Scars of sarajevo: media narratives as memories of war and tragedy


Conducting research during a global pandemic presents various challenges. For researchers who use various qualitative and ethnographic methods in their work, this time can be used to assess media content as a way of scoping new directions of research inquiry, to then build on when research activities can once again presume. Such an approach allows researchers to seek narratives and hidden meanings embedded in media content. It is important that researchers clarify their inclusion and exclusion criteria. For this study, media content found using LexisNexis was used, using the search terms “Tourism” AND “Sarajevo”, with a search within results for “War OR “Conflict””. Then the researcher read through the articles to analyse the content and extracts quotes to present in this study.

The Case of Sarajevo

The creation of a war tourism destination in the period following a war is often temporary, but memories of war in the landscape and through media narratives suggests war is embraced as part of the tourism narrative. Sarajevo (in Bosnia and Herzegovina) was negatively impacted by a siege that lasted more than 1000 days between 1992 and 1995. After the war, the city attempted to recover as journalists and early-tourists who visited Sarajevo experienced what was considered an open-air museum of tragedy and destruction. Over time tourism increased but the city’s landscape remained scarred with tourism opportunities and visitor attractions aiming to educate visitors about war and conflict in Sarajevo and across the Balkans in the early-1990s. This chapter will focus on narrations of Sarajevo’s landscape and memories of war as presented in recent newspaper content (accessed from LexisNexis Academic—now called Nexis Uni) framed around experiences of being in the destination, to link narratives with critical observational reflection and interpretation. The analysis is framed around three sections: 1. Landscapes frozen in the 1990s; 2. Touring the tunnel of survival; 3. Roses of remembrance. Interpretations and discussion of the content and observations will be guided by theories of landscape, memory and representations of destinations post-conflict. The conclusion will discuss the notion of fading memory in relation to how other destinations have moved beyond memories and imaginations of war, now more than 20 years since the conflict and siege of Sarajevo.

This chapter offers a discussion of reminiscent memories of war and tragedy in Sarajevo’s landscape. The author of the chapter has conducted research across the Balkans region and has spent time in Sarajevo assessing and analysing the scars to provoke remembrance of conflict. There are several key attractions that least we forget help memorialise what happened in Sarajevo and from the point of arrival into the city visitors simply need to see the bullet holes and bombed structures throughout the city that persist as landscape remembrance (see Wise, 2011). This is where the everyday urban landscape tells us a story of Sarajevo’s past, with building façades bearing scars. For a more formal tour of Sarajevo’s struggles during the war that consumed the city for 1,000 days, visitors make their way to the city’s airport to visit what remains of the tunnel museum that acted as a lifeline for those who risked their lives to protect the city from the advancing army. While a small part of the tunnel remains, it gives those who visit a chance to try and understand the difficulties of bringing in supplies and getting people to safe territory. Finally, the Roses of Sarajevo are again distinct points of landscape remembrance, but were dedicated as memorials shortly after the war to remind people where someone lost their life, with mortar impressions filled in with red paint (now faded pink in hue). People remember and create formal and informal memorials in different ways, in Sarajevo these roses have place bearing meaning for those who lost loved ones and by filling the cracks in the pavement with concrete and paint, a rose gives way to memory and meaning where tragedy struck.

Place Memory and Tourism

This chapter relates to several areas of academic literature, linking notions from human geography and tourism studies. Acknowledging work on landscape provides insight on how images and memories in post-war tourism destinations are consumed (Lennon and Foley, 2000). From a social and cultural geographical understanding, a cultural landscape results from collective human transformations often updated or altered by different style and activity (Cresswell, 2004; Morin 2003; Wise, 2018; Wise and Jimura, 2020; Wylie 2007), and when places are impacted by way this can significantly scar or erase landscapes or particular features in a place (Ashworth and Hartmann, 2005; Wise, 2011). Rowntree (1996) argues that landscapes are impacted by historic narratives, but as we will see in this paper descriptions of tourist and journalistic accounts suggests perceptions of landscapes are “not just the world we see, it is a construction, a composition of that world. Landscape is a way of seeing the world” (Cosgrove 1984, 13) and the accounts that directly alter and affect places—such as war and conflict. Because landscapes are scenes, created by groups of people or individuals shape/display their unique sense of identity in a particular locale, so a particular image is portrayed and when something tragic happens we seek ways to memorialise places and spaces.

While war impacts the landscape, it greatly impacts perceptions of places, thus the image of a destination (Wise and Maguire, 2019). Image research is important to acknowledge in this chapter given the wide discussion in the tourism literature (see, for example, Cartier and Lew, 2005; Hall, 2003; Wise, 2011). Linked to the wider discussions in this chapter, image and memory are complementary because it is past memories that make people aware of a place’s image and reputation (Wise and Mulec, 2012). Images are presented to prospective visitors through the media as textual or visual discourses, offering subjective imaginations of places and destinations (Lehtonen, 2000). Thus, landscape scenes are often presented, and such visuals are crucial because they leave lasting impressions in peoples memories given more permanent scars in places impacted by war. Conceptually, this is made evident by Clouser (2009, 7), who suggests: “the power of a landscape can be seen in its ability to mold thoughts, evoke memories and emotions, reinforce and create ideologies, and to relay to the world the values and priorities of a place.” The media covered the Bosnian War in the early-1990s, thus, created lasting memories of violent conflict given war became synonymous with Bosnia. Today, destination images are increasingly becoming associated as brands, despite these being different conceptualisations, but the image of war-tourism is treated as a destination brand because of the development of niche tourism (see Morgan et al., 2010; Wise, 2017). This relates to Milman and Pizam’s (1995) point that a destination’s image is promoted vis- à-vis what awareness people have of a place.

In many cases awareness is dependent upon a place’s image and associated memories, or the imagination of how people perceive a place (Winter, 2009; Wise, 2011). In this regard, an image represents a vision (or an imagination) that may have been constructed during some point in the past (see Govers et al., 2007). Places are also dependent upon positive perceptions, whilst negative visions can potentially burden a places reputation (Winter, 2009), but not in all cases. Impressions refer to attractions, uniqueness, the physical environment, accommodations, safety, public management, and user facilities, each intended to develop ‘imagescapes’ (see Cartier and Lew, 2005). Aligned with this regard, Hernández-Lobato et al. (2006, p. 343) suggest that a “tourism destination image is a mental schema developed by a tourist on the basis of impressions.” It is also the mental schema involved in producing touristic knowledge alongside branding a place’s image to generate a distinctive imagination (new REF).

War casts a negative image on destinations and often times create images of fear, deterring people from visiting a destination, as detailed by Müller (2002). Wise and Mulec (2012, p. 58) note: “Often difficult for destinations to overcome, post-war, is the continued presence of negative images of war and conflict present images of concern and insecurity.” Subsequent to this thought, war changes how tourism managers approach how they promote (or even brand) a destination. Something that has been discussed in the literature recently on post-war tourism is how destinations may attempt to (re)create an image to change perceptions of a destination and move beyond the memory of war (see Cooper, 2006; Wise, 2011; Wise, 2017; Wise and Mulec, 2012; Wise and Mulec, 2015). The other option is for destinations to include the impacts of war into tourism agendas, which is something that Sarajevo has done well, and has also been seen in Vietnam (Henderson, 2000), Cambodia (Winter, 2008), Montenegro (Vitic and Ringer, 2007), Guatemala (Clouser, 2009), Japan (Figal, 2008), Lebanon (Kanso, 2005), and Germany (Guy, 2004). Each of these studies articulate on the notion of war tourism, realting to the literature on dark tourism (e.g. Lennon and Foley, 2000). Many of these studies address the significance of constructed monuments, storied places or manifested memorials as part of the narrative. Moreover, landscape features represent the remembrance of tragic events first hand (Foote , 2003). In reference to destination image and post-war tourism, Wise suggested a conceptual three-fold typology for interpreting the directions destinations take after a conflict: landscape remembrance, fading memory and replacing memory (Wise, 2011). Important in this chapter is landscape remembrance, or what Foote (2003) would refer to as ‘designation.’ Wise’s (2011) conceptualization of landscape remembrance is relevant here because features and façades across Sarajevo designate reflections of war, visions of the past. These are especially evident as a tourist observes the scenes and impact of the war right across the city from the bullet holes in the Welcome to Sarajevo sign outside the train station to bullet holes in buildings or the ‘Roses of Sarajevo. Based on this particular understanding, scenes in the landscape convey images of war, allowing visitors to reminisce past imaginations of a particular place. War tourism continues or extends the narrative of the particular conflict, and becomes an essential part of a places niche tourism agenda and/or image branding techniques.

Narrating the Scars of Sarajevo

Sarajevo was perceived as an ideal place to live where different ethnic and religious groups cohabited. However, after the atrocities of war that devastated the image of Sarajevo between 1992 and 1995, ‘war tourism’ became a phrase commonly used to describe the city. There was also the Olympics, however: “most people forget that Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984” (Sunday Telegraph 10 June 2007). The 1984 Winter Olympics held in Sarajevo were an attempt to bring the international sporting community the then Republic of Yugoslavia as a way of easing tensions that were rising across the region following Josep Broz Tito’s death in 1980. While the Olympics were an attempt to encourage peace in the region, it would be less than a decade until the city of Sarajevo and all the Balkans succumbed to media narratives of war and tragedy. Research has assessed media narratives and representations of the Balkan conflict’s impact on tourism across the region (see Arnaud, 2016; Bevan, 2006; Hall, 2003; Morrison, 2016; Müller, 2002; Naef and Ploner 2016; Pasic, 2016; Wise, 2011; Wise, 2017; Wise and Mulec, 2012). What is more is the attention to tourism in Sarajevo was not without some recent narrative of war, since the war left new visitor attractions in the city for those eager to come to the city in the years after the conflict to see and understand first-hand the devastation which was broadcast on television. Even one of Sarajevo’s earlier museums showcase the incident that sparked a global conflict: “Sarajevo was famous in another war. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in the city, lighting the fuse for the First World War” (The Halifax Daily News 7 April 2007). Sarajevo is a city linked to war, and while conflict burdens a destination during and in the period after the conflict, war-torn destinations become in some ways terra incognita, or a fascination into the unknown destination that viewers came to know so much about, but would not consider actually visiting, at least initially.

The chapter now moves on to address three key narratives of Sarajevo as a post-conflict ridden destination, based on the following three points of discussion: 1. Landscapes frozen in the 1990s; 2. Touring the tunnel of survival; 3. Roses of remembrance. Each section considers how the

Balkans war is memorialised in Sarajevo, and for some the city is considered an open-air museum of the Balkans conflict that burdened this region through the 1990s.

Through the media, images and perceptions of the city of Sarajevo seem frozen in time, with journalist narrating the city decades later, making people feel the landscape is frozen in the 1990s. Even today “it is impossible to visit cities such as Sarajevo and not be confronted by the legacy of war” (The Daily Telegraph 2 October 2010). The Sun Herald (26 March 2006) made apparent:

“Ten years after the Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995 ended the war, this famously picturesque city of 388,000 people, now the capital of Bosnia [and] Herzegovina, has slowly begun to lure tourists again. In 2004 Paddy Ashdown, a former British MP and the country’s then-top civilian peace administrator, even toured Europe touting Bosnia [and] Herzegovina as the continent’s last great undiscovered tourism destination.”

The images in Figures 2, 3, 4 and 5 show these scenes and how visitors are reminded of the conflict. In each of these images it can be argued that the war is remembered and continues to be communicated to visitors as an attempt to create a distinguishable destination, or a war tourism niche. Cooper looks at battlefields, and it is important to assess sites of war as not only memorials but attractions [31], as such sites of devastation or scars of war often capture the attention of the gazing tourist [32]. Despite framing the context of the war in Sarajevo’s touristed landscape, the article abruptly transitions its focus to describe the current condition of the city beneath the façade of war’s scars and describes the city’s multi-cultural ambiance (Figure 6). Between the images presented in Figures 2 through 5 and the images in Figure 6, visitors are presented with layers of meaning; one being the memories of war and conflict and the other apparent scenes of a cosmopolitan revival suggesting youthful and new cultural lifestyles ten years after the war. Figure 6 shows a vibrant city centre, but some areas just adjacent the city centre still show signs that depict the legacy of war in the landscape (e.g. Figure 5).

There has been much communicated about Sarajevo that positions how war remains a central component of the discourse, for instance:

“Sarajevo’s scars remain to remind us of what lies beneath the surface” (The Australian Financial Review 10 June 2005).

“Rising from the ashes...where history is never buried” (The Sun Herald 26 March 2006).

“While many of its buildings were destroyed, its sense of soul remains intact” (Sunday Herald Sun 17 July 2006).

“A day in Sarajevo can be the most interactive, inadvertent history lesson you’ll ever have” (The Guardian 11 November 2006).

“Thing do change: war leaves and a battered city rebuilds” (The Halifax Daily News 7 April 2007).

“Bosnia’s capital is shrugging off its tragic past” (Sunday Telegraph 10 June 2007).

“The Sarajevo Tunnel Museum gives travellers a glimpse of wartime Sarajevo...Mortar-shells-turned-vases and sniper-bullets-turned-ballpoint pens also make interesting souvenirs” (The Globe and Mail 8 September 2007).

As observed in the above quotes, ten years later, war remains a part of the tourism narrative in Sarajevo. While the war did detract visitors to BiH and Sarajevo, much of the narrative conveyed by journalists in their newspaper articles focused on three emerged themes: how welcoming the Bosnian people were, notions of the war’s memory in the landscape and the commodification of war paraphernalia. The Daily Telegraph (31 March 2007) ran a travel section special on Sarajevo that attempted to highlight undiscovered European cities: “Sarajevo is one of them.

For all sorts of reasons, mainly war related, travelers have been reluctant to go there…Now the dangers are in the past…Former war zones are great places to visit. The prices are moderate, people are really pleased to see you, and so much new history has accumulated along with the old…and the war has given them new materials to work with…they do offer finely engraved shell castings and bullets ingeniously turned into ball point pens.” Additionally, the Sunday Herald Sun (17 July 2005) quotes: “Despite everything that has happened, the people of Sarajevo somehow still reserve a smile of welcome for visitors, forgiving the world’s neglect, determined to show that its troubled years were an aberration for what remains an otherwise urbane and cultured city.” The two quotes above put emphasis on how post-war destinations offer a combination of old and new history and are referred to as undiscovered destinations.

In building on the quote introduced above from The Australian Financial Review notions of memory, if only informally intended, created and (re)created imaginations of Sarajevo during the time of war and as a destination. During the time of war the media made people around the world aware of the atrocities, but the new directions offered in the articles ten years after the conflict brought forward the imaginations of war, but attempted to (re)create these imaginations as memories that constructed the new narrative of the destination. Several articles position how memories of the war have become a part of the visitor attraction: “In the city’s buildings a few [are] still bullet-ridden and pockmarked with shell holes—one sees the reflection of the city’s battered self-esteem, the vivid cartography of its recent tragic history” (Sunday Herald Sun 17 July 2005). “War still shades everything—and not just the buildings scarred by machinegun fire or the half-finished repairs on others that can make it seem sometimes that the predominant colour of Sarajevo is plaster filler. The damage lingers in unexpected places, as in the people on New Year’s Eve who say they cringe at the bottle rockets that crack over the Ferhadija district” (The Sun Herald 26 March 2006). “Entering Sarajevo today, it looks as though the siege ended only weeks ago. The bus station is on the outskirts of town, and the walk into the centre along the Miljacka River takes you past the ruins of bombed- out buildings and caved-in homes spilling down the banks. Bullet holes dent the sidewalk, and now and then you come across a ‘Sarajevo Rose’ left by exploding mortar shells. Those filled with a red resin indicate a fatal hit” (The Halifax Daily News 7 April 2007). “The infamous Snipers Alley, where hundreds of residents were gruesomely picked off by hilltop gunmen on their way to and from work. It is a sobering feeling strolling down the now peaceful promenade that follows the Miljacka River, seeing the bullet holes replaced with red cement (The Sarajevo Roses)” (Sunday Telegraph 10 June 2007).

It is not only the physical scars that construct the narrative of Sarajevo as a war tourism destination, locals have found employment opportunities post-war by telling their story and by creating experiences for visitors that convey what life was like during the period of war between 1992 and 1995: “Hunching over with a 50-kilogram backpack while trudging through part of the tunnel gives you an idea of what Sarajevans went through to get supplies during the Serbian siege. We visited the tunnel with ‘Sarajevo Sonny,’ who was a teenager during the war and is now a tour guide. He’ll tell you how he had to carry water and firewood to his home while dodging sniper bullets. Sonny’s two-hour tour will also take you to the hilltops from which snipers terrorized a stretch of city streets” (The Globe and Mail 8 September 2007).

Conclusion: Memories of War Fading with Time

There is much post-war tourism still displayed and consumed in Sarajevo as remnants of the war remain in a city that was devastated more than 20 years ago now. Looking at findings from neighbouring countries in the region, there were much earlier attempts to fade memories of war from the landscape and media narrative (see Wise, 2011; Wise et al., 2015; Wise and Mulec, 2015). Online representations and attempts to rebrand the destination see a replacing of memory to remove narratives of war (see Wise, 2012). Destinations need to maintain a level of competitiveness and provide a niche product to distinguish themselves from similar size or regional destinations. Sarajevo has a unique tourism product in that landscapes and attractions across the city still display a city burdened by conflict in recent memory, but as time passes, and with pressures to redevelop urban spaces due to real-estate demands, people invest and upgrade structures, which removes the scars of war from buildings (bullet holes) and pathways (mortar shell impressions). This fading removes the presence of war, but it also symbolises moving on and while memories fade in the landscape, media and online narratives have oftentimes moved on. Consumers and travellers look at media narratives to gain an awareness of understanding of a destination. From the quotes and reflections presented in this chapter, we get a sense of how reporters describe a destination, in some stories burdened but they channel the reader’s attention address while tragedy struck, they reassure the reader that the destination is open for tourism and there is no threat to the tourist. This was a point that Wise and Mulec (2012) emphasised on the notion of fading memory has on a destination and its place image. Although the study focused on Dubrovnik, Croatia, findings display numerous similarities with the case of Sarajevo with shifts in meaning across the different media narratives. Key developments in both focus on how the media has the power to alter place images after times of trouble/conflict.

What is observed in this research and needs further explored in media accounts in related postwar destinations is how travel narratives in the media can also restore place images by transitioning contexts and narratives to (re)create associations with particular places. While much of the work conducted by the author of this chapter has looked at newspaper content, there is more need to consider user-generated narratives produced by travellers to conflict-ridden destinations because this positions the traveller/tourist as the storyteller who consumer and recreates the discourse. As a society, we are also moving towards consumer accounts presented on social media and virtual discussions areas more so than newspapers. While newspapers can be a reliable and reputable source for consuming information, we have succumbed to a time of over-communication resulting in fake news, but communication between tourists and sharing experiences is gaining momentum as we attempt to understand new place narratives through social media (see Wise and Farzin, 2018). The challenge here is consumers are emphasising their particular experiences opposed to the wider narrative. This is where newspaper content becomes important to evaluation because they present several narratives betwixt different moments in time to position the then and the now, with past meanings being altered or the rise of new consumer patterns or interests. From such content we can better understand how memories are reinforced or fade over time, and it is the longitudinal narrative that is important for destinations to show what has occurred, how a destination overcame adversity and thrive by offering sometime different in a competitive tourism marketplace. The niche of post-conflict tourism that Sarajevo has to offer, but this is slowing fading overtime as the landscape is changed and new stories of travel and consumption in the destinations are displayed to those who visit the city.


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Year: 2020
City: Almaty
Category: Economy