Written by Michelle Ratpan
Photos by Cindy Blažević
As voyeurs and consumers of visual media, we see daily images of the seemingly unending conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, Sudan, Libya and the Ukraine, to name a few. These dark images are captioned with stories of atrocities, death and despair. What is often lost in visual and print media is the story after the conflict, the story of a people restored. In publishing this photojournalism essay, our hope is to commemorate the anniversary of a conflict which began nearly 23 years ago and to provide a narrative of hope for nations who face the difficult journey of rebuilding after war.
The Bosnian War
In April 1992, the government of the Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared its independence from Yugoslavia. Over the next four years Bosnian-Serbs, supported by a Serb-dominated Yugoslav army, and Croat entities within Bosnia, supported by Croatia, engaged in a military onslaught against Bosnia with the goal of partitioning the Republic. The Bosnian-Serbs, targeting mainly the Muslim population, engaged in a dedicated process of ethnic cleansing, killing approximately 100,000 people. On July 11, 1995, in one of the most devastating attacks, Bosnian-Serb forces took over Srebrenica, a city designated a “safe-area” overseen by Dutch peacekeepers. In the span of several days, over 8,000 people were massacred in a targeted genocide. Following a U.N. intervention in 1995, and subsequent sanctions, Bosnia-Herzegovina was returned to a country of tentative peace.
Today, in publishing this photojournalism essay, our hope is to bring forward the current narrative. The photos taken by Cindy Blažević between 2007 and 2010, beautifully capture the story of a post-war nation in transition. They depict the faces of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the generations that have matured post-conflict. They show a breadth of images, from the capital city of Sarajevo to its southern and northern boundaries and include a mix of pastoral and urban; youth and elderly, natural and industrial. Despite efforts to promote integration, the three ethnic groups co-exist uncomfortably today. Moving forward, the goal for Bosnia-Herzegovina is integration within its geographical boundaries, a shared community, and social and economic inclusion in the European Union.
A view of Sarajevo and its suburbs.
Sarajevo’s thriving indoor market at which shelling killed at least 32 people and injured 40 others on August 28, 1995.
A watch repairman in Stari Grad (Old Town), Sarajevo.
A shopkeeper in Sarajevo. Above her is a portrait of Tito, legendary benevolent dictator of Yugoslavia until his death in 1980.
A Bosanska Kavana, or Bosnian coffee house.
The traditional method of drinking coffee in Bosnia and, until recently, the rest of the region.
A Sarajevo police officer leisurely checks his cell phone.
An inner-city chess game in Sarajevo.
A balloon vendor waits for customers outside a shopping mall in Bosanska Gradiška. Finding employment is a problem for Bosnia’s youth.
A pair of Roma musicians from Macedonia wait to play for a Bosnian-Serb bride and groom in Bosanska Gradiška.
Roma musicians from Macedonia play for a Bosnian wedding party in Bosanska Gradiška. The musicians drive around looking for weddings in the hopes of receiving a generous tip for their impromptu performance.
The Bosnian-Montenegro border crossing of Klobuk.
Industry near Tuzla.
The River Bosna.
Agricultural bounty along the road from Sarajevo to Banja Luka.
Pig farming in Zenica.
A roadside fruit and vegetable stand along the road from Sarajevo to Banja Luka.
The River Una, the border between Bosnia and Croatia, eventually turns into the River Sava, pictured here in Bosanska Gradiška. The other side is Nova Gradiška, Croatia.
Flowers overwhelm the exterior of an abandoned home in Cerovlanji, Croatia, on the other side of the River Una, which defines the border between Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Both Bosnia and Croatia are still having problems with the return and reintegration of its population following the war.
“Ciro se vratio” (“Ciro has returned”) is written on a house on the Croatian side of the River Una. Both Bosnia and Croatia are still having problems with the return and reintegration of its population following the war.
A couple stand in front of a bombed building on their property in Cerovljani, Croatia, on which the word “Grom” (the Cro/Serb/Bosnian word for Thunder) is spray-painted. Grom likely refers to the success of Operation Storm in 1995 in the Serbian Krajina territory, even though it is most likely this building was damaged during Operation Una, a defeat for Croatia at the hands of the Bosnian Serbs.
A fisherman walking on the Croatian side of the Sava River tells me, optimistically: “The first hundred years are always the hardest.”
The dangers of wandering off the beaten path remain due to hidden landmines that still haven’t been removed from remote areas from which Serbian or Croatian troops retreated during the war.
A brightly-lit mosque in the Serbian enclave of Bosnia gives hope of reintegration and shared community for the country’s future.
All images Copyright Cindy Blažević
For more of Cindy's past projects see here.