Sarajevo, the Rose of Bosnia, Rises From Ruin
SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — In a field of rubble, steps from the spot where the war began in Bosnia, sits the delicate glass frame of the newly rebuilt Evergreen flower shop.
Its purple pyramid roof rises through the ruins, a fragile symbol of this fractured city and efforts to begin anew.
Around the world, Sarajevo is still a loaded word, filled with images of the fallen children, screams, and shelling that tore apart this once-idyllic city.
But two years after the Dayton accords, the rattle is now that of construction. Fueled by international assistance, Sarajevo is seeing a steady recovery.
There are new cafes filled with chatter and blaring hip-hop. A new Benneton store has opened by the market where 37 people were killed by a Serb shell two years ago.
The city is dotted with yellow-and-blue recycling bins, there's a line to buy mobile phones, and new streetcars run down "Sniper Alley."
Still, there are no misconceptions. All around, grave-filled parks serve to remind people that this is a far different place from the multiethnic mountain town that thrived before the war.
"It can never be the same, but I'm trying my hardest to continue where I left off," says Edo Porichanin, who saw the glass walls of his flower shop shatter at the beginning of the war.
With the help of a hundred neighbors, he rebuilt the store. "We were in a deep freeze of destruction for years," he says. "Now life here is beginning to thaw and grow anew."
The battered soil of Sarajevo's economy is beginning to show a yield, nurtured by a huge international presence. The World Bank estimates that 50 percent of Sarajevo's economic growth last year was tied to international aid.
Streets are filled with white Land Rovers declaring the presence of an alphabet soup of international organizations. Their workers fill new restaurants at night. And thousands of locals have been hired on in what has become a cottage industry for anyone who speaks English.
Dalma Hodzic has worked for four international organizations.
"We would like to do it ourselves, but we need the help," she says, having postponed her studies to help her family pay the bills.
For young Sarajevans, who recall little before the war, adult life begins with little to build on. "For many of us it's not a question of starting again. It's a question of just starting," says teen Leila Balic. "I don't really know anything but war." Wounded in the leg by sniper fire at 16, she now studies law at the University of Sarejevo. Her youth, she says, can never be returned.
Nor can much of Sarajevo's shared history. Nearly 2 million volumes of it were destroyed by Serb shelling that tore apart the National Library. Now a sign proclaims the first phase of its reconstruction, an attempt to bring back the building's ornate mix of Islamic and Christian architecture.
But the "first phase" of Sarajevo's renewal begins void of the cultural blend that was once its distinctive feature. Before the war, 20 percent of all marriages were interethnic and the city was 50 percent Muslim. Now Sarajevo is 87 percent Muslim, and its total population has shrunk by nearly a third.
Sarajevo, though, is a survivor. For nearly 500 years, it was a jewel of the Ottoman Turkish Empire before it fell under Austro-Hungarian rule in 1878. Even today, Sarajevo remains one of Europe's most beautiful cities - though the steeples of yesteryear share the skyline with the charred remains of war. Electricity and water still run only intermittently.
And the patterns left by mortar bursts around town are so common they have been given a name: the Sarajevo rose.
The name's irony is not lost on Edo Porachanin. "It could be our symbol. The flower that's survived," he says, clipping stems in his rebuilt flower shop.