Bosnia's Long Road to Peace
I should say, from the beginning, that I never flew into Sarajevo on a military cargo plane, listening anxiously for the sound of artillery fire. I never saw anyone killed in the infamous Sniper Alley that was a death trap during the three–and-a-half-year siege of Sarajevo by Serb forces. I never had a gun pointed in my face, I never feared for my life, never interviewed a man who would die the next day, a woman who had been gang-raped, a parent who had just buried a child, or a family that had fled the blood-soaked soil of a village burned to the ground in the name of “ethnic cleansing.”
No, for me, the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Hercegovina was something that happened far off, in a place I’d never been. It was something I struggled to understand, or ignored when the news was too depressing, from my home in Boston, where I wrote of other things. I did not come to Bosnia until the fall of 2000, in the midst of changes in my own life. I found myself drawn at last by a newspaper article that said that just as Bosnians were finally feeling secure enough to start returning in large numbers to homes they had fled during the war, the international community was becoming “fatigued” with the Balkans tragedy and was starting to move its aid and attention elsewhere. The result was that few Bosnians would receive help in what seemed to me to be a Herculean task of returning to homes haunted by tragedy and lingering hostilities. I was dismayed by the quick-fix shortsightedness of it all, concerned that the West was turning its back on Bosnia once again, just as it had during a war that was marked by the worst genocide in Europe since the end of World War II.
I felt compelled to go, to do whatever I could as a journalist to be a witness to the country’s ongoing struggle to rebuild a civil society. Although I began my career as a print journalist, working first for The Christian Science Monitor as a staff writer and later as a freelancer for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Fast Company and others, by the year 2000 I was well into a career transition into photography and had been ready for some time to take on a long-term documentary project.
So I went to Bosnia to cover the aftermath of war – to try to capture the images that are the all too often forgotten companions of the vivid pictures of war itself. I came with the conviction that war is only half the story. I believed, and still believe, that what happens in the aftermath of war is as newsworthy, if not more so, than the destruction and horror of war. I went to Bosnia with a desire to document that incredibly difficult period when humans move out of war’s desperate struggle to survive, and begin another equally mighty struggle – that of learning to live again. In the four years I spent making the images that would ultimately become this book, I became convinced that we need post-conflict images to remind us of our humanity – to testify that war is not the final word on who we are as human beings, nor the final image of our spirit.
My experience of Bosnia has been marked not by war, but by the echoes of war, by the scars it has left behind. My work and travels have been charged with the struggle of rebirth, not the horror of destruction. I have spent long hours with widows of Srebrenica – the Muslim women who lost some 7,000 to 8,000 men and boys in a 1995 massacre by Serb forces. I have been with them as they returned to visit homes they fled in terror, I have been with them when they have laughed, cried and prayed for their dead.
I spent a rainy afternoon with a man as he exhumed a shallow grave containing his father, killed eight years earlier by Serb neighbors. I have spent days in a warehouse lined with body bags, filled with the remains of recently-exhumed victims of the Serbs’ 1992 ethnic cleansing campaign – while family members, mostly women, walked the aisles of skeletons, sobbing quietly, looking for loved ones; as one woman picked up skull after skull with her bare hands, searching for signs of a son.
I have stood on the freshly laid concrete floors of homes being rebuilt by returning refugees, determined to reclaim their land and their lives. I was in the crush of a group of young people, crowded in the square outside the National Theatre in Sarajevo, cheering wildly as they greeted Danis Tanovic, fresh from his Oscar victory for his film about the war, “No Man’s Land” – a victory he celebrated in his homeland on April 5, 2002, just one day short of the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the siege of Sarajevo.
I have spent afternoons in Sarajevo with the 3K Sarajevo wheelchair basketball team, made up of young men who were wounded by snipers as civilians or while serving on the frontline as soldiers. I have watched them sweat and spin on a dime and flirt with girls when practice is over and I have come away determined that the world’s final image of them be their strength and grace – and not the moment when they lay sprawled on a city sidewalk, another tragic victim of war, another image of despair. I want to tell the story of their aftermath. I want to tell it all.
The end of war does not mean peace. It is simply the end of war, the end of death and destruction. Every story of war includes a chapter that almost always goes untold -- the story of the aftermath, which day by day becomes the prologue of the future.
And finally, a note about the war. This book does not attempt to re-tell that story; there are many, many fine books, which detail the conflict and why it happened. But it is important, I think, to know a few things – to understand that the war in Bosnia, which occurred during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, was fueled by nationalist aggression and propaganda from its neighbors, Serbia and Croatia, whose leaders wanted to split the country in two.
It is important to know that politicians in the West and the United Nations did everything they could to avoid being drawn into this war – repeatedly appeasing aggressors like Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and urging Bosnia’s leaders to allow the country to be carved into pieces. And while, unfortunately, many Bosnian Serbs continue to deny what was done by them, and in their name, it is crucial to know that the biggest victims in this war, by far, were Bosnian Muslims, who were targeted for expulsion, rape, torture and death simply because of their identity.
Sara Terry is a an award-winning filmmaker, documentary photographer, journalist and Guggenheim Fellow best known for her work covering post-conflict stories and for creating The Aftermath Project, a grant-making, educational non-profit founded on the premise that “War is Only Half the Story.” An accomplished speaker on aftermath and visual literacy issues, her many lectures include a 2013 TedX talk and appearances at The Annenberg Space for Photography. An award-winning former staff correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and magazine freelance writer, Terry made a mid-career transition into photojournalism and documentary photography in the late 1990s. Her first film, “Fambul Tok,” an award-winning, feature-length documentary about an unprecedented grass-roots forgiveness program in Sierra Leone, premiered at SXSW in March 2011 and won several awards on the festival circuit. She won a 2009 Sundance Documentary Institute grant for the film, and was a fellow at the 2010 IFP Doc Lab. Her second documentary, FOLK, which follows three singer-songwriters through the sub-culture of American folk music, premiered at the Nashville Film Festival in April 2013. Terry’s five-year project about the aftermath of war in Bosnia – “Aftermath: Bosnia’s Long Road to Peace” – was published in September 2005 by Channel Photographics and was named as one of the best photo books of the year by Photo District News. Her work has been published in newspapers and magazines in the United States, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Bosnia, and Japan. Her photographs have been exhibited at such venues as the United Nations, the Moving Walls exhibition at the Open Society Institute in New York, the Museum of Photography in Antwerp, and the Leica Gallery in Solms, Germany, and Fotofest, Houston. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Portland (OR) Museum of Fine Art, the Museum of Modern Art, Rio de Janeiro, and in many private collections. Early in her career as a reporter at The Christian Science Monitor, Sara worked nationally and internationally, developing a focus on social justice issues and cultural critiquing, a passion she continues to pursue as a photographer. She was the Monitor’s lead reporter on the 1987 groundbreaking series, “Children in Darkness: the exploitation of innocence,” about the exploitation of children in the developing world. She won several awards during her career as a reporter, including two from the Overseas Press Club. She was featured in the 1991 book, “Women on Deadline,” as one of the top 10 female reporters in the United States, for her international reporting. As a freelance magazine writer in the 1990s, her work was published in Rolling Stone, The New York Times Magazine, The Boston Globe Magazine, and many other publications. In 2005, she received a prestigious Alicia Patterson Fellowship for her work in Bosnia. In 2003, she was a finalist for the Alexia Foundation grant, for the same body of work. She has been recognized for her work in founding and building The Aftermath Project, with the 2008 Lucie Humanitarian Award, and the 2007 Rising Star Award from the Griffin Museum of Photography. She is currently finishing her long-term project, “Forgiveness and Conflict: Lessons from Africa,” which explores traditional practices of truth-telling and forgiveness in post-conflict African countries.
Bosnia's Long Road to Peace Lesson Plan
The five images selected here follow the sentiments Sara Terry expressed in her foreword to the second volume of "War is Only Half the Story." Terry writes, “For me, the stories of aftermath are the stories of what it means to be human—in contrast to the stories of war, which all too often are the sad summary of what it means to be inhuman. . . . I believe that what we hold up in our culture—the stories we tell ourselves — are in fact the people we become. If we shine a light on conflict, but neglect the stories of recovery and struggle, what grows?” As you view these photographs, keep this idea in mind and take note of the signs of humanity that appear in Sara Terry’s images.
A Muslim widow examines body bags containing the remains of recently exhumed victims of the 1992 “ethnic cleansing” campaign waged by Serbs against their Muslim neighbors (July 2001). Exhumations of mass graves began in 1996 and are expected to last for many years to come. Nearly 30,000 Muslims—most of them civilians—were listed as missing at the end of the war; most are believed to have been victims of “ethnic cleansing.”
• What details about the way this photograph is composed stand out to you? What roles do light, shadow, and color play?
• Why do you think the photographer chose not to reveal the face of the woman?
• Photographer Sara Terry notes, “I went to Bosnia with a desire to document the incredibly difficult period when humans move out of war’s desperate struggle to survive, and begin another equally mighty struggle—that of learning to live again.” What is your response to her statement?
• What role do exhumations play in the aftermath of war? How can this process help with the process of “learning to live again”?
One of Mostar’s legendary jumpers throws himself from the town’s famed bridge, which stands more than 80 feet high. Eleven years after the bridge was destroyed during the 1992–1995 war, the rebuilt structure was opened to the public following a ceremony that drew many foreign officials, including Prince Charles. Local jumpers and divers wasted no time returning to one of their favorite pastimes before the war—collecting change from tourists who watch them jump. Local athletes also used the opportunity to prepare for the 448th annual jumping and diving competition, held the following week.
• After standing for over 400 years, Stari Most, or the Old Bridge, was destroyed during the 1993 Croat-Bosniak War. International efforts led to the reconstruction of the bridge, and it was reopened in 2004. This physical bridge does not guarantee lasting peace between these communities, but such symbolic public efforts are significant as the nation looks toward the future. Given this context, what thoughts, feelings, and questions do you have as you view this photograph?
• Is it necessary to rebuild structures destroyed during times of war in order for communities to reconcile? What else might be necessary for reconciliation efforts to succeed? What challenges to such efforts might exist that threaten their endurance?
• How does this image help to tell a story of recovery and hope?
Muslim widows are seen here during the prayer for the dead offered at the groundbreaking of a memorial site for the 7,000 to 8,000 Muslim men and boys who were massacred by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995.
• How does the title of this photograph inform your understanding of what is occurring?
• What details in the photograph seem to stand in contrast to the title? What larger story could Sara Terry be seeking to suggest by framing the image this way?
• Imagine what is occurring behind the camera and in the surrounding landscape. How might your interpretation of the image change based on the backdrop?
• What reasons might the photographer have had for keeping the woman’s face concealed in the shadow of her head covering?
A roadside vendor in Bosnia, hoping to attract passing drivers, offers goldfish for sale.
• What larger commentary could the photographer be offering by focusing on fish on the side of a road in Bosnia?
• How does this photograph help to tell the larger story of war’s aftermath in Bosnia?
• In the video that opens this section, Sara Terry notes that this image prompted her to ask, “What am I not seeing?” Why is this question critical as we view the images included in the Aftermath Project? What are we missing in media coverage of war and the aftermath of conflict?
Laser-engraved headstones show images of Bosnian Serb soldiers who were killed during the war. The cemetery is in Visegrad, in eastern Bosnia, a town where some 2,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Serbs in the spring of 1992. Eight years after the end of the war, the former Muslim-majority town remains overwhelmingly Serb.
• While the title of this photograph is singular, “Headstone,” two black granite headstones occupy a prominent position in the image’s composition—both with laser-engraved images of the deceased (presumably) holding a gun. Why do you think Sara Terry chose to focus on these headstones? What larger story is being told about the community where this cemetery exists?
• These headstones honor dead warriors who are buried in the town where they helped to kill some 2,000 men and boys. How does the composition of this photograph remind us of the loss that has taken place? Why?