XX. Miss (you) Sarajevo, ep. 3 [EN version]
This is the end of the trilogy on the masterpiece by the U2 and Luciano Pavarotti. The tourist guide Neno Novaković tells about the humanitarian aids to the besieged capital city of Bosnia
welcome back to BarBalkans, the Italian newsletter whose aim is to give a voice to the Western Balkans’ stories, on the 30th anniversary eve of the Yugoslav Wars.
We’ve just got to the last episode of this journey approaching the 25th birthday of “Miss Sarajevo”, the masterpiece by the U2 and Luciano Pavarotti.
In the 1st episode, we talked with Enrico Sciannameo about the architectural soul of the Bosnian capital city, and the concept of “urbicide” (soon in English, too).
In the 2nd episode, Bill Carter, the man who made all of this possible, revealed us one of the greatest “behind the scenes” of the song: you can find here his interview.
Today we’ll continue this trip/trilogy and we’ll discover how the life in a city under siege was, waiting for the humanitarian aids from the outside.
We’ll do it with a Sarajevan who experienced that war and still has to deal with the past, like a “walking wound” (cit. Bill Carter).
Nenad Neno Novaković, tourist guide and founder of Neno & Friends Sarajevo Free Walking Tours, has just entered the BarBalkans.
Neno, you have the floor.
Pride under siege
What do you remember about the siege?
“I was seven years old, when the war started. I was a kid, my first memories are a bit confused.
But later, getting older during the siege, I started understanding more things and internalizing those experiences.
I remember perfectly the life in a basement for 44 months. The explosions, every single day. I didn’t experience many things that children around Europe considered obvious: eating candies or chocolate, taking trips out of town on weekends…
I still bring up the past, because I want to educate people about the war in Bosnia, with my colleagues Merima and Davor.
The siege is an important part of our recent history, we have to remember what happened just at the end of the last century. But we also want to show people that Sarajevo is more than that.
We are struggling for peace, rediscovering our history and our roots.
Bosnians are proud people. Sarajevans showed it clearly”.
Can you say more about it?
“Even in wartime, people still wanted to live their everyday life. I would say that Sarajevans don’t give up so easily.
The idea of the siege was conceived in order to demoralize us, to break our spirit, to make us surrender. However, we showed that we were resilient, even if we could be injured or lose our life in every moment.
We continued going to school, public services were still running. My mother went to the office every day.
I remember her attitude. She used to get a new haircut every week, she put on makeup every morning: she wanted to look proudly pretty, no one could stop her!
If you understand the spirit of a common woman, everything will be clear.
That’s why we organized the beauty contest “Miss Besieged Sarajevo 1993” and two years later, on the 25th of October 1995, we started the Sarajevo Film Festival, that still continues nowadays.
The beauty pageant and the film festival were our ways to send a message to the world and to the international community.
We were alive, we existed and we didn’t give up”.
Did you actually get help from the international community?
“Yes, we received humanitarian aids, in particular food. It really arrived in Sarajevo.
Without the help of the United Nations and the neutral zone of the international airport, for example, my family wouldn’t have coped.
Many other families may say the same.
UN blue helmets were very professional in delivering food to all the citizens. Unlike me, I heard about children who received even candies from the UN trucks.
Not everything worked perfectly, of course”.
What do you mean?
“Well, the worst aspect was related to the black market. Some people, more or less desperate, found a way to earn money at the expenses of their fellow citizens.
Not all the Sarajevans were so strong and proud as I mentioned previously.
I think that’s probably a characteristic of human nature in the harshest conditions, something that happens in every war.
A siege can be hard in many different ways and can test the solidarity among people who are deprived of essential goods.
And, in wartime, food is the most important thing”.
Black humor, size XXL
Let’s talk about the food. What did you receive?
“To be honest, we didn’t receive food very frequently and it wasn’t high-quality. During a war, you can’t choose.
But, at least, we had something to eat.
Sometimes we received good food, too. Families with children could have more “benefits” than the others. My parents told me that, thanks to me, they could have milk powder.
The truth is that the most common food was the horrible canned beef. We’ve dedicated even a monument to it”.
“Yes! Since 2007, behind the Historical museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, you can find a one metre tall monument that represents an ICAR canned beef.
It was the can of beef most frequently delivered by the blue helmets. It was not expired, like some other leftovers from the Vietnam War 20 years before. It was edible, but terrible.
The inscription on the pedestal says: Monument to the International Community by the grateful citizens of Sarajevo.
Clearly ironic, it underlines the inadequacy of certain decisions regarding the humanitarian help.
However, I have to stress that it wasn’t born with the idea that we hated the international community, or that we blamed the United Nations.
On the contrary, it is something tied to our proud and irreverent spirit. A mix of irony and dadaism.
I would say that it’s more like our way to relate with our painful history, a sort of black humor that let us survive”.
Pit stop. Sittin’ at the BarBalkans
We’ve arrived at the end of the third episode of this trip/trilogy.
It’s time for a pause.
Who better than a Sarajevan can suggest us something to drink at our bar, the BarBalkans? Let’s listen to him!
Neno, tell us.
I would tell you a suggestion and a real treat. First of all, the treat.
We, the Bosnians, are known for the coffee culture. When you have some guests, you usually offer three coffees.
You welcome them in the house with the first one, the “welcome coffee”. Then, you have an “open discussion” coffee, to talk a bit more. And finally, the “goodbye coffee”: we don’t need excuses, we just drink together the last one before leaving.
Concerning the suggestion, it comes from one of the many occupations of Bosnia. It’s a heritage from the Ottomans that many people don’t even know.
I’m talking about boza, a yellow/brown and very thick drink, made by fermenting corn. It has a low alcohol content, around one percent.
In Ottomans times, alcohol was prohibited. However, thanks to its low alcohol content, boza was allowed and Bosnians drank it pretending to have something forbidden!”
Let’s continue the BarBalkans journey. We’ll meet again in a week, for the 21st stop.
It’ll bring more news to this Sarajember, the month dedicated to Sarajevo…
A big hug and have a good journey!
«Dici che il fiume trova la via al mare
e come il fiume giungerai a me,
oltre i confini e le terre assetate.
Dici che come fiume,
E non so più pregare
e nell’amore non so più sperare.
E quell’amore non so più aspettare»
- “Miss Sarajevo”
Passengers (U2 & Pavarotti) -
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for getting this far. I hope you enjoy this trilogy and you’d help me to make this experience grow.
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