SARAJEVO: Thousands marched through Sarajevo on Friday following a “memory” path made up of over 11,500 pairs of shoes, each representing a victim of the siege of the Bosnian capital which started 32 years ago.

The commemoration began with a tribute to several hundred children killed during the 44-month siege, with youngsters laying flowers around a monument in the city centre.

“Behind each pair of shoes is a lost life,” Ahmed Kulanic, director of the Sarajevo Memorial Centre, told reporters.

Only the funeral music of trumpets from a balcony could be heard as cars stopped for half an hour on the city’s main road.

Participants proceeded down one of Sarajevo’s main streets towards the old town, passing 1.5 kilometres of rows of shoes belonging to children, men, women and soldiers.

The shoes were donated by local residents and will later form a memorial exhibit that is currently under construction, Kulanic added.

Over 11,000 people were killed and more than 50,000 injured by Bosnian Serb forces during the siege, the longest in the history of modern warfare, according to official figures.

“I had forgotten the day when I unconsciously let a tear roll down my cheek. And now, this morning, it has happened,” Zlatko Dizdarevic, editor-in-chief of the award-winning daily Oslobodjenje during the siege, said.

The exhibition “makes me understand how we forget certain extremely important things that determined our lives”, Dizdarevic added.

For Sarajevo’s mayor Benjamina Karic, commemorating the start of the siege is about “building a culture of remembrance” and “teaching” young people “what happened in Sarajevo and Bosnia, so that they can appreciate the value of peace and freedom”.

“We want to send a message of peace, we want to send a message to Europe and to the world that we do not want any more children to be killed in the year 2024 in Gaza or Ukraine,” said Karic, who was born a year before the siege of Sarajevo began. Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war claimed over 100,000 lives.

Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2024

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