Are there Serbs in Sarajevo

a new sarajevo only for serbs

A new Sarajevo for Serbs only

The Bosnian capital is more divided than ever. Wahhabi Islamists are aggressive, the Serbian population is withdrawing, and urban planning is at the service of separation. Serbian planners are developing their own satellite city


Whoever speaks of Sarajevo still has the city in mind, which for the Bosnian writer Dzevad Karahasan is a bridge between Orient and Occident. Even during the war, Karahasan stubbornly stuck to his convictions and portrayed Sarajevo in his "Diary of Resettlement", written in 1993, as a city that was already multicultural when it was founded. "There were probably many places and cities in the multinational and multi-denominational Turkish Empire where peoples, languages ​​and religions mixed, but there was hardly a city in this gigantic empire in which this encounter and mixture took place in such a small area."

The Bosnian capital has followed this arrangement to this day. The Mahalas, the historic residential quarters of Muslims, Christians and Jews, stick to the slopes above the Miljacka River valley. The center, Bascarsija, on the other hand, belongs to everyone. Here mosques stand next to Catholic and Orthodox churches and synagogues in a very small space. But this Sarajevo is now facing competition. A new, Serbian Sarajevo is currently being built just behind the eastern edge of the city.

At the Istocno-Sarajevo (Eastern Sarajevo) bus station, Cyrillic is the dominant language. The buses arrive here from Belgrade, from Banja Luka, the capital of the Bosnian Serb Republic, or from Pale, the stronghold of the former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, ten kilometers northeast of Sarajevo. East Sarajevo is located on the territory of the Republika Srpska, the border with the Bosnian-Croatian Federation is not far from the bus station. The trams that run from the center of Sarajevo to the Dobrinja suburb also end there.

However, Istoc no-Sarajevo is not at the end of the world. This is shown by numerous new building blocks and just as many building signs around the Tom shopping center. In the next few years a new Sarajevo is to be built here, modern, urban - and of course Serbian. A competition to the Sarajevo of Dzevad Karahasan, which is not even posted in the Serbian districts. If you drive up to Pale from the bus station, you will pass a crossroads on the eastern ridge of the Trebevic. The traffic sign shows: straight ahead to Pale and Belgrade. The left arrow, however, is not labeled, as if it led to a dead end. In fact, just behind the ridge, the view of the 300,000-inhabitant metropolis of Sarajevo opens up.

In Pale, which is also the administrative center of Istocno-Sarajevo, Milan Kovacevic spreads the plans in front of him. "The ethnically mixed Sarajevo," says the mayor of East Sarajevo, "is a dream of the international community." Above all, the Serbs who want to leave the city or return to Sarajevo, Kovacevic wants to make an offer with the construction of a Serbian Sarajevo. "It is better if you live here than in Belgrade.

In fact, since the end of the war and the Dayton Peace Treaty in 1995, around 170,000 Serbs have turned their backs on Sarajevo. Among them were many who were starved and shot at by their own compatriots during the three-year siege. The multicultural melting pot of Dzevad Karahasan has become a city in which the Muslim population makes up 81 percent, while the Serbs make up only 9 percent. Before the war, 50 percent Muslims, 21 percent Serbs, 7 percent Croatians and 22 percent of other population groups lived in Sarajevo, many of them Jews.

The plans for the expansion of the villages and blocks of flats belonging to the Republika Srpska to the Serbian Sarajevo are meanwhile also on the desk of Milorad Dodik, the nationalist prime minister of the Serbian republic. The land use plan in Banja Luka should be approved this year. In addition to the 5,000 apartments that have already been built and the 2,000 apartments for which a permit has been issued, another 50,000 apartments are to be built. Instead of 90,000 people, 150,000 people will then live in Sarajevo, Serbia. Istocno-Sarajevo, explains Mayor Kovacevic, would then be a belt of settlements that stretches from the bus station with its Cyrillic letters over the mountains to Pale - and roughly follows the positions of the Serbian besiegers during the war.

There is only one thing that the planners in Pale and Banja Luka are not allowed to do so far: officially use the name "Serbian Sarajevo". The Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina prohibited this. After all, it was decided in Dayton not to codify ethnic divisions. Rather, every inhabitant of pre-war Bosnia should have the right to return to their homeland.

On the other side of the Trebevic, in the basin of old Sarajevo, Said Jamakovic is talking in a rage. The plans for the expansion of Istocno-Sarajevo are "urban planning in the service of ethnic cleansing". Jamakovic is the chief planner of the Sarajevo canton in the field of the Bosnian-Croatian Federation and has his hands on developing a model for the city, which is still scarred by the wounds of war.

"Sarajevo has to remain multicultural," Jamakovic contradicts his colleague from Pale. "This includes the return of the Serbs." In fact, any Serb resident of Sarajevo who left the city during the war can return to their home or apartment. Most of the time, however, the return of the property is followed immediately by the resale. The "returnees" often use the money to buy an apartment in the new building blocks around the bus station in East Sarajevo. Not least because of this, the expansion of the Serbian Sarajevo is a "declaration of war" for Jamakovic. "The more apartment blocks are built in Istocno-Sarajevo," he fears, "the more Serbs will leave Sarajevo." And at the same time use the city's infrastructure. Apart from a bus station and the TOM shopping center, East Sarajevo has so far little to offer.

What Jamakovic does not talk about: The departure of the Serbian urban population is also a reaction to the creeping Islamization of the former melting pot in the Balkans. Numerous new mosques have been built since the end of the war - with money from Saudi Arabia. In the largest of them, the King Fahd Mosque, Wahhabi missionaries preach, for whom Bosnian Islam is too secular.

"The mood in the city has deteriorated," says Dunja Milankovic for many Serbs in Sarajevo. Milankovic was born in Sarajevo and stayed in the city during the war. "But now people in the queue at the offices turn around when my Serbian name is called," says the employee of an international organization. She no longer really knows whether Sarajevo is still her city. Milankovic recently observed an acquaintance being molested on the street by Muslim fundamentalists. "He kissed his girlfriend in the street." If we didn't have a house in a mahala, she says, Eastern Sarajevo would be an alternative.

The political crisis that is currently paralyzing the already complicated state in Bosnia-Herzegovina does not bode well. The multicultural Sarajevo currently only exists in the minds of liberal Muslims. For the Serbian minority, however, it has become obsolete. Sarajevo's chief planner Said Jamakovic describes what this can mean for the future of the city: "Sarajevo must become a tolerant city in which the minorities are welcome, even though the Muslims form the majority."

The writer Nenad Velickovic, who, unlike Dzevad Karahasan, did not leave the city during the war, is less optimistic. "The construction of a Serbian Sarajevo is the entry of the province into the city." But the policy of the Bosniaks is just as provincial, says Velickovic. "They don't do anything about a development that turns the Serbs into strangers in their own city."