Sean Maguire

I thought about the dingy high-rises in Grbavica, the last Serb redoubt in Sarajevo, when I went back to Edinburgh and saw the grey wash over the buildings there and, in front of one tenement block, the rusted stumps of metal railings that had once fenced off presentation gardens. I suppose the iron posts were harvested for recycling into tanks during World War Two. Looking at the stunted rose-bushes, I wondered how long it would be before Sarajevo council workmen replaced the metal banisters ripped from the stairwell outside Nina’s flat. Defeated by peace, Sarajevo’s rebel Serbs preferred to scorch the earth of their city rather than leave it for others to enjoy. But even nationalist destruction took second place to mercantile self-interest. Roofs were dismantled, window-frames stripped from walls and plumbing torn out of floors and carted away. Some looted for profit; others hoped they could refabricate homes elsewhere, in the shells of buildings destroyed after their Muslim owners were kicked out in the early days of ethnic cleansing. Alter a property had been thoroughly asset-stripped, it was fire-bombed. Nina had been worried that there would be nothing left to take from her block of flats after the banisters, so she and her neighbours distracted the dismantlers and hid their cutting-gear in the basement. There were seven floors left to shred but the Serbs’ time ran out, which saved the old people, war invalids and cripples who had stayed behind in Grbavica, barricaded into their apartments, from having to try to rescue their building from the arsonists with a few buckets of water.

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