Rest in peace, Sarajevo

City that hosted the 14th Winter Olympics set on fire amid protests

Government building in Tuzla in Bosnia (photo credit: REUTERS)
Government building in Tuzla in Bosnia
(photo credit: REUTERS)
February 7, 2014 witnessed the 22nd Olympic Winter Games were officially opened in Sochi, Russia. At the same hour, the city that hosted the 14th Winter Olympics, instead of celebrating such an event, was on fire.
Thousands of underprivileged Sarajevans, of all generations, were expressing their despair and disappointment at the local, federal and state governments.
They did this by storming the center of Sarajevo and all the major governing institutions, including the building of the presidency, the Sarajevo Canton building, which is the seat of the government of Sarajevo Canton, the Center Municipality building and, most regretfully, the building of the Archive of Sarajevo.
Unfortunately, this act of the desperate citizens exercising their right to protest at the malfunctioning of their political leaders, the corruption of the state institutions and political parties, took an unexpected turn. Among the protesters, many of whom are living on the verge of hunger and poverty, without any right to healthcare, were a number of hooligans who are to blame for several instances of arson.
In addition to setting fire to the B&H Presidency building, the Sarajevo Canton building and the building of the Center Municipality, the building of the birth certificate of Sarajevo, the Archive, was not spared. The birth certificate of the city of Sarajevo, the documents witnessing its history, as well as the documents of its citizens, diligently kept and guarded for centuries, were destroyed in the disastrous wave of incendiary attacks against the institutions of the City and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Furthermore, this stormy event has had its casualties. Around 50 police officers and 20 civilians were seriously wounded. Fortunately, no-one has been reported dead.
THE CITY of Sarajevo, which has been carrying the epithet of the “European Jerusalem,” lies at the heart of Europe, and has for centuries been a crossroads of the West- and East-European cultures.
Most significantly for the author of these lines, and something he takes pride in, the city of Sarajevo is guarded by an Ashkenazi synagogue on one side of the major river that flows through this historical city, the Miljacka, and a Sephardi temple on the other.
Also, it has one of the most beautiful sites in the whole of the country, the Old Jewish Cemetery, which is the second largest, after the Cemetery in Prague. The city embellished by Jewish places of worship is also notable for the Bey’s Mosque, the Cathedral of the Heart of Jesus and the Old Orthodox church, all the sanctuaries not 500 metres distant from each other.
Is this rioting the beginning of a “Bosnian Spring,” or is it only a short-lived uprising of Sarajevan citizens, in which a substantial number of hooligans took advantage to attack and demolish institutions, the damage of which the citizens of this country will pay for? With the documents of Sarajevans past and present destroyed, will a Ghost of the Sarajevans to come set things right? Pending an answer, we can say: Happy Birthday, Charles Dickens, and rest in peace, Sarajevo that was.
The author is 23 years old and a resident of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.