Remembering Sarajevo this Thanksgiving

Almost 20 years ago the city of Sarajevo went up in flames. In 1991 Yugoslavia ceased to exist. Slobodan Milošević, and his right hand man, General Ratko Mladic, appropriately nicknamed “the butcher of Sarajevo,” decided to execute their plans of a greater Serbia, so when Bosnia-Herzergovina decided to become independent, the Serbs, who were the majority and living throughout the region, were incited to resist (at least this is a version of the events as I understand it…)

During 43 months, from 1992 to 1995, the enemy imposed a siege on Sarajevo. Since Sarajevo is located on a plain, it was easy target for the Serbian tanks, artillery and bombs, coming from the direction of the mountains. The enemy cut off the supply of water, electricity and gas. Food and medicine could not get to the residents either. So how did they survive this long without surrendering?

Enter the indominable nature of the human spirit and the ingenuity of the Bosnian people: they dug a tunnel, prior to the start of the war. The oppressed are always on survival mode. A local family who lived in the area agreed to give their house as the entrance to the tunnel and two teams began to dig, one coming from the direction of the mountains, the other starting from the city. On July 30 the two groups met and opened the tunnel with a handshake.

The tunnel became the umbilical cord the Bosnian resistance needed to survive. On the first night of operations only, they were able to send to Sarajevo 12 tons of armaments. The tunnel also helped wounded soldiers and civilians to the safety of treatment outside the war zone. Today, the house that served as the entrance to the tunnel now houses “The Tunnel Museum,” a tribute to the resolve of those who will not be subjugated.

The war for Bosnia independence left 200 thousand dead and 2.5 million refugees. It took 10 years but Sarajevo, a city of 600 thousand and the Capital of the Bosnian nation, has rebuilt itself. This beautiful city’s heart, once wounded, is now beating with excitement. “The Jerusalem of the Balkans,” as the city is also known, once again welcomes Christians, Jews, and Muslims, often on the same block.

So on this Thanksgiving season, I pay my tribute to those who believe in freedom. Some have at times fought with weapons of death; others simply resort to words and sheer humor, as this story from the days of the war in Sarajevo illustrates:

A nationalist Serbian wrote on the outside walls of at Post Office: “This is Serbia. Get out!” The response came hours later. A Bosnian simply wrote, underneath the first line, “No, this is just the Post Office!”

A blessed Thanksgiving to all,

Ivanildo C. Trindade