Tom Stoddart, Sarajevo
History of the Balkans is closely intertwined with violence. “From the ghastly massacres of Muslims committed by the Greek freedom fighters in 1821 down to Srebrenica and Kosovo in our own day, the savageries form an unbroken red stripe,” wrote Neal Acherson.
Recording these atrocities was the British photographer Tom Stoddart, whose black-and-white images sang the region’s elegiacs. Stoddart would be wounded in Sarajevo in 1992, but fell in love with the place, and returned to shoot the often. Among his photos, that of Sarajevo’s burnt out towers seen through the shattered windows of the Holiday Inn stood out.
On October 3rd 1992 — a day after some 100,000 people marched through the streets of Sarajevo to demonstrate for peace — the Serb-dominated Yugoslav National Army shelled the city from the hills surrounding it. For the next 1,200 days, the siege continued and as the world looked on, 12,000 people perished. They had to dig up football pitches to find room to bury the dead.
Today, it is easy to remember that Sarajevo in 1992 was a prosperous metropolis. Yugoslavia was not poor; it was one of the richest of the Eastern Bloc states and Sarajevo had hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984. The Holiday Inn, which would be the headquarters of the international media during the siege, was built in 1983. The UNIS Twin Towers of the above photo were built in 1986. Their destruction — and subsequent rebuilding — was symbolic because they were called Momo (Serbian name) and Uzeir (Bosniak name). No one knew which tower carried which name, and this ambiguity accentuated deep cultural unity between the peoples who lived side by side during those troubled times.