Bridge supplemented by sand bags to protect its users against snipers in Sarajevo. Photograph by Abbas (Magnum)
The book Sarajevo Za Pocetnike (Sarajevo for beginners) written by Bosnian author Ozren Kebo has been translated into French (Bienvenue en Enfer: Sarajevo Mode d’Emploi) but not into English. I thought that it would be a good idea to translate some short excerpts here however bad my translating skills might be.
This book is a description of the daily life in Sarajevo during its siege (1992-1995) by the Serbian army. The form is often humorous while the content is always tragic, thus illustrating an important mean to resist the horror of the war: the derision of the situation. O. Kebo describes a city whose entire infrastructure has been revealed by war, yet this infrastructure is obsolete only acts as the memory of the functioning city:
unofficial English translation: In Sarajevo there is chaos. If you look up, you won’t see the sky but rather wires, millions of wires. Everybody did some cheap wiring. The entire city is a gigantic electrical network and yet, nobody has electricity. If you look down, no more asphalt, just pipes. All the streets are ripped open, and yet, nobody has gas. All transport jerry cans. Millions of jerry cans on millions of wood carts and yet, nobody owns more than twenty liters at home.
Excerpt from Safe Area Goražde by Joe Sacco (2000)
During the Bosnian war (1992-1995), the small city of Goražde was surrounded by territories under the Serbian army’s control and had to organize its daily life in a self-sufficiency that was supplemented by a UN enforced humanitarian corridor. This self-sufficiency includes the power supply that was lacking at a systematic level. Goražde inhabitants had therefore to cope with this status off the grid and individuals and neighbor groups undertook to tinker various machines amongst which those micro hydro power plants strike us for their ingenuity. Both the drawings of Joe Sacco in his documentary graphic novel Safe Area Goražde (see also The Fixer in a previous article), and the photographs taken by Zobrazit during the war constitute rare witnesses of their historical presence on the Drina River.
picture: Joe Sacco. The Fixer. London: Drawn and Quarterly 2003
In 2009, Saskia Sassen was organizing a symposium at Columbia University entitled, Cities and the New Wars (see previous article) that was gathering intellectuals such as Stephen Graham or Eyal Weizman who presented brilliant lectures about how cities are affected by urban combat.
Cities are the new battlefields for two mains reasons. The first one is related to the fact that many of the current wars are established in an asymmetric scheme (Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechenia, narco-wars in Rio’s favelas etc.) The second one is caused by the will of the belligerents to involve the population and perpetuate the urbicide (read the essay I wrote about this topic).
In this article, I would like to introduce three works of different mediums that expresses life in cities at war:
The Fixer by Joe Sacco (see his interview for Al Jazeera) is a graphic novel/documentary by the famous American author who created a very striking series about Palestine several years before. The Fixer recounts his trip to Sarajevo in 1995 at the end of the Bosnian war which is reported to him via Neven, a para-military soldier that explains the situation in Sarajevo during those three years of combat. Three years later, the war in Kosovo occurred and expressed in its most painful degree, this notion of urbicide. (see the article about the book Violence Taking Place. The Architecture of the Kosovo Conflict)
Come Again is a very beautiful book by photographer Robert Frank that collects photos of Beirut at the end of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). The city seems to be empty and every buildings is a ruin that managed not to completely collapse. Beirut is indeed one of the city of the world that has been destroyed the most since the European/Japanese cities of the Second World War and 1991 was certainly not the end of it as the Israeli army attacked the city in 2006 in its raid against the Hezbollah. (thank you very much Xinyang for offering me this book)
The last work is a ten minutes movie created by Orlando Von Einsiedel and entitled Skateistan (see at the end of this article). It introduces the story of a small school of skateboarding in Kabul, Afghanistan in which kids can forget the war for a while and learn to use their skateboards. The movie is a little bit too much aestheticizing in my opinion but remains a very moving documentary about the expression of a passion in such a city at war. (thanks Pico for the link)
picture: Gaza after the 2008 Israeli Siege. Getty Images
This article is one of the chapters of the book Weaponized Architecture: The Impossibility of Innocence (dpr-barcelona, 2012)
Despite of the fact that the following strategy has been regularly occurring in history, the notion of urbicide has been formulated by the former Mayor of Belgrade, Bogdan Bogdanovic after the wars in ex-Yugoslavia between 1992 and 1996. One could define it as the act of destroying buildings and cities that do not constitute any military targets. Urbicide is rather an act that is supposed to affect the very life of the population in such a way that war cannot be ignored by anybody and must be experienced on a daily basis by a nation’s civilians.
This technique has been used in symmetrical wars during the Second World War and the Blitz in England on the one hand, and the systematic bombing of German cities by the allies on the other hand. However, urbicide is also fully present in asymmetrical wars with the case of guerilla and governmental terrorism. The most well known example in the Western World is of course the terrorist attacks against New York’s World Trade Center in 2001 for its sudden and unexpected violence that was both perceived literally and symbolically. However, governmental armies also use this strategy to actively oppress a given population. That was thus the case of the Serbian army over the Bosnian population during the same Yougaslavian wars evoked above, and that also constitutes the daily life of the Palestinian population who has to suffer from the Israel Defense Forces’ domination.
This project has been posted by Lebbeus Woods on his blog a year and half ago and it certainly catch my interest for walls, borders and labyrinth. As a matter of fact, this project gathers those three typologies in one as a poetical response to the Bosnian war of 1992-93.
Lebbeus Woods imagines this monumental wall all around Bosnia which does not forbid its entry but rather make it more difficult by the experience of this labyrinth. He narrates how this giant edifice would ultimately becomes a whole city (probably started by people who never found the exit).
His text can be read on his blog but another explanatory paragraph deserve attention when Woods answers to a criticism of a comment posted on it: Continue reading