For the past two months, I’ve been in touch with Mark Anderson, an Indiana-based rider who also has been riding eastern Europe the past few months. We planned to meet for a beer in Sarajevo. After I sorted out accommodations near the old town, we connected at the City Pub for a cold mug of Bosnian beer.
Our conversation spans topics from futbol (soccer), to history, politics, motorcycles, filmmaking, mutual friends, and the pros and cons of solo motorcycle riding foreign lands. Mark is riding a late-model Suzuki V-Strom. He picked up the bike in Bulgaria earlier this summer, and it’s registered in Ireland. He’s got less than two more weeks before he’ll return to Indiana, so he’s making his way back to Bulgaria where he hopes to find a buyer for the bike.
While I’m looking for good food and wine—and stories for my next book, Mark is a hardcore futbol fan. He looks for good games. He was in Russia for the FIFA World Cup, and since then has made his way to the Croatian coast, catching “footy” along the way.
We move from beer to wine. The wine bar in the old town has few selections, but we order a bottle, and I try the first Bosnian wine of the journey. It’s here we meet a Bosnian couple who now live in Germany, but are in Sarajevo on a short holiday. The migration of young people is a gnawing problem for many Balkan countries. The future lies with the young people, but if they leave, abandon their homeland, who will pave the road to the future?
This is the first time I’ve spent much time with an American since starting my adventure in July. When Mark first reached out to me, he was interested in co-authoring a book with an Italian chef with whom he was traveling with. But, the Italian found love or love found him, and he stayed in Russia. Now, Mark tells me, he is fascinated by the migratory paths and the stories behind the migration of people all over Eastern Europe and behind. He would like to develop a short video series of interviews with people whose geographic fate has been at the whim of war, shifts in borders, opportunity, and love.
In the former Yugoslavia under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito (Tito), Muslims (Bosniaks), Catholics (Croats)), and Orthodox Christians (Serbs) lived, more or less, in kinetic harmony. After Tito died in 1980, and the ensuing collapse of the Berlin wall, the changes in the Eastern Bloc spread to Yugoslavia. The country fell apart as a slow decline of spirit led to the republics of Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina all declaring independence.
It’s a complicated history, and every day I think I know more, I only realize I know less. With so many ethnicities and many with generations of history dating back several hundred years, emotion and tensions ran high. Some wanted to see Yugoslavia continue. Otherwise wanted independence. Yet, still others with politically motivated plans wanted even greater conflict.
Here in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, for almost four years, this city was under siege by Bosnian-Serb nationalist forces. These forced rebelled an independent state and hoped to sustain a greater Yugoslavia, or Serbia. Residents unable to escape after the bombings started, moved to the basements of their high-rise dwellings as Serbian-backed forces shelled the city, cut off electricity and blocked roads.
The siege lasted from April 6, 1992, to February 29, 1996—the longest in modern military history. Why didn’t the Serbs just take over the city? They wanted to. But equipped with anti-tank weaponry, those defending the city held back the Serbian-backed forces. So these forces hunkered down in the hills surrounding the city, cutting it off from the rest of the country and shelled it—by sniper attack—relentlessly for essentially four years.
Records show that the Serbs launched over 300 artillery and mortar shells, targeting the non-Serbian parts of the city. On the most tragic days, 3,000 shells hit Sarajevo.
The stand-off was tortuous. Today, there is still evidence of the bombings throughout the city, yet the psychological impact is invisible and remains a huge question.
As I walk the streets, I search in the eyes of people for clues in the eyes of people living their daily lives.
In the sides of buildings, and on sidewalks and roads, I see ruptures from mortar and gunfire, many filled with red resin. Known as Sarajevo roses, sober reminders of the blood spilled on the streets during the siege.
The siege ended in after with the Dayton Agreement, a General Framework for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina drafted by world leaders at the time. It was signed in December 1995 by Slobodan Milošević (Serbia), Alija Izetbegović (President of Bosnia and Herzegovina), Franjo Tuđman (President of Croatia), Bill Clinton, Jacques Chirac (President of France), John Major (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom), Helmut Koh (Chancellor of Germany)l, and Viktor Chernomyrdin (Prime Minister of Russia). The snipers left, and the siege ended on February 29, 1996—a giant leap for a leap year.
Discussing the violence, peace talks, and the deadly siege with a local guide who was in elementary school at the time, he suggests that the “Dayton Agreement didn’t end the war, it froze the war.”
While the war may have ended here in Sarajevo in 1996, a major war started or was ignited here in 1914, just 82 years earlier, when Bosnia and Herzegovina was a province in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Though the territory came under Austro-Hungarian rule in 1878, Vienna provoked the Bosnians by annexing the country from the Ottoman’s in 1908. This sparked the Bosnian Crisis, prompting protests from Bosnian’s neighbors, Serbia and Montenegro.
Because also at this time, Serbian nationalists in Bosnia had laid claim to the territory. So, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef decided to make a statement. He wanted to ensure that everyone in Sarajevo understood that Vienna claimed the Bosnian territory. So he sent his nephew, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and to wave the flag and dedicate a new state museum in the city.
A good plan, but on June 28, 1914, seven Serbian nationalist revolutionaries, armed with grenades and guns, wished to send Vienna a statement of their own. They plotted to kill Ferdinand. The plan was simple, the revolutionaries would station themselves along the route where Ferdinand’s motorcade paraded to the new museum. As the open coach limousine passed each would attempt to kill the Archduke.
However, the first assassin, Muhamed Mehmedbasic, chickens out and doesn’t throw his grenade. The second assassin tosses his grenade, but it bounces off the back and explodes in the street behind the car. The driver of the vehicle speeds up, but in doing so seriously injures many in the Royal Party. Ferdinand escapes injury and is rushed to safe quarters at the museum.
Archduke Ferdinand continues with the museum dedication, but instead of attending a luncheon at a nearby hotel afterward, he decides to visit the hospital where those injured in his party were taken.
Nobody tells the driver about the change in plans. So after the driver leaves the museum, instead of taking the back roads to the hospital, he crosses the Latin Bridge and turns onto Franz Joseph Street. That’s when the governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Oskar Potiorek, who is riding along with Ferdinand, tells the driver to correct his course. The driver backs up, but the car stalls.
At that moment, one of the Serbian nationalist assassins, Gavrilo Princip, who is still in position on the side of the road and likely sulking due to the failed assassination attempt, looks up and realizes someone has dealt him another card—a second chance.
Though he fails to toss his grenade into the stalled car, he pulls out his gun, walks up the vehicle and fires two shots, lodging one bullet into Ferdinand and the other into his wife, Sophie. They die one hour later. Princip is tackled by passersby and arrested.
While many other international factors were in play at the time, this double murder is considered being one of the major triggers for World War I — and it happened here on a street corner in Sarajevo.
After the fateful events of that June, Austria-Hungary blamed the Serbian government for the killings and won the support of Germany. On July 28, 1914, one month to the day after they killed Ferdinand and his wife, Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia, beginning the First World War.
The Serbs won the support of Russia, and soon after the shaky peace between Europe’s then superpowers deteriorated. And so, events here in Sarajevo triggered World War I. With Austro-Hungary and Germany on one side, and Russia and France on the other.
This is Sarajevo, and no matter how much I study the eyes of those wandering the streets, I see no sides and have only questions.