GYC Village

blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff

Sarajevo: A Paradox Embodied

Rose of Sarajevo

A “Rose of Sarajevo”

By Pembroke King

While in Sarajevo, I was speaking with a fellow GYC delegate about the analogy of a city to a human body. Metropolitan areas are often seen as more than just the sum of their parts, that somewhere in between the daily motions of worker bee citizens and the feats of distinct architectural planning, a genuine personality is formed cooperatively between buildings and inhabitants. Like a human body, make-up can be applied to cities just as it is to human beings. Sometimes changes to building facades or the mindset of citizens is simply cosmetic, covering up what’s really underneath. In other cases, genuine improvements are made or issues “fixed,” like an arm recently released from a cast after a fracture or a surface scar healed over time. As a body, Sarajevo wears its scars for all to see, somewhat literally in its pock-marked buildings and figuratively in the hearts and minds of its many parts– Sarajevans.* Nowhere else have I traveled that I’ve been so struck by the contrasting visual journey one goes on simply by walking around. Like an amputee after a tragic accident, life goes on, even after injury or war. But in Sarajevo, as in Mostar or Srebrenicia, life unfolds among powerful physical reminders of the pain and suffering endured there- shelling shrapnel and bullet holes in seemingly every building, “Sarajevo roses,” throughout the city (mortar shell impacts on cement filled with red resin), dilapidated buildings slowly decaying.

pembroke 4 It’s easy to think that healing the wounds of war would be easier for the formerly besieged city to heal if reminders of the violence weren’t on every corner. For many who lived through such a volatile, dangerous time, “forgetting” anything, even painful memories, is a disservice and injustice to those who perished. Furthermore, the notion of “forgive and forget” is seen not only as insulting, but as naive. To many in this post-conflict region, to forgive is to abandon all caution and ignore the lessons “learned” by the war generation, and to forget is to fail the memories of thousands of victims. The physical wounds on the body that is Sarajevo are only surface representations of the deep psychological trauma suffered by the nation collectively. IMG_2448Even without the visible damage to infrastructure, the internal bleeding of the city would continue. For me, the photos below and the dissonance they portray between a city under fire and the pulsing, vibrant Sarajevo of today highlight the region’s ongoing struggle with preservation of memory and honoring the victims, and moving forward psychologically and socially. These photos helped materialize for me the difficulty of reconciliation, justice, and peace work in areas that bore witness to violent conflict. The body of Sarajevo may be injured, and it’s mind still in some degree of mourning, but it’s anatomy is still functioning- no, thriving in its resilience.

IMG_2103* Sarajevo is but one example of Bosnia’s war-ravaged cities and towns, and it’s worth mentioning that several photos in this blog were taken elsewhere in the country. (All photo credits: Pembroke King)

pembroke 1Pembroke King is an undergraduate at Endicott College in Beverly, MA studying International Affairs. Pembroke first discovered her passion for cross-cultural dialogue as a student ambassador to Japan with People to People. Her passion for aiding disadvantaged communities stems from her experience as a volunteer with the Remember Organization on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation in South Dakota. She hopes to pursue a career in human rights and/or intercultural peace building after graduation. Pembroke is active in advocacy for indigenous, women’s, and LGBT rights. By participating in the Conflict Resolution Delegation to Bosnia, she aimed to better understand conflict transformation from a peace-building approach, as well as to gain the tools necessary to facilitate the protection of human rights and the prevention of violent conflicts.

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