This April marks twenty years since the start of the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Last week, a series of 11,541 red chairs were lined up in the streets of Sarajevo where the conflict began, one for each victim of the siege there.
But the poignant spectacle of the chairs was somewhat undermined when local media broke the story that the chairs were coming from Serbia. ‘Mayor Alija Behman has confirmed that those chairs are coming from Stara Pazova in Serbia because the factory there offered the lowest price for them,’ RFE/RL correspondent Dzenana Halimovic reported. ‘People are kind of bitter since we are talking about a significant event and we are talking about more than 11,000 people killed by people who were supported by the Yugoslav National Army and Serbia itself.’
The story also underlined a major focus of much news coverage surrounding the anniversary – analysis of contemporary Bosnia and the state of the country’s economy. RFE/RL reported that the chairs would ‘bear witness to many things on April 6. Witness to those who are not sitting in them, first and foremost. But also witness to the Herculean task of recovering from a war that killed 100,000 people across Bosnia, created 2 million refugees, and left a prosperous part of Europe in tatters still visible today.’
Writing in the Guardian, Julian Borger continues on this theme, declaring that the war ‘continues to haunt the blighted country – as a constant excuse for dysfunction, as a bitter memory, a psychic scar and a malaise.’
Also in the Guardian, Ed Vulliamy writes ‘… these words – reconciliation and resolution – are also lies, for what I found, in the absence of reckoning for these refugees and survivors, was post-conflict irresolution.’ Vulliamy follows with striking profiles of five survivors he describes as ‘the limbo people.’
Amnesty’s Steve Crawshaw writes on a similar theme in the Independent, ‘For a true reckoning with the past, painful truths will need to be more widely accepted than they have been so far. The war’s victims, many of whom have never been recognised, have a right to acknowledgement, justice and reparation.’
The Economist’s Eastern Approaches blog warned of the anniversary, ‘anyone interested in Bosnia and Hercegovina will soon be treated to a deluge of maudlin “I was there,” stories by a gaggle of journalists who covered the war and are reassemblingin Sarajevo to mark the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the siege of the Bosnian capital.’
Sure enough, a number of pieces have focused on the recollections of journalists who, according to Radio Free Europe’s Daisy Sindelar, were ‘schooled…on the best and worst that humanity had to offer, the power of laughter over tears — and ultimately, the fact that there is only so much journalists can do to change history.’