On this day in 1996, the “Siege of Sarajevo” was officially terminated after nearly four years of constant attack. It became the longest siege in the history of modern warfare.
In March 1992, a multiethnic alliance declared their independence from Yugoslavia, establishing the nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. On April, 5, 1992, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic ordered 18,000 soldiers to encircle the capital city. The nationalists, who wanted one Serbian state under their control, attacked Sarajevo with a dizzying array of weapons, including artillery, mortars, tanks, heavy machine-guns, rocket launchers, and sniper rifles. It did not take long for every building in the city to be either damaged or destroyed, but the human toll was even more devastating. Approximately 10,000 people were either killed or went missing, including 1500 children. As the Serbs advanced, they launched a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” in which they sought to eliminate the Muslim population with mass executions. In the end, almost a quarter million Muslims were systematically murdered.
At first, the international community did little to intervene. Finally, the atrocities were too horrific to ignore, prompting NATO air forces to strike Serb targets in the late summer of 1995. In November, leaders from both sides came to the negotiation table in Dayton, Ohio. After three weeks of talks, a peace agreement was reached. Milosevec agreed that the Serbs would hand control of five Sarajevo suburbs to the Muslims and Croats. Before evacuating one neighborhood, Serb residents burned down a nursery and several stores. When the final Serbian forces withdrew from the area in February 1995, Bosnian authorities officially declared an end to hostilities.
Sadly, divisions of race, class, and nationality are as old as humanity. In the days of the Apostle Paul, a system of walls in Herod’s Temple separated groups, creating inequalities and hostilities. The walls divided priests from the Levites, Levites from the rabble, men from women, Jews from non-Jews. The “middle wall” that Paul mentions in Ephesians 2:14 (and translated as the “dividing wall of hostility” in some versions) refers to a five-foot marble wall spanning the Gentile court. In 1871, an inscription was found on part of the wall which read that any foreigners who passed through would be responsible for their subsequent death.
Ultimately, it was not brick and mortar that divided these groups, but enmity in the heart. A peace conference would not be able to knock down the walls; an interfaith dialogue could not provide the key to open the gates. Racism and all the other “-isms” in the world are rooted in hatred and hatred is a spiritual problem. Only Christ can solve spiritual problems. He did not come to broker peace; He came as peace to bring sinners to God and reconciliation between peoples. In fact, the New Testament word for “peace” means “to join together.”
As an earthly carpenter, Jesus was in the building business. Now He is in the demolition business, using His cross as a hammer to break down walls of separation.