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BOSNIA: To the Future, With the Past Following

Apostolis Fotiadis

SARAJEVO, Apr 2 2008 (IPS) - Close to 15 years after the siege of Sarajevo began, the city has recovered much of its past prosperity. But the wounds and memories of war are still around.

The streets are jammed with new cars. A lively young population walks along the banks of the river, and commercial stores baptised by mainstream brands display expensive merchandise along the central promenades.

The skeletons of new buildings under construction can be seen around the city. The Avaz Twist Tower, a 142-metre building with a twisting glass façade is due to be completed. It will stand as the tallest building in the Balkans.

But among these insignia of advancement, the leftovers of the city&#39s tragic past are also apparent. Many buildings are still covered by the marks of sniper bullets and mortar shrapnel.

Occasionally one comes across red spots on the asphalt called the &#39Sarajevo Roses&#39, marking the places where shells exploded, and killed and injured people.

The siege of the city became a symbol of the ruthlessness of Bosnia&#39s ethnic war caused by the dissolution of former Yugoslavia. And even today, Bosnia remains deeply divided among ethnic Serbs, Croats and Bosnians.

Sarajevo was besieged from April 1991 until October 1995 by Bosnian Serbs in what has been the longest military siege in modern history. More than 10,000 died during the siege, most of them killed by snipers and mortar shelling.

The war had a huge impact on Sarajevo&#39s demographics. Sarajevo used to be called Europe&#39s Jerusalem because of its multicultural community. That has now changed.

The census of 1991 showed a city population of 527,049, with up to 45 percent Muslim Bosnians, 38 percent Orthodox Serbs and 7 percent Roman Catholic Croats. In 2006 the population was estimated at 418,000.

Many Bosnians were forced to leave during the war. The majority of Serbs left never to return, since the ethnic separation and the scale of violence made it impossible to stay together any more. The haemorrhage went on after the war when precarious living conditions drove many people west.

In 1997 Bosnian Muslims were estimated to form 87 percent of the city&#39s population, and Serbs only 5 percent.

Today long queues still form in front of the German and Austrian embassies, the preferred destinations for Bosnian refugees and migrants.

But emigration is only one of the post-war effects.

"Many people suffered amputations and other serious injuries after the war, and are in need of lifelong treatment," Dr. Amira Karkin-Tais who heads &#39Hope 87&#39, a special programme for medical and psychological rehabilitation of mine victims in Sarajevo told IPS.

"Altogether we treat 1,250 patients, but securing funding is becoming increasingly difficult. If we do not attract new donations we will have to stop in two years. This will leave a great gap since these people really suffer."

Bosnia and Herzegovina has the most mines in Europe. Since the end of the war 475 have been killed, among 1,611 victims. Two deaths and three injuries have come this year.

Children who lost their parents during the war are in a particularly difficult situation. Sarajevo has 5,400 children who lost one parent and 400 who lost both parents in the war. The majority stay with relatives who provide for them since the state is unable to offer more than 300 euros per month as benefit.

With unemployment above 40 percent, many survive on very little.

But despite the persistence of war-related problems and political uncertainty caused by ethnic divisions, reconstruction advances, and young people express optimism.

"This does not mean they blindly desire to adapt to western standards of living," says Nazim Fuggeres, a French teacher who came to live and work in Sarajevo. "Many of them understand that their lifestyle is more valuable than the workaholic experiences of most Europeans. What they long for is the freedom of movement that even their parents in Yugoslavia&#39s era were able to enjoy."

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