“You didn’t cross Tršćanska street because of the roses, did you?” - Macro Story #4: Streets (FAMA Collection)

The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996

“You didn’t cross Tršćanska street because of the roses, did you?”

Macro Story #4: Streets

The siege of Sarajevo lasted 1,425 days. "Being under siege" meant accepting the fact that the former way of living has disappeared and that the abnormal is becoming normal. Over time, the citizens of Sarajevo discovered methods of survival through innovations and creations, repurposing objects that were available to them, surviving despite permanent terror and destruction.

Speeding against snipers

„The thing was that practically all of the roads in the city of Sarajevo were subject to very precise sniper fire. Starting at the southernmost parts of town. So, from Stup to Baščarsija it was almost impossible to find a fifty-meter stretch of road that wasn't under fire. I think that this was one of the unusual forms of physical mistreatment that the population of Sarajevo had to undergo. The enemy simply wanted to make it clear that no movement about the town would be allowed. Countless times we had emergency cases in which we tried to save people who had lost control, while driving at breakneck speed, in order to avoid sniper fire, and found themselves on the tram tracks or simply ran into a barrier or railing on the side of the road or even into one of the trees that line the avenues. Every one of those cases had tragic results. I can't remember if any of them during that period survived. For this reason, I would say that this was a particularly unusual way of killing people that was maybe unique in this war.”Omer Stambolić, Assistant minister of Internal Affairs

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'


On April 5, 1992 Sarajevo, the capital of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was attacked. On May 4, 1992 the city was completely blockaded. The Yugoslav People’s army surrounded the city and started to tighten the circle around 500.000 citizens. Every day the city was hit by some 4.000 shells, four million shells were fired at the city – targeting, among others: hospitals, schools, mosques, churches, synagogues, maternity hospitals, libraries, museums, and the places where the citizens stood in lines for bread and water. It was known which streets were particularly risky. However, danger and death lurked around every corner. During the multi-year siege, there was no place within 50 meters that was not exposed to sniper fire.

Sniper shoots at crowd

“On that day, the 5th of April 1992, I started off with the other citizens of Sarajevo who were in front of the National Parliament. A group of one hundred people at the most, I think, started walking towards the Vrbanja Bridge. And we got to the bridge; none of us had so much as a stone in our pockets, not to mention some kind of weapon. We wanted to cross the bridge, however on the other side they were pointing guns at us, by the Chimneysweeps’ building and by that gas station there, just across the Vrbanja Bridge. I heard some people screaming. And one man who was standing in front of me was staggering. I thought to myself, ‘Look, some of these people are drunk.’ However, the man fell, someone pulled him by his legs, and behind him was a trail of blood. I was totally confused. Then I heard people saying, ‘Lie down, get down on the ground.’ I looked around, and everybody was lying on the ground. I was the only one standing on the bridge. And I was so confused that I lay down on my back.” Radmila Stojadinović, translator

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

Mapping of the Siege of Sarajevo

Every area of the city was a dangerous zone. At every moment, from all the places in the mountains surrounding the city the snipers could hit every target in the city. Therefore, the most dangerous zones were those directly in the line of fire: bridges, crossroads, and streets exposed to the mountains. Those were the places where the possibility of getting shot was somewhat lessened if one was a fast runner. Such places also seemed less terrifying than other parts of town where one was never sure whether one should walk fast or slow. Would the shell land where you are or in front of you? The signs DANGEROUS ZONE or WATCH OUT, SNIPER, as well as the signs showing the direction of traffic, were written in oil-based paint on pieces of UNHCR plastic sheets, or on pieces of cardboard, wooden board or simply written with chalk on the wall.

FAMA Collection

© FAMA Collection; 'Survival Map (The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996)'


Survival was the basic need of every individual during the siege of the city. The citizens of Sarajevo learnt new skills, acquired new knowledge - inventiveness and creativity became indispensable in everyday life. A new traffic regime was introduced, warning signs of snipers were placed at all risky locations in the city, alternative means of transport had been used, people adjusted their clothes in order to be able to run through dangerous streets as quickly as possible. Over time, the citizens of Sarajevo learnt to recognize by the sound the direction from which the grenade fell and how to count down the time until the next sniper.

© FAMA Collection; Encyclopaedia: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

New traffic rules due to snipers

“In April ‘93 it was decided to change the traffic flow in Sarajevo as a result of sniper action through the whole of Sarajevo. At all points round Sarajevo, the city is like in the palm of a hand and sniper activity was easy. And more than activity, it was possible to kill anyone anywhere in Sarajevo. That is why I came to that decision. The decision was the result of long lasting sniper activity immediately before the war, sniping from the „Maršal Tito“ Barracks and sniping from the Military Hospital where it was practically impossible to pass. It wasn’t enough to give orders about the new traffic flow; we needed to construct obstacles in some places.” Jusuf Pušina, Ministry of Internal Affairs

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

The legs are numb, the muscles don’t work

“I went to work, I worked in the Head Office of the BH Railroad Company and every day leaving for work and coming back I had to cross an avenue. It wasn’t a street, but an avenue, I don’t know how many meters wide. A sniper was always shooting at that avenue, killing people, injuring them, and I thought how to cross. I stayed in between the houses. One quick glance to my watch. When the first bullet was shot I counted the seconds to the next bullet. Some 15 to 20 seconds. And so I was ready when the shot was fired to run across the avenue and I had to do it in 15 seconds. At such times the fear a person feels is incredible. The legs are numb, the muscles don’t work and there’s no air in the lungs. And when I arrived to the other side then I stayed there awhile to catch my breath and rest a little and the people who were hiding there and watching were happy that somebody managed to cross that fateful avenue near the Second Gymnasium.” Mima Kerken, citizen

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

© FAMA Collection; Encyclopaedia: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

...to each man a city consists of no more than a few streets, a few houses, a few people. Remove those few and a city exists no longer except as a pain in the memory...

- Graham Greene

Bread line massacre

„27 May 1992. Like probably most Sarajevans I felt the need to keep up some kind of urban habits and in spite of everything that was happening, and they were foretelling very hard times, to have my 15 minutes daily with someone I loved. There was no dearer person to me then than my mother. So, every morning, every working day, I waited on the corner of Šalom Albahari and Vaso Miskin Street, today Ferhadija Street. I waited 5 minutes, 10 minutes, no mother came. Then I saw one of our BH TV crews who seemed to be going to Svjetlost Park to make a completely different program from what in fact they were about to make in a minute or two. Since my mother hadn’t come for 10 minutes I decided to go with them and see what they were up to. I don’t think we’d gone more than 5 or 6 paces when it came without whistling, they say you don’t hear the whistle of the shell that’s for you. That was probably the shell that was for all of us. It was simply like something completely different from all that we had been experiencing for a month and a half. Then a silence, then chaos. Screaming, cries, hell, horror, panic, death, everything most terrible. Of course, the TV crew reacted immediately, Dževad took the camera and began filming. He went on; other members of the crew helped to collect those almost disintegrated bodies. We got people that we could still help into any kind of transport to get them somewhere they could be treated.” Benjamin Filipović, film director

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

Bicycle is the main means of transportation

“The bicycle was, in fact, mostly a transport mule and what it was mostly used for was transporting something, packages and water. The silliest or hardest, well worst situation for me was colliding with a person, because most of the people didn’t really have a dynamo. Namely, when the bike I bought with my, let’s say savings, simply wore out, because a bike, as well as a donkey, needs some looking after which we weren’t able to provide, there weren’t any tires, they were worn out, because I was not the only one using it, it was a rent-a-bike to everybody in the community who needed one, riding, racing and then of course tires wear out, burst, the city was full of glass, full of pieces of metal, it all bursts in a second, there goes the bike. I got one of those BMX bikes, it sounds funny now, a man of 80 kilo, 1.86 tall, riding a kid’s bike. Sitting on it like I don’t know what. And now you try to ride a bike at night in a city full of holes, with people coming from the other side just like you, without lights. And if you often ride through the same sections, you get to know them so well that you already know where to turn in the dark, where the worst holes are that you have to avoid. The bike never let us down, even though there were no tires.“ Mustafa Imširević, soldier

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

© FAMA Collection; Encyclopaedia: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

© FAMA Collection; Encyclopaedia: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

Golf car of the year

“The Golf couldn’t be kept in good shape during the war. Because there weren’t any mechanics to repair it. Whoever knew something would fix their cars if they could. But that car didn’t have to be repaired since it ran on everything you could think of. Except it didn’t run on water. They haven’t perfected it yet. But it did run on oil, we found some vegetable oil and poured that in. And reused motor oil, there was nothing that it didn’t run on. You just push it, turn it on, and it goes. I think that Golf saved Sarajevo with the work that they got done. All of the institutions, even the ambulance squad, used Volkswagens. It really ran on anything. On oil, on heating oil, I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t make it go. And it never broke down. It jumped in the air, went downhill, uphill, and it was the car that saved the city.” Borislav Kanlić, driver

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'


The citizens of Sarajevo realized that they had to create an alternative way of life in order to survive. One of the important aspects of this new way of life was the repurposing of objects in order to replace everything that was not available during the siege. Inventions and recycled objects became survival tools. On the streets, the citizens of Sarajevo found ways to warn, but also to protect pedestrians from the constant danger of snipers.

© FAMA Collection; Encyclopaedia: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

Protection from snipers

In the most dangerous city zones, citizens were protected from snipers by shipping containers, destroyed cars, trucks, buses, cement blocks and the famous UN transporters. In 1994, at the time of the ceasefire, it was decided to remove the protections. At that time, the concrete slab from Kulovića Street, on which the citizens of Sarajevo wrote "Pink Floyd", was also removed. When the snipers started shooting again, the beloved concrete slab was not put back. A replacement appeared: the blue curtain, which was used in the "Zetra" sports hall in 1984, during the XIV Winter Olympic Games. It was placed between two buildings to make passers-by invisible.

The new normal

The siege of Sarajevo showed that a person can survive a disaster and remain a human being. Sarajevo chose culture as its weapon of defence against terror. Citizens walked the streets under the impact of grenades and snipers to perform their daily tasks of survival, went to theatre performances and exhibitions as a way of resistance and defence of the human civilization. A new normal has set in. One civilization disappeared, and a completely new one was simultaneously established in its wake.

© FAMA Collection; 'Sarajevo LIFE' Magazine

Theatre is life

“Despite the danger of shelling and bullets, I ran to the theatre, where I had rehearsals all day and forgot the horror in which we live.” Ines Fančović, actress

© FAMA Collection; 'Sarajevo LIFE' Magazine

From your experience - Snipers in the city?

Once a sniper aimed at me while I was on Skenderija Bridge, I hid behind a pillar by the Trade Unions Hall for a full half an hour. I was not able to move, I was so scared.

year of birth: 1947
profession: Pharmacist
gender: Female
city district: Ciglane

© FAMA Collection; 'The Art of Survival' Guide

© FAMA Collection; Encyclopaedia: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'

Cultural survival

„I had a huge desire for the runners (people running across bridges under sniper fire) to see my 'Flying man’ in the air. While putting the ‘Cyclist’ up between the two banks I was constantly under sniper fire.” Enes Sivac, sculptor

During the war in 1994, the Sarajevo sculptor Enes Sivac installed the composition "Equilibrists" over Miljacka as part of the "Baby Universe" Festival.

© FAMA Collection; 'The Art of Survival' Guide

How did you move around the city?

As for transport - it was the 'trust only your legs' system. I moved around on foot, in order to go to the University and take exams, passing through the barricades, wooden plank, protective screens and other means of mental safety. I realize only now that it was only "mental safety".

year of birth: 1971
profession: Teacher
gender: Female
city district: Alipašino Polje

© FAMA Collection; 'The Art of Survival' Guide


The need to establish some kind of balance in the midst of chaos arose spontaneously. In order to maintain mental health, every citizen of the besieged Sarajevo tried to keep himself in balance by bringing his old way of life to the now changed conditions.


The roses on Tršćanska street

“On September 11, 1994 the snipers were again shooting at Tršćanska Street as they had been doing every day. That was the only light in the dark. It means that for a few seconds when the tracer bullet flies by, you can see what’s in the room. And September is one of the most beautiful months in Sarajevo; it can be very beautiful. Everywhere around it was grey, the town was destroyed, everything burnt, the UNIS building had been burnt, it looked very ugly. Suddenly in that greyness, on the other side of Tršćanska Street, in front of the UNIS building I saw beautiful roses. The roses somebody had planted when there was peace and when it was supposed to look like that. Those roses went somewhat wild during the war. Nobody cut them, watered them, or whatnot. However, now it was in all that greyness. Meaning, at a time when nobody could clean up Tršćanska Street. When nobody dared to go out, to take a broom and clean up all that glass, suddenly the roses sprang up from all that. My feelings were that beauty couldn’t be described, the happiness I felt. I dressed and went across Tršćanska, you know, one sets one’s teeth and runs as fast as one can, because it was a clear day. And I took some scissors and I cut those roses and brought them back into my room. Later people asked me: Where did you get those roses? I said: From in front of the UNIS buildings. They said, it was impossible. You didn’t cross Tršćanska Street because of the roses, did you? I did, I said.” Amina Begović, actress (September 1994)

© FAMA Collection; Oral History: 'The Siege of Sarajevo 1992-1996'


„What you see here are the UNIS towers, or UNITIC, as it is called today. There are no roses in front of them today. There are other flowers. The roses were planted during Tito's time, I guess that's why they are no longer there. On one side of this street there is a large intersection, and there across the bridge, at the Jewish cemetery, was an invisible but omnipresent enemy, the aggressor of this country and this city. On the other side is the school, the Military Hospital, today the General Hospital - all the places where the aggressor liked to hit. And this here is me. Thirty years later. One war, two coronas, two cancers - and alive! Then I ran across the street, across which the sniper shot, to pick roses. Was it courage or folly? I have no idea. I don't know what would make me run over now, but I know that at that time it was not up to us to save our lives. It was up to God, a higher power, fate or whatever you call it. We know that people died in the safest places. So, it was a question of whether you are hit or missed. Fortunately, I was missed. It was important to keep the spirit. There was no help there. You couldn't keep it sitting in the basement. You had to do what you love the most and you had to try to bring colours into your life. In any way. I brought them in with those roses, among other things.” Amina Begović, actress (April 2024)

© FAMA Collection; Macro Story: 'The Siege of Sarajevo - Then & Now'