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In 1992, the
images of well - dressed civilians sprinting across intersections
in Sarajevo to avoid sniper fire, and the wounded or dead lying
on the streets there dominated the media and caught my attention.
Little did I know in the following year, 1993, I would spend
two months in Sarajevo and in the coming five years return nine
more times. I went as a peace witness - an ordinary person moved
to live in solidarity with civilians suffering under the siege.
I was not sure how I could help, but I was certain an inner voice
called me to go. My efforts to help Sarajevo grew into a project
called The Sarajevo Project, which was eventually adopted by
the St. Petersburg Friends (Quaker) Meeting.
The first indication war might come to
Sarajevo was on March 3, 1992, when masked gunmen, Serb nationalists,
blockaded part of the city. Sarajevans poured out into the streets,
standing up to the gunmen, who by the end of the day backed down
and removed the barricades. Bosnia had recently voted on a referendum,
declaring its independence from Yugoslavia and ethnic Serbs had
boycotted the vote.
On April 6, the gunmen returned and again
partitioned the city. Thousands of Sarajevans of all ethnic and
religious backgrounds gathered near the Parliament, to demonstrate
for peace and unity. This time the gunmen did not back down.
They shot into the crowd, killing twenty - one - year - old Suada
Dilberovic, a medical student from Dubrovnik. Sarajevans soon
realized nationalistic Bosnian Serbs, with the support of Serbs
from Serbia, had quietly dug in heavy weapons on the mountains
surrounding Sarajevo, cutting the city off from the rest of Bosnia
and the world. The Serbs had control of the weapons from what
had been Yugoslavia, which boasted the fourth - largest army
in Europe. Bosnia had police, but no army, much less army uniforms.
Faced with the first winter in the war, they sewed uniforms from
Bosnians hold Bosnian Serb leader Radovan
Karadzic (since indicted as a war criminal, but not captured)
responsible for masterminding and inflicting three and a half
years of terror and assault on Sarajevo. Karadzic, originally
from Montenegro, came to Sarajevo as a student and eventually
became a psychiatrist there. He is charged with crimes against
humanity. During the siege, more than 10,615 Sarajevans, including
1,061 children, died from snipers bullets or exploding shells.
By the end of the war, 200,000 Bosnians were dead and two million
displaced or refugees.
War Cake documents the daily life of
the people I met in Sarajevo during this madness, and my efforts
to help them. For most people living under the siege, the concerns
were the same: shelter, food, water, electricity, and the return
of peace. I discovered war often brings an exhilarating rush
of adrenaline, but for the most part, it is grueling and tedious:
300,000 people endured forty - three months of hunger, thirst,
cold, and uncertainty.
Sarajevans caught in the siege were victims.
In the initial shock of the madness, they could not believe war
had come to their former Olympic City - host to the Winter Olympics
in 1984. They were certain the international community, especially
their neighbors in other parts of Europe, would intervene to
save them. But when help did not arrive, they refused to behave
as victims. During the siege, their determination to survive
by maintaining the routine of their daily lives became their
shield against the enemy.
In spite of daily sniper and mortar fire
Sarajevans got out of bed, dressed, visited friends, and went
to work, although they received no salary. Without running water,
electricity, or telephone, they fell in love, got married, had
babies, and educated their children. Without the promise of a
tomorrow, they played the piano, danced ballet, created sculpture
from broken glass, published a daily newspaper, and produced
plays. Without medications or medical supplies they cared for
the sick and wounded. Finally, risking their own lives, they
mourned and buried their dead - when possible, in the cemeteries
that dot the hills and the valley of Sarajevo, but sometimes,
because of sniper fire or heavy shelling, in the yard closest
to their back door.
These daring and defiant people, who
resisted the guns that surrounded and molested Sarajevo, taught
me to live in the present. Their resolve, persistence, and boldness
in resisting the enemy inspired me to forget the limited and
helpless person I thought I was.
My intention in writing this book is to document the crime of
the siege of Sarajevo and to testify that ordinary people there,
through the routine of their daily lives, rose above horrendous
circumstances not only to survive, but to also retain their dignity
(I have changed some names and places at the request of some
of the people whose experiences are documented in this book.)