Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

A chilling breeze at Sarajevo’s Historical Museum

Outside the city is baking under the summer sun, but inside this little known museum on the far side of the river, there is a chill, like the blast of cold air from a dark, forbidding cellar.

August, 2007

apartment under seige

apartment under seige

In Sarajevo, one is constantly aware of the hillsides that surround the city, from which Chetnik snipers tormented the city residents for three years, allowing neither communication, nor nourishment nor escape. The buildings which face the hillsides still show their bullet holes, the sidewalks in many places still show the marks of grenades and gunshot, and graves are omnipresent, in the parks, on the stadium fields and down the hillsides. The city heals slowly and this is good, for the Bosnians are unafraid to discuss the past, but unseduced by the cheap comfort of revenge and self-pity. They heal slowly and well.
I was there for the Film Festival, held every August since the end of the Bosnian War. It is a refreshing breath of fresh air (avoid the bus fumes) in the festival calendar, as it focuses on independent productions from the Balkans and elsewhere, films that are often disturbing for the problems they portray, but never defeatist. In that, the festival reflects this amazing city that can truly inspire with its will to live and to heal, yet to never forget the people who were senselessly killed in its streets.

One of many grave covered hillsides

One of many grave covered hillsides

I took a walk out in the light of day, beyond the manipulated reality of the cinema screenings. In the Historical Museum I found a double exhibit which was worthy material for a whole series of movies. The ground floor rooms show the history of Bosnia, the origins of the kingdom and its place in Balkan history from the Ottoman conquest, to the Hapsburg takeover and the fateful events of 1914. The explanation of the movements of World War II are significant for an understanding of the modern situation: the rivalry and cooperation of the Chetnik and Ustashi fascists is mirrored in the events of 1990s, and the victory of Marshal Tito’s forces and the declarations of Bosnian sovereignty form the basis for the claims of legitimacy of the post Yugoslav republic.
The upstairs exhibit is far more personal. It brings the visitor right into the city of 1992-1995, the city under siege by Serbian forces that surrounded the city in a cruel game of attrition that was fought over the dead bodies of the city’s civilian residents. This could easily be maudlin, embittered and recriminatory, for the questions are inescapable: how could Bosnia’s Slavic brothers turn on her so hatefully, how could the rest of Europe just stand by and watch (or not watch) this happen, right there at the end of the Twentieth Century? But the exhibit does not dwell on these painful questions, and presents the sorrowful story with dignity and respect for the dead. It is a truly moving exhibit.

crowd making itself small under sniper fire

crowd making itself small under sniper fire

The murder of civilians

The murder of civilians

Sarajevo rosebuds adorn the street where rocket fire hit

Sarajevo rosebuds adorn the street where rocket fire hit


May 4, 2009 - Posted by | daily life | , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] Sarajevo’s Historical Museum […]

    Pingback by Tales from the Golden Age: Cristian Mungiu hits his stride « Dominic Ambrose Blogblot | September 3, 2011 | Reply

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