Skip to main content

Tragic 'Romeo and Juliet' offers Bosnia hope

By Nic Robertson, CNN
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Thu April 5, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bosnia marks 20th anniversary of the outbreak of the war fought largely on ethnic grounds
  • Message of peace from parents of Sarajevo's 'Romeo and Juliet'
  • 'Romeo and Juliet' were a Serb man and Muslim woman who died in each other's arms trying to escape Sarajevo
  • Both sets of parents say it is time for those still harboring hate to start living without prejudice

Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- Two families scarred by the Bosnian war -- and joined by the memories of a couple who dared to love across the ethnic divide -- have the same message of peace as the nation marks the 20th anniversary of the conflict.

In Sarajevo, Zijah and Nermina Ismic live in a plush apartment scattered with photos and a huge painting of their daughter Admira.

Half-a-day's drive away in a Serbian village, Radmila Birkic lives in a comfortable home where the centerpiece is a TV stand converted into a photo frame of her smiling son, Bosko Brkic with Admira.

Bosko was Serbian, Admira was Muslim. They were childhood sweethearts before the war ripped Bosnia apart.

Together, they tried to escape the besieged city of Sarajevo but were shot as they tried to cross the Vrbanja Bridge, and died in each other's arms.

As their bodies lay together for eight days -- with no one able to safely retrieve them -- they became known as the "Romeo and Juliet of Sarajevo."

Today they are in Sarajevo's Lion cemetery still lying together, a symbol that defies the hatred of the ethnically charged war, and their parents have remained close friends.

See these amazing photos from the war

Both sets of parents said they blame the politicians, not the soldiers, for their loss, and both recognize ethnic resentment can simmer beneath Bosnian society

Jolie film shows horrors of Bosnian war

But they also said the time has come for those still harboring hate to start living without prejudice.

In Djunis, a small village 14 kilometers from Krusevac in Serbia, Radmila, a widow since before the war, lives with her son, Bane. She is recovering from a stroke and walks with a crutch.

Despite the passing of 20 years she remembers the deaths as if they were yesterday and photos of Bosko and Admira dominate her home.

The photos show the couple as teens learning to love and as adults in each other's arms.

They had been together for nine years when they were killed on May 18, 1993, both age 25.

In Sarajevo, retired mechanic Zijah and Nermina live with their daughter Amela in a new apartment block -- part of the construction program that has disguised many of the landmarks of the three-year siege.

Just like Radmila, the home has photos of their children throughout.

When they talk about their loss they are at pains to remember all 11,541 killed during the siege.

As Sarajevo rebuilds it is also trying to move on from the war. A plaque was erected on Vrbanja Bridge to commemorate victims of the war but amid the bustle most locals just walk past it.

The bullet-pocked walls are being pulled down. They have been replaced by new apartment buildings, American fast food shops and a 20-story tower.

Many people in the city now were born after the war and they are keen to look forward. For many that also means not talking about the war.

If they learn the lessons from their city's Romeo and Juliet the future could be bright.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.
ADVERTISEMENT