SARAJEVO - Thousands of red chairs stood empty along Sarajevo's main avenue on Friday, April 6, as Bosnia commemorated the 20th anniversary of the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II.
"I mostly recall the near continuous bombing, the snipers, the dead," 64-year-old Fuad Novalija, a craftsman in Sarajevo's old town, told Agence France Presse (AFP).
The orchestra was to play a concert for the 11,541 empty seats, one for each civilian killed in the city in its siege during the 1992-95 war.
Staged at Sarajevo's central Marshall Tito Avenue, empty seats along a length of some 800 metres were set by workmen.
During the concert, the Sarajevo residents would stop what they're doing to mark the twentieth anniversary of the start of the conflict that initiated the massacre of tens of thousands of civilian Muslims by Serbs.
This bloody massacre shattered the hopes of thousands of Muslims who took to Sarajevo streets to demand peace.
As Bosnian Serb snipers fired on the protest, civilian fatalities followed to mark one of the bloodiest massacres in Europe.
"The shells fell when we least expected them, Novalija said.
People were killed as they queued for water or bread."
In the following three and a half years, the country was torn apart, divided along ethnic lines with half the population of 4.4 million fled their homes.
Bosnia fell into civil war in 1992 that left 200,000 people dead and displaced millions as Serb forces launched ethnic cleansing campaign against Bosnian Muslims.
During the 43-month war, which claimed some 200,000 lives, nearly two million people fled their homes, half a million of them are still listed as refugees.
In the final months of the three-year war, Serb forces, led by General Ratko Mladic, overran Srebrenica, killing some 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief Ratko Mladic, the two people considered most responsible for the massacre, are both facing trial for genocide before the UN war crimes court in The Hague over Srebrenica.
The other main protagonists of the war have all died or have been convicted of war crimes.
No Better off
Twenty years after the eruption of the deadly war, Bosnia economy is still suffering as one of the poorest countries in Europe that has 40 percent unemployment.
"We have peace now, but that is really the only progress," Craftsman Novalija said bitterly, blaming political stagnation on the bad conditions of economy.
According to the Dayton peace accord which ended the civil war, Bosnia is split into two ethnically-based autonomous regions, the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic.
Experts lament that nationalist politicians have helped making the lines of division in Bosnia, where children are still being educated in separate ethnic groups.
These divisions were affecting the Bosnian economy badly.
While much of the production capacity has been restored, the Bosnian economy still faces considerable difficulties.
Foreign direct investments slumped to â¬1,08 billion in 2008 compared with â¬1,628 billion the year before.
High unemployment and a large trade deficit remain cause for concern.
Parking attendant Munib Kovacevic agreed.
"Reconciliation would have gone a lot better if the economy had taken off," he said.
He blamed politicians for keeping up the ethnic divisions and fanning people's fears to cling to power.
"What would become of the nationalist parties if people become friends again? They would disappear!"
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net