NI looks to learn from war-torn Bosnia’s peace journey

Tens of thousands died in the conflict in Bosnia. Credit: UTV

A delegation from Northern Ireland has been visiting Bosnia Herzegovina, where peace had to be forged out of the rubble of a war that shocked the world.

More than 100,000 people, the majority of them Muslim, died when Bosnian Serb forces refused to accept the country’s independence following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

The conflict began in 1992 and led to atrocities including the 47-month siege of Sarajevo - the longest such occurrence in modern warfare - and the ethnic cleansing of the Srebrenica massacre.

Even now, the city of Sarajevo remains scarred by the bloody battles waged there.

Thousands of mortar shells bombarded the streets, day and night, turning most of the city into a no-go area and keeping those who chose to stay or who could not escape under constant threat.

Electricity and water supplies were cut off and roads were blocked by the Bosnian Serb army.

One of Sarajevo’s main streets became known as ‘sniper alley’.

Thousands of people died at the hands of gunmen who fired indiscriminately on men, women and children – wiping out entire generations.

Former soldier Resad Trbonja, who was aged just 19 when the fighting started, told UTV: “After two years, you come to a certain state of despair.

“You don’t care anymore, you just want it to end. You want it to end, no matter how.

“If the end is you being killed, so be it.”

Peace may now exist in Bosnia, but dealing with the past continues to present real challenges.

And it is that reality that lends itself to parallels drawn with Northern Ireland’s own situation.

Victims’ Commissioner Judith Thompson said: “Somebody said to me when I asked what would make a difference, what would help you move forward: ‘We have to acknowledge the past …’

“They said: ‘We can’t stay here and watch people not acknowledge what happened and then expect things to get better.’

“And I guess in our own very different, particular way, we are not yet acknowledging the past.”

She added: “We keep being trapped in a dialogue about the present and the future which is really rooted in how people feel about the past.”

  • WATCH: UTV’s RichardCull reports from Sarajevo