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Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo

By       Message Ivar Scheers       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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During the 1990s Europe was confronted with an ethnic conflict that led to atrocities on a scale reminiscent of the heinous crimes against humanity perpetrated by Nazi Germany. The conflict took place in the Balkans, after more than a decade of ethnic tension that followed the death of Yugoslavia's leader Tito. The tension spurred the secession of Croatia , Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina - to the outrage of Serb leaders.
Although armed conflict provides for many stories to be told, the face of war - largely assisted by the mass media - often reveals only the most shocking; those that shatter a shared sense of humanity and dignity. These are stories of bravery, atrocities and love - but mostly of death. The war in Bosnia, between Bosnian Muslims and (Bosnian) Serbs offers the world a story covering all these themes. It is the story of Boško Brkić and Admira Ismić.
From April 1992 to February 1996 the city of Sarajevo was under siege by Serb forces of the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska and the Yugoslavian army, constituting the longest lasting siege of a capital city since the end of the Second World War.
Boško and Admira were both born in the tumultuous year of 1968. She was a Muslim; he was a Serb. But the conflict between their people did not stand in the way of their love for each other. They first kissed on New Years' Eve 1984 - the year in which Sarajevo hosted the Olympic Winter Games - and they dated throughout high school. After graduation, they studied chemistry at the same university and moved in together in the summer of 1992. Their parents did not care about religion or nationality, nor did they. Both were raised without thinking about strict dogmas. According to their friends, only a bullet could separate them.
On 19 May 1993 Admira and Boško decided to leave Sarajevo in order to escape the horrendous living conditions in the war-torn capital. Doing so required them to pass the infamous Vrbanja Bridge, which was a part of the "Sniper Alley" - a boulevard of high-rise buildings targeted by marksmen from both sides of the conflict.
A ceasefire between the belligerent parties was agreed upon for the moment that the young lovers would cross the bridge, at five o'clock in the afternoon. But the moment the couple reached the edge of the bridge a shot rang out and Boško fell dead on the spot, fatally struck by a bullet in the head. A second shot struck Admira, who dropped on the ground screaming in agony. Instead of attempting to flee to safety, she dragged herself to the body of her slain lover. She embraced and stroked his corpse for a quarter hour before succumbing to her own wounds.

Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo
(Image by Mark H. Milstein)
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The American photographer Mark H. Milstein was in the vicinity that afternoon and shot the now famous photograph of the lifeless bodies of Admira and Boško - two lovers in a last, eternal embrace.
Media around the world published the picture of the shot couple. During a conflict that was at the time only at its beginning, the lovers came to symbolize the suffering of both Bosnian Muslim and Serb civilians trapped in the city under siege, where every step outside could spell instant death. The media named the couple the Romeo and Juliet of Sarajevo, in reference to Shakespeare's masterpiece about the star-crossed lovers.
While both Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian-Serb authorities were casting blame for the deaths of Admira and Boško and failed to negotiate a ceasefire in which the bodies could be recovered, United Nations forces refused to retrieve the bodies due to their hands-off policy.
Admira and Boško's corpses remained untouched for another four days. As if the death of the couple was not sufficient yet, their bodies were hit by incendiary bullets and Molotov cocktails, most likely in an attempt to destroy evidence that could establish which side had shot them Eventually, the Serbian army forced Bosnian prisoners of war to claim the bodies in the middle of the night. Until today it remains a mystery as to who bears responsibility for the killings.
Boško and Admira are buried side by side at Lion's Cemetery in Sarajevo, along with countless other victims of one of the darkest chapters in recent European history. In the end, not even a bullet could separate them.

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Ivar Scheers is a graduate in international public law from the Netherlands

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