo) is a Turkish word meaning palace. The city has roughly 350,000 people.

After the war, international money helped rebuild the city. This is evident in some of the new buildings as well renovation and restoration of the old ones. The city streets and main thoroughfares are solid and an easy ride from the airport to the center. My hostel is in the city center and very close to the fountain. Hostel Center is a renovated building and right off the street from the main center fountain. It is less than 100 meters from the heart of the old town and markets. A young man named Eugen greets me and helps me to my room. He says he is working at the hostel to defray his costs and will be staying in my room with me. He is from Russia, loves rock music, and wears his hair long. His English is excellent.

Hostel Center - Room

Hostel Center - Bath I ask him about getting to the airport in the early morning on June 30, and he assures me that should not be a problem because taxis hangout in the front of the building. He tells me about how he saves money and tells me about a great local dive to eat. He later walks me there to get some typical Bosnian food; it is open 24/7. I then hit the streets to enjoy what remained of the day. ************

Door on Street The 28th I was woken to the call of prayer. A mosque is across the street, and the minaret's speaker is pointed in our direction. My room is on the top floor of the hostel and in perfect ear shot of the speakers. I must admit though, I found the call to be peaceful and the perfect way to start the day. It was long enough to remind me that God is good and to be thankful for my many blessings. While 4:30 a.m. is early and a call to prayer is not exactly what I had in mind, I take a deep breath and return to sleep.

Sacred Heart Cathedral The day is cool as the rain has brought the temperatures down -- 60+ Fahrenheit. It is refreshing compared to the Milan sauna of a room I had a few days ago (33 Celcius). I check my phone and find that rain will continue throughout the day. Not allowing a little precipitation to stop me, I head to the streets to walk to the National Museum.

On my way over, I walk by the Sarajevo Sacred Heart Cathedral and pop in because the doors were open. They are conducting mass, and I sit in the back of the sanctuary. The room has six nuns scattered through the space and three locals parishioners, plus me. I take communion when it is offered (even if I am not Catholic). The three priests depart, and the nuns begin to gather their things. I quickly click a few pics before the lights are turned off.

Sacred Heart Cathedral - Door

Sacred Heart Cathedral - Door Sacred Heart Cathedral is a Catholic church and the largest is Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is in the old town close to several mosques. Neo-gothic in style, it is rather simple but lovely inside with a painted ceiling and stained glass windows. Work began on it in 1884, and it was completed in November 1887.

Sacred Heart Cathedral Prior to the outbreak of the Bosnian War, I am l told there was a peace demonstration in front of the cathedral. The building was damaged during the Siege of Sarajevo, but it was not completely destroyed. They have since restored the majority of the space. In fact, if you never knew about the war, one would never know the church was destroyed.

Sacred Heart Cathedral

As I make my way down the boulevard to the museum, I get this strange feeling that everything is closed. A few coffee shops are serving guests, but the vast majority of the businesses appear to be closed. I scratched my head and had to second guess myself to remind myself it was not a weekend. It is Wednesday and unsure why everything was shuttered. To escape the rain and my now wet feet after walking in the rain for a half hour, I walk over to the mall across the street from the museum. It too is closed. I sit under the outcropping of the roof on a stair and wait for 10 a.m. to arrive so I can enter the museum. I am hoping it is open. Yes... I am in luck!

Sarajevo National Museum The National Museum was established in 1888. In 1913, the museum building was expanded with four buildings that hold different collections -- ethnography, library, history, natural history. The share a common garden in the middle with flora and fauna as well as ponds with fish. After being closed for several years due to heavy damage during the Bosnian War, the museum re-opened and is in the process of mounting new and pre-existing exhibits. A significant help was from foreign countries who financially supported the rebuilding. Shockingly, it remained open during the Bosnian War in the early 1990s, but it closed between 2012 and 2015 due to disagreements about funding. (Oh the joys of bureaucracy.)While I was not overly impressed by the exhibitions, it was good to walk through the building and see how they have preserved it.

Sarajevo National Museum - Ceiling

Sarajevo National Museum - Gallery

Sarajevo National Museum - Staircase When I left the museum, everything in the city was still closed. In the distance I see a Pride flag. It is a large banner scaling down a large building. I wonder what the building is. Going across the street and walking up the street, I discover it is the U.S. consulate. The American flag is waving on a pole. It makes my heart soar with delight to see not only American presence but also the Pride flag in a country that is still wrestling with LGBTQ+ rights.

U.S. Consulate I walked back to the old town. There was a drink stand open with a young person there. I inquired about what today is and found it was Eid. She said most likely everything will also be closed tomorrow as it is the official day. While I had not planned for Eid, I am glad I was able see what I could the day prior. I decided to return to the hostel to download pictures, rest, and prepare for my return home to the USA. $1 BAM = .56 USA $36.06 Euro for three nights at Hostel Center with shared bath COSTS in BAM: $5 bus fare from airport to city center $10 SIM card for phone $10 "silk" scarf (I think it's "fine" polyester) $1.80 beer at market $2 scoop of ice cream $3.50 sausage wrapped in dough $8 National Museum $10 lunch - beef, rice, salad $4.50 two scoops of ice cream

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