SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CN) – Mass graves from the Bosnian war are still being found – two last year. Alleged war criminals remain free. In one city, a monument to children killed in the war hasn’t been built because it would honor both Muslims and Christians.
Twenty-three years after the end of combat in Bosnia, the Balkans remain riddled with unresolved conflicts, crimes, damage and animosities stemming from the war.
“The past is very present,” said Tue Steen Muller, a film expert involved with the recent Sarajevo Film Festival’s series of documentaries dealing with this difficult past. “Stories where perpetrators have not been brought to court, stories of missing people (killed in the war), families don't know where their loved ones are (buried).”
The Balkans — a multi-ethnic region with Roman Catholics, Muslims and Orthodox Christians — were engulfed in war, ethnic cleansing, bombings, war crimes, rapes and genocide after the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991. The armed conflict in Bosnia, where the worst of the atrocities occurred, ended in 1995.
The damage caused by those horrific years are still seen and felt here. Numerous buildings are pockmarked with bullet holes, and war ruins, covered now in weeds and graffiti, are found in towns, villages and cities across Bosnia. Memorials to victims are common in Sarajevo, a city once under siege and today a symbol of the horror of war.
More subtle, but equally disquieting, are unresolved questions: What crimes and criminals remain to be prosecuted? Who funded the wars behind the scenes? How can people live peacefully alongside former enemies? When will the war's victims feel whole?
The war is relived on a daily basis by people like Ivo Riter, a 75-year-old man who resides with his wife Alma in a former Austro-Hungarian mansion bombed during the war that still hasn’t been fixed. They are the only people left in a building that housed 10 families before the war.
He pointed to the obvious signs of damage in the ceiling of their bedroom, then led the way upstairs to the floor above. As he went, he pointed out holes gaping through walls and roof where bombs hit. Windows were smashed and missing, floors were unsteady, and seemingly ready to fall through with a misstep.
“There's a danger of it collapsing,” he said of the building. “We are afraid to live here, but we don't have another option.”
The Riters lost a son in the war, and their neighborhood, Grbavica, was devastated. It was the site of horrors, including rapes, killings and torture, after it was occupied by Serbian forces.
“I can't sleep at night because of what has happened,” he said.
And there are people like Amir Sultan, one of about two dozen homeless Bosnian army veterans who call a makeshift, muddy military-style camp on a main boulevard in Sarajevo home. They want help from the government.
“This is a protest,” Sultan said. “We have no money, no help. We have nothing. No houses.” He was 15 years old when he joined the Bosnian army, he said, and he was shot in the head, suffering permanent damage to his left eye.
There are people like Amir Secić, a 23-year-old law student from Tuzla whose father, Ibrahim Secić, was killed in the Srebrenica genocide. His mother, who was pregnant with him during the war, left him an orphan.