Traces of War: Sarajevo Roses

In collaboration with Bnieuws of TU Delft

This article has been exchanged as part of an on-going collaboration with Bniuews of TU Delft, and originally was published in Bnieuws Issue 53/ 04: Traces (2019/2020).

For a large majority of the student body of TU Delft, the four-year-long siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996) is something they might have learned from history books. However, for the inhabitants of Sarajevo, the small red-raisin-filled craters from mortar damage are a daily reminder of their tragic past and what became the longest siege of a city in the history of modern warfare.

On the 6th of April 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina received international recognition as an independent state after declaring independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On that very same day the first bombs fell on Sarajevo, the new nation’s capital. The Siege of Sarajevo lasted 1425 days with approximately 329 shell impacts per day.

When bombs fell on the city and collided with asphalt, they left unique floral-patterned craters on the streets. Hundreds of them were filled with red resin to commemorate places where three or more people died in mortar fire. These became known as Sarajevo Roses. Now, over two decades since the war ended, only about two dozen remain. Together with the city’s rebuilding and the streets’ repavement they started disappearing, like wounds that just needed time to heal.

There seem to be two opposing views on the subject. Some want the roses to completely disappear – these people are over the war and want to forget. Others wonder if the Roses’ disappearance is really a sign of a city healing itself, or perhaps a city forgetting about the war altogether?

Apart from the outskirts of the city, where many façades still remain bullet-riddled with holes and a mass hillside graveyard, not many physical traces of war remain. Apart from countless war memorials. These, however, tend to show a very selective version of Sarajevo’s history, based on sides of the conflict and ethnicity. This rhetoric extends the conflict from over 20 years ago to the present and maintains the collective ethnic trauma. This is troubling, especially considering that the country is still largely divided, with only a very small number of mixed marriages and children often going to different schools based on their ethnicity.

Unlike many official war memorials, which did not resist appropriation by one of the sides of the conflict, Sarajevo Roses stayed open to interpretation – they are just silent places of memory that remind of the war consequences, the blood and innocent lives lost. Everyone is free to construct their own narrative and therefore they allow many different versions of history to co-exist, opening a possibility for reconciliation. By saying nothing the Roses equalise all human beings in death, no matter the ethnicity.

Youth Initiative for Human Rights Bosnia and Herzegovina (YIHR) have been repainting the Sarajevo Roses every year since 2010 – the main purpose is to never forget the tragic past. We have to remember, because what will happen if we forget?