The combination of war and the media have a way of taking obscure places and lodging them firmly in the global consciousness. Kandahar, Jalalabad, the Tora Bora mountains are all now familiar locations in the minds of people who, before September 11, would have had a hard time finding Afghanistan on a map. So it is with Sarajevo. A once cosmopolitan city and Olympic host is now associated with just one thing: bloody civil war. But that was nearly seven years ago. In parts of the city it’s easy to forget that over 500,000 artillery and mortar rounds were fired at Sarajevo’s residents. But of course it’s that evidence of past horrors that those of us who only watched the war from the comfort of our living rooms look for. And you don’t have to look very hard. The main road downtown from the airport passes high-rise apartment buildings that still have gaping holes in them where people’s homes used to be. Next door to the burnt, twisted metal of what was once a balcony, a family which was more fortunate have hung pink, lacy curtains in the windows and put flowers on their still intact terrace.
In places like Sarajevo it’s tempting to indulge in a form of morbid war tourism. Here’s the bridge where snipers killed two young women, creating the war’s first martyrs. There’s the Holiday Inn where foreign journalists worked in the part of the hotel that hadn’t been destroyed by Serb shelling. And over there is sniper alley, where crossing the road was literally a matter of life and death. But there are less obvious, more poignant reminders of the 250,000 Bosnian lives lost. Along the sidewalks and outside shop fronts are small, flower-like spatter designs in red paint. Each one represents the spot where a shell fired from one of the hills that surround Sarajevo did what it was designed to do and left the remnants of a family to grieve.