“Many people didn’t run at all” – A little about photojournalist Kevin Weaver during the Siege of Sarajevo.

Richard Maddox

AT FIRST GLANCE it’s an ordinary photograph, one that could be taken in any almost any city.

People are moving along a crowded street. Those in the foreground are crossing an intersection. Two men are running towards the spot where the photographer is, when a third seems to smile as they run in front of him.

Perhaps the traffic lights have changed, vehicles are about to move and they are trying to get across at the last moment.

But slowly you notice that there are few vehicles. That there is only one woman in the picture and many of the men standing in groups appear to be watching for something.

This is the centre of Sarajevo an ethnically diverse city in a newly independent state.

The domed building in the centre of the frame houses the Eternal Flame, a memorial to  the fighters of the Bosnian-Herzegovinan, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian brigades of the Yugoslav Army and the Sarajevan patriots Serbs, Muslims and Croats who were killed during the Second World War.

The founding of Bosnia and Herzegovina followed the death of Josip Broz, often known as ‘Tito’, his nomme de guerre after the Communist party was outlawed in Yugoslavia in 1920.

During the Second World War he was the leader of  the National Liberation Army, partisan leader.

The war in Yugoslavia – like that almost 50 years later – was extremely complex and brutal.

More than a decade earlier he became president of Yugoslavia. It is estimated that 1.7 million people died in Yugoslavia between 1941 and 1945 – 1 million of which were the result of different Yugoslav factions with varying allegiances killing each other. (1) 

Until his death in 1980, Tito managed to hold six different aspiring republics together in a fragile Communist federation, one where he was able to keep the country – unlike the other Communist European states away from Soviet dominance.

But the 1990s saw growing tension within the country culminating in the break-up and then disintegration of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia.

But by the time that Weaver made this image in June 1992 the unity of the war years was shattered.

The Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina had gained independence in March 1992 and Sarajevo – the place where the spark that became the First World War and now the Republic’s capital city – was besieged a month later; first by the Yugoslav Peoples Army (JNA) and then – after that force was formally disbanded in May 1992 – by the Army of the Republika Srpska (VRS) the military arm of a self-proclaimed Serbian Republic within the boundaries of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Republika Srpska had been proclaimed in January 1992 and the siege of Sarajevo was an attempt to divide the city and establish a Serbian administration there.

In December 1995, the Dayton Peace Accord – also known as the Dayton Agreement – would recognise both the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina as separate self-governing regions.

The siege of Sarajevo would last for 1425 days – almost four years – and would see the deaths of more than 10,000 residents.

Most died under shell fire or at the hands of snipers as they went about their daily business of providing for themselves and their families under the very real privations of curtailing of electricity, gas and water supplies as well as food shortages.

The wheeled rubbish containers dotted in the along the street provided both a source of food or items that could be sold for those in desperate need as well as giving some protection from snipers.

In other places burnt out cars, buses or stacks of shipping containers would serve as shields against the gunmen. (2) (3) 


I have been very fortunate to be able to correspond with Kevin about the image and how he came to make it.

These are his recollections…

I took the image in late June 1992, roughly a week before I was shot and wounded near the airport in Sarajevo.

The view is of Marshal Tito Street [Maršala Tita] very close to where Alija Izebegovic (the Bosnian president) was resident during the war. The street is the main artery into the city and this spot was very busy as it was near the  

The snipers in that area were very active that day due to it being a very busy area near the main food market and the main artery into town.

I felt slightly uneasy standing waiting for someone to risk the roulette of running across this street where 3 or 4 bullets were fired at pedestrians every 2 or 3 minutes. This, was known as ambulance chasing to journalists as you were waiting for people to die basically.

Many people didn’t run at all.

By this time the war had been going on for three months and around Sarajevo the siege lines had solidified, trapping 400,000 within the city.

Many had become hardened to the dangers of sniper fire.

The eerie whizz of bullets punctuated the heat of the early afternoon and I myself had just entered Sarajevo and begun to explore the hellish streets of downtown Sarajevo, discovering which were out of sight of the Serb snipers in the hills and high apartments over looking the city.

Just an hour earlier I had been sniped at.

I had been near the Muzej Sarajevo 1878 – 1919 (the 1878 – 1919 Museum) on the river Miljacka. The museum is on the spot where Gavrilo Princip had assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand the heir of the Austro-Hungarian throne and was basically where the First World War started .

It had been a scary yet exhilarating feeling, being shot at and surviving.

My two journalist companions – Pierre Alozie, a Franco-Nigerian French freelance photographer and Javier Espenoza (Spanish Radio) – giggled and gasped for breath in the shelter of some trees we’d dashed to.

Now I was watching others trying to evade the snipers in a macabre dance of death. 

I shot this on 35mm black and white film at around 1/125 or  1/250 of a second to freeze the action, but also to have some movement blur. (4) 


On 29 June 1992 Serbian forces were locked in a battle with UN troops who were attempting to take control in order to allow the first aid shipments – ten tons of supplies aboard a French military transport aircraft – to be flown into the city since the siege had started almost three months previously. (5) 

Kevin Weaver and French journalist Jean Hatzfeld were on their way to cover that event when their vehicle came under sniper attack.

As a result of the attack Jean Hatzfeld had to have a leg amputated. A number of other news reporters were also injured. (6) 

Kevin injuries were such that he became the first journalist to be MEDEVACED (medically evacuated) by the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) that had been sent to Bosnia and Herzegovina to support humanitarian relief, as well as to monitor ‘No Fly Zones’ and UNPROFOR ‘Safe Areas’ – the towns of Bihać, Gorazde, Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Tuzla and Žepa which were encircled by Bosnian forces and were the UN forces were to disarm the defenders, thereby neutralising the resistance peacefully.

According to his website, Weaver’s injury marked ‘the beginning of a love-hate relationship with the Balkans that was to consume me for the next ten years‘.(7) 

It was not unknown for members of the press to be deliberately targeted, simply for doing their job.  David Kaplan of ABC News was shot by snipers on his first day in the city on 13 August 1992.

Driving in a car clearly marked ‘TV’, the bullet that killed him penetrated the rear of the vehicle between the two letters.(8) 

Nineteen journalists were killed in the war that lasted until the US-brokered talks resulted in the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina – also known as the Dayton Agreement or the Dayton Peace Accords – being signed in Paris, on 14 December 1995. (9) 

But the war still simmers on below the surface with one UN document describing it as a ‘de facto frozen conflict’. (10) 

Virtually any place where people could be found – schools, market places, homes – were targeted by snipers, or by tanks, artillery or mortar fire.

Estimates of total casualties range from 90,000 to 300,000.(11) 

Like many journalists, Kevin returned and continued to document the war and its aftermath.

He covered the proceedings of the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, a series of court trials concerned with war crimes committed during the conflict as well as the opening of the mass graves and the subsequent DNA identification efforts to name the dead.

He also photographed the spot where he was wounded.(12) 

The image shows an abandoned and war-blasted house with inscription daubed on its white wall.

It reads ‘WELCOME TO SARAJEVO’.

More information

A little about the history of Yugoslavia can be found at https://www.worldatlas.com/geography/yugoslavia.html

An introduction to the role of the Yugoslav National Army during the conflict has been described at https://www.rferl.org/a/did-the-army-that-gave-birth-to-yugoslavia-also-destroy-it-/29326024.html

A view on the impact of the conflict on war reporting can be seen at https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/4/19/how-the-siege-of-sarajevo-changed-journalism

The background to UNPROFOR and its operations is available at https://peacekeeping.un.org/sites/default/files/past/unprof_b.htm

Information on the UN Safe Areas can be found at https://sites.tufts.edu/reinventingpeace/2015/07/21/20-year-anniversary-of-the-end-of-safe-haven-policy-in-bosnia/

A little about life in the siege and the Tunnel of Hope is at https://www.travel-tramp.com/sarajevo-city-siege/

IWM has a number of images of the Bosnian Civil War made by Kevin Weaver. Search https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/search?query=Bosnia+AND+KEVIN+AND+WEAVER&pageSize=60&media-records=records-with-media&style=list for more details.

Following the Dayton Agreement, NATO established a multi-national Implementation Force (IFOR) with an operational mandate of 12 months. IFOR was succeeded by NATO’s Stabilisation Force (SFOR).

This in turn was replaced in 2004 by EUFOR, a peace-keeping force drawn from European Union military elements. See https://www.euforbih.org/index.php/about-eufor  and https://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/dec/02/eu.politics1 for more information. More than a quarter of a century after the Dayton Agreement the threat of more conflict in the region is still very real. The link at  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/02/bosnia-is-in-danger-of-breaking-up-warns-eus-top-official-in-the-state has more details.

Details of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia and it work can be seen at https://www.icty.org/

Kevin now describes himself as ‘a former photojournalist’ and has become a visual artist working in sculpture, paint and light installations. His Bosnian experiences have and much of his photography has provided inspiration for his artworks. Kevin’s website is at http://kevinweaver.co.uk/

Note of thanks

Sincere and grateful thanks are due to Kevin for the description how the image came to be made, and to Pierre Alozie for his help. A little about Pierre and his work is at https://www.magicmonkeys.net/about/

Sources

(1) https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwtwo/partisan_fighters_01.shtml – retrieved 27 October 2021

(2)  https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205020584 – retrieved 27 October 2021

(3) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205020572  – retrieved 27 October 2021

(4) Extracts from email correspondents with the author – October 2021.

(5) https://web.archive.org/web/20140302163248/http://www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/comexpert/ANX/VI-01.htm#II.C.29 – retrieved 27 October 2021

(6) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03064229208535470?journalCode=rioc20 – retrieved 27 October 2021

(7) http://kevinweaver.co.uk/marks-of-war-bosnia/ – retrieved 27 October 2021

(8) https://opcofamerica.org/dateline-1990s-sarajevo-scant-rations-abundant-black-humor/ – retrieved 27 October 2021

(9) https://cpj.org/data/killed/europe/bosnia/?status=Killed&motiveConfirmed%5B%5D=Confirmed&type%5B%5D=Journalist&cc_fips%5B%5D=BK&start_year=1992&end_year=2021&group_by=location – retrieved 27 October 2021

(10)  https://www.un.org/press/en/2021/sc14511.doc.htm – retrieved 27 October 2021

(11) https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2012/04/20-years-since-the-bosnian-war/100278/ – retrieved 27 October 2021

(12) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205020585 – retrieved 27 October 2021


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