Looking at Ukraine, Bosnians relive the trauma of their war | Your money

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AP) – Reporting from Kyiv and others Ukrainian cities under constant bombardment by the Russian military have awakened painful memories among survivors of the siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo in the 1990s.

And yet many have been spending hours in front of their television screens since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the invasion of ukraine February 24.

“Not so long ago we were them,” said Amra Muftic, who survived the 1992-95 siege, watching news reports showing civilians taking refuge from rocket attacks, shelling and bombings. Russian gunfire in basements and subway stations.

“If our experience is anything to go by – and I have a feeling it is – things are about to get worse” for them, she added.

Bosnian Serb forces besieged Sarajevo in the early 1990s during the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia. Around 350,000 people were trapped for 46 months in their multi-ethnic city, subjected to daily bombardments and sniper attacks and cut off from regular access to electricity, food, water, medicines and to the outside world.

Over 11,000 people were killed during the siege, including over 1,000 children. Countless others were injured.

“We know how they feel. We survived the longest siege in modern history,” said Elma Vukotic, an anesthetist, as she and her fellow medical staff stood outside their hospital in Sarajevo earlier this week, dressed in their medical gowns and holding balloons in blue and yellow colors of Ukraine. flag – and, coincidentally, also that of Bosnia. Vukotic said their spontaneous solidarity was the least they could do for their Ukrainian colleagues.

“All wars are painful, all attacks on civilians are heinous, but what is happening to Ukrainians right now is particularly traumatic for us, because they are so close and in a very similar situation to ours” three years ago decades, Vukotic said.

“The television images of pregnant women waiting to give birth in the basement of Kiev hospital, hastily converted into an emergency bomb shelter, gave me a strong sense of deja vu; I know exactly how they feel, how terrified they must be,” she added. “Furthermore, I think we can all appreciate how reluctant ordinary Ukrainians were to accept that war was coming until Russian rockets and bombs started raining down on their homes, schools and hospitals.”

The Bosnian War began when the Bosnian Serbs, with the help of the Yugoslav army, attempted to create ethnically pure territories with the aim of joining neighboring Serbia. More than 100,000 people were killed and 2 million – more than half the country’s population – were left homeless during the conflict.

Serbian leaders argued throughout the war that multi-ethnic Bosnia was not a country at all and that, with its Catholic Croats and Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslims and make up about half of the population, it should be divided between neighboring Serbia and Croatia. The Bosnians, they insisted, were just treacherous Serbian converts who centuries ago abandoned their original (Orthodox Christian) faith.

Many in Sarajevo have heard echoes of those old insults in Putin’s recent statements, offered to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A UN arms embargo maintained in Bosnia throughout the conflict of the 1990s gave Bosnian Serb militias, armed and supported by the Serbian-controlled Yugoslav army, an advantage in the fight. They conquered 60% of the territory of Bosnia in less than two months, committing horrible atrocities against their fellow Bosnians and Croats.

In 1995, the US-brokered Dayton Peace Accord ended the bloodshed in Bosnia by dividing the country into two semi-autonomous parts – one led by Serbs and the other divided by Bosnians and Croats. The two are linked by weak multi-ethnic institutions.

But living together in the aftermath of a brutal and fratricidal conflict has proven difficult.

The post-war power-sharing system perpetuates the polarized and venomous political climate in Bosnia, while its entrenched nationalist leaders continually stoke ethnic animosities for political gain.

With the support of Moscow, the Bosnian Serbs, strongly pro-Russian, in particular, have been campaigning for the independence of their region for years. Meanwhile, the sectarian networks of clientelism and widespread corruption, which have gradually become part of the system, ensure that Bosnia remains one of the poorest countries in Europe, increasingly losing its best and its brightest for the benefit of other countries.

“Right now Ukrainians are being tortured, begging for help and hoping for who knows what,” said Zoka Catic, a filmmaker and journalist from Sarajevo who has spent years documenting the devastating impact of war. on the mental health of Bosnians of all ethnicities.

Whatever the end of the conflict in Ukraine, he argued, there is no happy ending to a war.

“It’s only a matter of time… before (Ukrainians) become us: sad and unhappy people who have experienced the worst feeling in the world: helplessness.”

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