Three Films for the 30th Anniversary of the Bosnian War
Yelena Hill explores three films, new and old, as a way into the complex history underpinning the historic conflict.
Bosnia was a part of former Yugoslavia and was composed of three main ethnic groups: 44 per cent Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim), 31 per cent Serbian and 17 per cent Croatian, with the final 8 per cent being Yugoslavian and other minorities.
When the government declared independence from Yugoslavia, Bosnian Serbs were unhappy with forming a nation that would now be predominantly Bosniak. A “cleanse” of the Muslim civilian population and protection of coveted territory was launched by the Serbian military, targeting Bosniak and Croatian civilians in areas under their control.
This month marks 30 years since the Bosnian War.
There are many enthralling historical films that provide a lot of information regarding what happened during the conflict. Here, I would like to briefly discuss on three such films, explaining why each of these films are important in addressing both Eastern European history and how the war still impacts the lives of those it touched today.
By and large, this is still a historical conflict that many people know only very little about, so these must-watch films are incredible tools that can help enrich your knowledge, with minimal to no prior understanding needed on your part.
Quo Vadis, Aida? (2020)
Quo Vadis, Aida? takes place in 1995 Srebrenica (a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina) and follows the journey of a primary school teacher, Aida (Jasna Đuričić), fighting to look after her family during the Srebrenica genocide. This genocide, which saw the killings of over 8000 Muslim men and boys, is the worst atrocity to be committed in Europe since World War II.
The massacre took place in an enclave supposedly under UN protection and was carried out by Bosnian-Serb troops. In the film, Aida is permitted access to the negotiations between the mayor of Srebrenica and the naive Dutch UN soldiers attached to the enclave due to her duties as a translator.
Alongside interpreting the information transmitted between officials, Aida is also made to translate information from officials to all the other citizens who made it to the UN camp shelters. As a result of these duties, Aida is often faced with cries for help from old friends hoping to use her access to military plans. Stemming from her position stuck somewhere between the worlds of the UN soldiers and the town’s helpless civilians, it is through Aida’s eyes that the viewer is granted both a macro and micro view of the atrocities.
Violence warning: the film largely refrains from showing the most violent acts of the genocide, such as the rapes and beheadings, and even during the mass killing at the end of the film, only the firing of guns is depicted.
Welcome to Sarajevo (1997)
Welcome to Sarajevo is set primarily in the Bosnian capital and is based on actual events that occurred between 1992 and 1993. Through their daily reports on the war, British journalist Michael Henderson (Stephen Dillane) and his team are the eyes and ears of the West. As the war starts to receive less and less coverage in the world’s media, though, frustration starts to grow.
Soon, Michael becomes far more personally involved in the conflict, undertaking a project to save the children of an orphanage on the verge of collapse and promising a 10-year-old Bosnian girl that he will help her leave. To do so, she must be smuggled out of Sarajevo through a terrifying coach journey across territory unrelentingly patrolled by armed troops.
Welcome to Sarajevo is harsh and triggers many emotions in me. What I find most distressing about the film, though, is the fact that the same mistakes from the media and politicians presented here can easily be drawn out from many conflicts seen since.
Throughout, we bear witness to the rage-inducing stupidity and hypocrisy of the country’s bureaucracy in the face of such horrible events; in one moment, a UN spokesman states that there are “thirteen places worse than Sarajevo”. Additionally, in this regard, the film’s use of real documentary footage really adds to the narrative’s overall realism and shock effect.
Violence warning: graphic displays of dead and injured people on roadsides, as well as shootings.
Unlike Quo Vadis, Aida, which takes place during the moments leading up to the Bosnian genocide, this supernatural horror is about the aftermath of the genocide.
A couple, Selma (Alma Terzić) and Alex (August Wittgenstein), are on their way to Selma’s ancestral village in Bosnia and Herzegovina, close to Srebrenica. After their car breaks down in the middle of a forest filled with landmines from the war, Selma begins to fear the worst.
At first, Alex is sceptical of Selma’s fear and particularly that regarding the two Serbian men who suddenly appear, offering their help. While she kneels in prayer, Alex misunderstands her terror for hysteria – however, this terror is soon justified. Slowly, we come to comprehend the scale of injustices perpetrated during the war and the hatred that has been cultivated between people who now find themselves divided only by a thin border.
Though a little bit on the slow side, the film is incredibly thought-provoking and deals with the subject of PTSD, the trauma of both surviving a war and constantly being forced to confront your fears even after it’s over. For those with an eye for detail, this film is filled with minute, symbolic drama.
Rarely are studies conducted examining the long-term mental health consequences of war and displacement among civilians who live in post-conflict countries. Due to this, it is crucial to acknowledge the suffering that took place and to talk about the issues that may affect so many people you know today.
I would like to finish this piece by mentioning my mother, who had to flee from where she grew up in Sarajevo to escape the Bosnian War when she was my age. Coming to this country with only a plastic bag and a passport, she managed to complete her A-levels in 6 months and get into medical school despite all the hardships and discrimination that came her way. She is the bravest person I know and watching all these films only gave me more respect for her and the millions of other citizens who once lived in former Yugoslavia.