Read, Write, Run, Roam

Tunnel Museum, Sarajevo


It was a bit eerie to hear of Richard Holbrooke’s collapse and passing while we were on this trip. Holbrooke was largely responsible for the Dayton Accord that ended the 1992-1995 war between Bosnia and Serbia conflict within Bosnia. Sarajevo was under siege for three and a half years, but now there is surprisingly little evidence of the massive destruction that occurred in the city. (Other areas have not recovered as quickly.) To have a better understanding of the impact of the war, we decided to go to the Tunnel Museum and National History Museum.

The Tunnel Museum is at the site of a formerly secret tunnel used to move people and supplies into Sarajevo during the war. At the time, Sarajevo was completely surrounded by Serbian forces, making it impossible to move people, supplies or munitions via roads.

The tunnel was dug by volunteers in the shed of a home. It took 3 and a half months to dig a 5 foot high, 3,150 foot long tunnel. Most of the work was done by older men, since the younger ones were fighting the war.

A film at the museum shows children, farm animals, soldiers and supplies moved through the tunnel, which was often filled with water. We walked through the short part of the tunnel opened for visitors. Despite the dry ground and our ski-grade winter clothing, it was freezing. The low ceilings and uneven ground made us shuffle, half-bent over, to walk a mere 20 meters. It’s hard to imagine that one million people passed through the tunnel during the war.

We later went to the National Museum, where photos show the destruction of the city, the victims of violence, and the struggle to survive amidst the ruins. Among the photos is one of the Sarajevo Philharmonic performing in 1994, in the ruins of their city hall building. I couldn’t find it online, but I encourage others to search for it-and to let me know where they find it.

This post is not intended to judge the war in Bosnia. There are rarely any good actors in war, and certainly not in this one. But the tunnel is a testament to the desperation, and horror of war, as well as the lengths people will go to survive. It was a sobering view of a war that ended a mere 20 years ago.

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4 responses

  1. Dayton Agreement ended war in Bosnia. The civil war. Not war between Bosnia and Serbia. War which was fought between it’s today’s constitutive ethnic communities – Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats (each of them fought against the other two). Writing incorectly about war, hurt’s people’s feelings. Especially since we had so much western journalists write about war what their governments tell them (after taking sides in war). Then, people in the world see it on TV and think it’s the only truth.

    December 17, 2010 at 9:14 am

  2. You’re right, and I should have made that more clear. I hope to not make many mistakes like this, but am happy to learn from them. Thanks for your comment.

    December 20, 2010 at 3:27 pm

  3. ida

    The tunnel was used by the military to smuggle arms and fighters. It wasn’t for civilians. They smuggled arms and fighters from the Sarajevo airport (which was handed over to the UN in late June 1992) by the Yugoslav/Serbian soldiers. The Serbian soldiers who were not born in Bosnia left as part of the Yugoslav army.
    Also, Sarajevo was a DIVIDED city with the front lines running in the middle of it (they ran also near the infamous Holiday Inn). Most of the damage was along the front lines where the 2 forces met – this is in the testimony/transcripts of UN officers/personnel who were living there during the war. (The UN was living there during the entire war and flying their people in and out constantly.) The Muslims had the largest forces in Bosnia by far and in addition Croatia had something like 40,000 soldiers stationed in Bosnia throughout the war. It was an open secret about Croatia’s military being heavily stationed in Bosnia but Croatia wasn’t sanctioned.
    Serbs caught on the Muslim-controlled part of Sarajevo were taken from their homes and put into jail or camps.
    Also the Muslim snipers did use buildings in the infamous “Sniper’s Alley” – this is in the ICTY transcripts – but Serb automatically got blamed in the mainstream. The Muslims knew this and their provoked and/or staged attacks were done for PR against the Serbs. Read “The Sharp End : A Canadian Soldier’s Story” by James R. Davis – he was there while the Muslims staged attacks – including mortaring and killing their own children who were picking up candy the Canadian soldiers had tossed to them from their building.

    April 13, 2011 at 7:26 am

  4. Anita

    Ida, you are ridiculous! Don’t speak of something if you were not there!

    I lived in war, during the siege. I had a shell destroy my apartment, almost killing me and my family in process, I walked to school under snipers each day, and spent my childhood lugging water from the UN base back home, or in the line for humanitarian aid. I’ve seen people die in front of me, and my grandparents were in the part of the city occupied by Serbs that was so cut off from us that we didn’t know for months that my grandfather had died.

    (And just FYI – I’m a child of a mixed marriage, and the Serb part of my family also fought for the freedom of Bosnia, not Republika Srpska. )

    Finally we left the city, using that same tunnel in the pictures above.

    So please Ida, next time check your history instead of making it up.

    October 12, 2011 at 7:19 pm

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