Twenty Years After the Shooting Stopped, Sarajevo Searches for Its Future

Friends share a moment looking at cell phone pictures in front of a dessert shop in the old city of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina on October 11, 2014.

Supported by a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant, I’ve been exploring Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital that was besieged during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. It took nearly four years to end the violence, a feat that was achieved through a power sharing agreement between Bosnia’s ethnic groups know as the Dayton Peace Accord. As we approach the 20th anniversary of Dayton, I’m learning how ethnic divides have affected the reconstruction of the city, as residents try to shape a new multicultural Bosnia. (Read all posts in this series.)

Friends share a moment looking at cellphone pictures in front of a dessert shop in the old city of Sarajevo. (Photo by Amanda Rivkin)

“The Olympics were a fairytale of the collective, of human relationships,” said Enver Hadžiomerspahić, who directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Winter Olympics held in Sarajevo. He tells me about how people from different ethnic backgrounds worked in unison, to showcase the achievements of Yugoslavia in a fantastic display. He later watched “in agony” when the Museum of the XIV Winter Olympic Games went up in flames during the siege.

But as the fire burned Mr. Hadžiomerspahić had a vision—one that he has pursued relentlessly. He would build a modern art museum in Sarajevo, and solicit donations from artists and museum directors across the world, in honor of the besieged city. At the time, “the idea seemed like an optimistic utopia. No one knew if they would be alive. It was unbelievable that the dream came true,” he stated.

Today, the Ars Aevi collection is worth around $25 million, with pieces from the likes of Marina Abramovic, Michelangelo Pistoletto and Anish Kapoor, all assembled through donations. Still, like Bosnia’s other museums, it has struggled. Ars Aevi is open to the public, but it is housed in a —> Read More