Tuzla takes times to recall victims of 1995 mortar fire
TUZLA, Bosnia and Herzegovina — On Sunday evening the street life of downtown Tuzla stood still — just as it did eight years ago — as hundreds of people paid their respects to 71 young victims killed by a mortar round fired by Serb forces on May 25, 1995.
Only the strains of classical music filled the silence as city and regional officials walked to the site where the mortar shell hit, and laid flowers.
Family members and friends of those killed followed, as did many who never knew the victims. For an hour the Kapija square was blocked by people who came to pay their respects.
Although it has been eight years since the attack, as many people showed up for this annual ceremony as did during the first years, and many more followed events on their TV screens.
Near the end of the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, the Kapija square in Tuzla — which had been declared a U.N. “safe area” — was a popular gathering place for the city’s multi-ethnic youth who, despite the ongoing war, would go out in the evening.
Accustomed to occasional shellings, they ignored a mortar that hit nearby 30 minutes earlier, and continued chatting and relaxing.
Then another round fired from the same spot, a Serb position on nearby Ozren mountain, hit the square at 8:55 p.m., ending the chatter and creating the most horrific sight in the city’s recent history.
The average age of those killed was only 21, and their ethnic mix reflected the composition of the city’s population.
Most of the dead Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox Christians were buried together in one cemetery, their tombstones of the same style. Out of fear of more shelling, the funeral was held at night.
Several years later a shield of Tuzla was placed to mark the spot where the mortar hit. The words of a well-known Bosnian poet from the previous century, Mak Dizdar, were etched on the wall of a nearby building:
“You do not live here only to live. You die to live here.”
After Sunday’s ceremony ended, the peers of the slain and those who are now the same age as the victims were when they died resumed their evening activities, walking, chatting, sitting in cafes and sipping drinks.