Looking down from my window today, I saw people gathering in Veliki Park at the monument dedicated to the children who had died during the Siege of Sarajevo. When I think of Independence Day, being American, I think of America’s 4th of July when we declared ourselves a new nation, independent of The British Empire. I conjure up images of spectacular fireworks, people waving the flag of their country, parades and jubilant celebrations. Alas, this is not the scene in Sarajevo.
Even though today is Bosnia’s Independence day, it is a bittersweet one. The celebration of Independence Day for Bosnia and Herzegovina celebrates the days between February 29 and March 1, 1992 when a special referendum was held to vote on the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The referendum question was:
“Are you in favor of a sovereign and independent Bosnia-Herzegovina, a state of equal citizens and nations of Muslims, Serbs, Croats and others who live in it?”
Bosniak and Bosnian Croat voters supported the referendum, while Serbs largely boycotted it. Some sources cite that Serbs in some cases boycotted the vote or were prevented from voting by Bosnian Serb authorities. In the end, an absolute majority of the voting-age population of Yugoslav Bosnian Socialist Republic voted for the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The total turnout of voters was 63.6% of which 99.7% voted for the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina.(wikipedia) Despite the fact that the European community supported and recognised this decision, the political representatives of Bosnian Serbians rejected it, thus leading to the initiation of the Bosnian War. It was not until March 1, 1995, three years later, (and still in the midst of conflict) Independence Day was celebrated for the first time. The Bosnian War would not end until 8 months later, when the Dayton Accord was signed on November 21, 1995. It should be noted that the Serbians of Bosnia and Herzegovina or the Republika Srpska (Serb Republic) boycott this holiday and celebrates its own Independence Day on the 9th of January.
So many lives were lost, especially in the city of Sarajevo. It is no surprise that the day intended to celebrate the independence of their country also commemorates the many lives lost who fought for that independence, including the 521 innocent children of Sarajevo who would never live to see this day.