Welcome to Sarajevo

I knew about the siege of Sarajevo. I mean, I watched the news, saw the images of the bombed-out and burning city. I remember hearing on the radio the accounts of civilians who survived the first Markale massacre, when Serbs shelled a crowded open-air market. But the siege lasted for close to four years, and I will confess that the war in Bosnia was not uppermost in my thoughts for all that time.

The film focuses on the journalists who covered the war in the mid-1990s. They’re shocked by the carnage, and frustrated by the indifference of the public back in Britain, who can’t stay focused on the crisis. Not when the Duke and Duchess of York are getting divorced.

So watching “Welcome to Sarajevo” brought more than a pang of guilt. You see people getting shot, randomly, while going about their daily business. You see residents of the city running for their lives through “snipers alley”—risking their lives for water, or food. You see the bloody bodies of kids lying in the street. You see summary executions carried out casually by Serbian soldiers and the emaciated bodies of Bosnian men behind barbed wire in a concentration camp. You don’t see the rapes of Bosnian women, but we knew about those, too.

I found my mind wandering backwards and forward, to other times when the outside world proved indifferent to the suffering of innocent civilians and international bodies seemed powerless to prevent the carnage.

Following the second Markale massacre, the Serbs claimed that the Bosnians were shelling their own people, to build support for a NATO strike, and the Russians supported their claim. It took two years before NATO actually enforced the no-fly zone established to protect the Bosnian people, two months longer before the the United Nations Protection Force fought back against Bosnian-Serb forces. Before that happened, over 10,000 Sarajevo residents had already died and another 56,000 were wounded in the conflict, among them 15,000 children.

The film offers a glimpse of the trauma, but actual photos from the time tell the story much better.