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Goražde War Story – The Heroic Art of Survival

Despite the massive reconstruction in the postwar period, we are still able to see many remains riddled with bullet holes and shell craters in facades and pavement. An ever-present reminder of what many of those living here went through. Depending on the point of view these wall “freckles” could have even morbid artistic value and deep meaning. However, a memory of the war still exists, both literally and figuratively

√ War in Bosnia was quite a heterogeneous violence, outspread throughout an entire country. East Bosnia, due to its territorial disconnection was in a specifically tough position.

√ Serb forces occupied Gorazde and kept it under the siege for 1336 days or 3,7 years (Between May 1992 and December 1995).

√ The massive destruction of Goražde became an instant reality and citizens were exposed to extensive shelling, sniping, and general terror.

√ The ingenuity of the people of Gorazde resolved the electricity shortages with so-called “ floating mini power plants” and, this way, saved the town and its citizens.

Most of the people who are paying a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina are shyly admitting the first thing they relate our country to is the war. Can’t be mad at them, since the culture of remembering simply functions that way. In the present-days, especially having a tourist boom and significant increase in tourist arrivals (this relates to pre-coronavirus time), the topic of the war intrigues people in a lot of widely divergent levels. 

Many tourists are interested in tragic, yet teachable and inspiring stories of Sarajevo, Mostar, or Srebrenica. The truth is that the war in Bosnia was quite a heterogeneous violence, outspread throughout an entire country. Many towns and cities went through ordeals way beyond the imagination. Amongst other areas, the region of East Bosnia was specifically in a tough position due to its territorial disconnection with the rest of the area officially controlled by the Bosnian army.

GORAZDE ENCLAVE AS A GENERAL PARADIGM OF THE BOSNIAN WAR

“Historical science” that dealt with war and violence in its focus, agreed long ago there is no such occurrence as a war that happens by accident. Therefore, according to that science and many Hague Tribunal court rulings, Serb forces occupied the town and kept it under siege for 1336 days or 3,7 years (Between May 1992 and December 1995). A crucial disadvantage for Goražde and two other east Bosnian enclaves was the aforementioned territorial disunion with the rest of the so-called “free territory”.

Logistic, humanitarian, military, and lots of other issues were an indescribable burden for everybody living in Goražde during that period. The real war backed up with inevitable bloodshed officially broke out on May 4, 1992, in Goražde. Following the unwritten rule we have had all around Bosnia at that time, a firing line was established within the town limits. Therefore, the massive destruction of Goražde became an instant reality. On the other side, citizens were exposed to extensive shelling, sniping, and general terror. This pattern was seen in every enclave, simply with the purpose to make living conditions unbearable.

Concerning artillery nests, one of the most notorious was situated on the Rorovi hill. For the first four months of the war, looking from this position, Goražde was “served on a plate”. The first official successful military campaign (named operation “Circle”) that resulted in liberated areas in the entire Bosnia and Herzegovina occurred in Goražde in September 1992. To be frank, every local will tell you that they had no many options. The situation was already hard enough regarding total blockade, so it was to be or not to be. This campaign was paid with a lot of lost human lives, but it achieved its objective, and people could take a little breather. On the photo is shown M18 Hellcat, an American tank destroyer of World War II. After World War II, many M18s were sold to other countries. One of the users was Yugoslavia, which received 260 Hellcats during the Informbiro period and kept some of them in reserve until the early 1990s. During the operation “Circle”, a good amount of Serb army gear was captured intact, including two M18 Hellcats. This one was taken at the nearby village of Obadi and used by the Bosnian army until the end of the war. Vehicles changing hands was not uncommon during the Bosnian War; some were captured multiple times.


Memorial at Rovovi. Nowadays, this park serves as the location for local elementary and high school history field trips. Apart from the educational and teaching purpose, you will be stunned by the view of the Goražde valley.

Rorovi hill, a former Serb army nest, serves today as the very popular picnic-recreational zone in relative proximity to the town center. In the photo, we see conserved examples of the antiaircraft artillery inherited from the former Yugoslav People’s Army and used by the Serb forces.

THE ART OF SURVIVAL

Citizens of Goražde have realized that misfortune never comes alone as soon as the first shell landed on the town. They had to cope with the shortages of electricity, tap water, central heating (in the town’s block of flats), etc. If we put these trials and tribulations aside, there was an always constant realistic threat of being killed by the sniper or tank/mortar shell.

Regarding the lack of proper arms and weapons, my father was mobilized in the army for the second time in his life. He, as most of the soldiers in the 1990’s wars, served YPA (Yugoslav People’s Army) beforehand. Unlike serving YPA back in the 1980s, at the beginning of the last war, the local Bosnian army military department couldn’t provide him with any kind of infantry weapon. When he asked his superior what he should do, he replied, “loot your war enemy’s weapon”. He was lucky enough that his immediate relative was a very skilled plumber who helped him (and many others in the first stage of the war)to make improvised plumbing pipe firearms. That piece of arms provided more like a sense of relief to him than realistic protection.

Improvised pipe firearms (locally called “lunta”) permanently exhibited at the Goražde town museum. Local craftsmen contributed immensely to the overall defense during the war, especially at the beginning of it. As my relatives, war veterans used to say, “The noise these arms were making was what scared the enemy more than the lethal characteristic of it”. The war permanent exhibition is an unavoidable part, that curator Adi will guide you through. As the history major, and local who was a boy during the war, you will get to relish his professional unbiased, and first-hand approach.
Notorious Icar – Canned beef and Brunswick herring. These are the first thoughts on everybody’s mind when speaking of war cuisine. Icar was colloquially known as “snot” given that texture of what was inside. Since Goražde, along with Srebrenica and Žepa suffered greatly due to its disunion with the “free territory”, loads of humanitarian aid were parachuted in. Quite often these loads were dropped down in very inaccessible places, and the actions people were taking to pick up this aid were known as “holtanje”. Reference to an archaic English term “holt” which means wood or wooded hill is more than appropriate. 

TRIBULATION PRODUCES INGENUITY THROUGH THE ENDURANCE

It is very demanding, quite ungrateful, to decide which moment or period of the war for roughly 60 thousand Goražde citizens was the most challenging. Such a verdict stands as very personal and subjective. Nevertheless, the ingenuity of the people exceeded sometimes rational possibilities. The electricity shortages were partially resolved at the acceptable level with so-called “ floating mini power plants”.

Originally patented by mechanic Juso Velić, later his concept was widely accepted amongst many people. It was clever, relatively simple, and most importantly feasible. When seeing a nurse in a hospital holding a lantern in one hand and a syringe, on the other hand, he felt compelled to help in some way. He applied his knowledge in electro-energetics to make a source of electricity and made it. His patent saved many lives, facilitated the Goražde ordeal, and would make Nikola Tesla proud of him.

Firewood oven made of thin sheet metal. Within the scarce options for food cooking and coffee making, these served well and fulfilled surviving requirements.  

Following the multiple examples of the art of survival, the obvious example of the war ingenuity sits under the main pedestrian bridge. After losing significant territories, and when the firing line got close to the town again in June 1993. and especially after the largest Serb military offensive in March/April 1994. Goražde citizens were again under the sniper range. The idea of making a relatively safe corridor connecting two riverbanks was actualised again.

Car battery lamp. Hardships prove that everything has multiple purposes. Similar items were used on a daily basis and providing some semblance of a decent life.

“Bridge under the bridge” an engineering quick-witted solution from 1994, a war toughest year. Transportation of patients from the crowded hospital from one to another riverbank was unfortunately quite a high-risk activity. The war government and army had to provide conditions to maximize the safety of the patients, and other citizens, by all means. This simple genius solution saved many lives and stands today as the museum exhibit, where you don’t have to pay a ticket. The only thing everybody needs to take care of is the well-being of the forehead. Bridge steel reinforcements are quite low since bridge constructors were not planning traffic under the bridge. However, while walking on the “bridge under the bridge” you’ll get to feel a minimum of how those who used it daily felt during the war. With much more safety, of course.

AFTERMATH OF SUFFERING

Goražde these days goes on with its local economy based on both private entrepreneurship and state ownership. Many former citizens are scattered abroad, many of them are living in Sarajevo, and many died.  A lot of people who lived in Goražde surrounding towns, when expelled during the war from there, found their safe haven in Goražde and stayed there. Nowadays, one of the largest infrastructure construction projects in Bosnia is tied for Goražde in the first place, and subsequently for the rest of the East Bosnia region.

A tunnel Hranjen, meant to be the longest car tunnel in our country, will be 5,5 km long. In addition to the new car traffic road, a journey from Sarajevo to Goražde will be reduced from 95 km to 56 km. Car journeys will principally last 45 min instead of 1h:45min nowadays.  A traffic proper connection will certainly contribute to the local development in numerous sectors.

In Yugoslavia, thousands of men, deeply believing in the Yugoslav People’s Army (Jugoslavenska Narodna Armija-JNA), tattooed reminders of their military service. Lather on, the exact same army became hostile
to most of them and, later on disappeared from their hearts and memories. But the skin remembers.

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