BUILDING THE CENTAURUS// 06. 1994. • ALMA SULJEVIC// SCULPTOR
ORAL HISTORY - INTERVIEW
ORAL HISTORY - TRANSCRIPT
BUILDING THE CENTAURUS
‘Actually, just about the whole summer I was working on the idea. I was meeting with people who had crossed over from Grbavica to our side and when we asked them what it was that angered the chetniks the most, they said it was the trams. Man, and at that moment I thought: God, if only I could take a tram and drive it. I was thinking about how it would feel to be a tram driver in that deserted city, where there’s not even a dog on the streets. And I don’t even know how to ride a bike. Thanks to some of my friends’ connections, and probably thanks to the fact that they trusted me just as I was then, I was given that tram that burned up over by the Presidency on the 18th of May, when the President was kidnapped in Lukavica. You remember that it stayed there untouched until ‘94, when they cleared off all the tracks in Sarajevo. Although the grass was growing and those weeds were growing about the tracks, it was a pure piece of art, and passing over that bridge where there were few passersby, somehow I looked at that streetcar with desire. They generously gave it to me. They said, ‘here, choose whichever one you want’. And because it was technically, the easiest for me to make a sculpture out of, I still decided upon that one. We made use of the first day on the UNPROFOR trucks they had rotational welding machines and hoists, so we lifted the tram with those trucks. I remember one Russian soldier who had had already done four years of army service in Sarajevo. He could hardly wait to return to his hometown of Kolhoz, because his girlfriend, Vanja, was waiting for him, and they were going to get married. I will never forget how that Russian worked with so much love as he helped us turn the tram onto its back, and he was constantly complaining about how he couldn’t work anymore because of those chetniks’ snipers.’
• Kresimir Zubak becomes president of the Federation of BH. The session of the Constituent Assembly of BiH is completed.
• Amendment to the indictment against criminals in the city changes the charge from "opposition to authority" to "military rebellion". Military prosecutor Ismet Mehic says this is intended to calm tensions in the city.
• A fashion show, "Back to No Future," is held.
• The BiH delegation will not go to Geneva for peace negotiations because the Bosnian Serbs have not retreated 3 km from Gorazde.
• The Writers' Union of Russia gives the "Mihail Solohov" prize to Radovan Karadzic for his poetic works.
• Bob Dole, the Republican leader in the U.S., arrives in Sarajevo.
• Peace negotiations in Geneva: cease-fire signed.
• Sarajevans get water during the night, due to reduced power consumption.
• A BiH mountaineering expedition headed by Muhamed Gafic climbs Mont Blanc on June 8th, at 3pm.
• U.S. Congress opposition to Clinton: Congress urges the President to unilaterally lift the arms embargo on Bosnia.
• Larry Hollingworth, a British aid worker, is knighted. He has worked completely alone, without protection, walking in front of the first trucks in convoys with humanitarian aid.
• Inside the building of the burnt out National Library Mozart's "Requiem" is performed. Conducted by Zubin Mehta, Carreras sings to pay tribute to the fallen people of Sarajevo and those killed across the country.
• Sniper incidents occurr- a passenger is injured in a tram near the hotel "Holiday Inn". A UN APC, which is supposed to protect the tram, did not react retreated. A second UN APC arrives to shelter the tram.
• Sculptor Alma Suljevic builds "Centaurs" from the burnt out shells of trams.
• Haris Silajdzic is appointed President of the Federation BiH; his deputy is Jadranko Prlic, who represents Croats.
• Sarajevans attend foreign language courses. The "Interlingua" school operates throughout the siege.
• NATO is ready to send 50,000 troops to implement the agreement if an agreement is reached in Geneva.
• The Humanitarian Organization "Marie Stopes International" opens to counsel for "post-traumatic stress disorder." Based on their votes, most women choose aerobics as their treatment.
The besieged city defends itself by culture and thus survives. Groups and individuals create whatever they used to create before the siege In impossible circumstances they produce films, write books, publish newspapers, produce radio programs, design postcards, stage exhibitions, performances, make blueprints for rebuilding the city, found new banks, organize fashion shows, shoot photographs, celebrate holidays, put on make up... Sarajevo is the city of the future and of the life in the post-cataclysm. In it on the ruins of the old civilization a new one is sprouting, an alternative one, composed of remains of urban elements Sarajevo lives a life of futuristic comics and science fiction movies.
Sarajevo's Art and Philosophy of Survival
Two and half years into war our city has stabilized. We have created a new city, new way of life and new philosophy of living in post-cataclysm environment. 2 000 shells daily brought destruction, theft, black market, death. The war destructed hardware of civilization – buildings, water, electricity, gas lines. But Sarajevo has not died. Under this destruction there is a thin line of purity. People work in spite of terror and nothingness to retain essential elements of this society and community.
We have survived so far because we integrated humour and innovation into every part of our life. The essentials of humanity have distilled into the obvious, such as food and water, and more subtly, community and art. Art significantly improved our spiritual strength, even in the worst imaginable conditions. All artistic forms, models, techniques, the new and the old, were important during all levels of survival, even the most fundamental. Creativity provided us with mental freedom, which in turn encouraged the spirit of tolerance and multiculturalism. With this renewed ethical approach towards living, our minds cleared and we once again felt like human beings capable of a free flow of emotions. Sarajevo is an example of freedom in process. Our ability to exit out of nothing is a mirror image to Steven Hawking's physical theory – the disintegration of stars creates the appearance of nothingness, but within this nothingness is a black hole, an exit.
The siege Sarajevo experienced will happen elsewhere in the world during the 21st century. Sarajevo is a hopeful example for the future, a self contained model of how an urban city anywhere can survive a modern cataclysm. The knowledge and skills accumulated during the siege has the potential to inspire and prepare the world for the 21st century.
Everything is possible. Subsisting on the bare necessities, Sarajevo no longer uses pesticides or creates much pollution. We are realizing America's New Age objectives of health, ecology, agricultural awareness, recycling, and self-sufficiency. But the perfect model of survival can only be realized through the support of the international community. Sarajevo needs the technology, education, and cultural information from rest of the world. And the world needs Sarajevo's experience and knowledge. We are all ready for the isolation to end and for this exchange to take place.
The Baby Universe Festival
Summer 1994, Sarajevo
During the “One Ride for Sarajevo” manifestation some European cities sold transportation tickets whose proceeds went into a fund for the reconstruction of the Sarajevo transportation system. During the presentation of the same project in Sarajevo sculptures were made out of destroyed streetcars depicting fighting centaurs. They were supposed to move along the tracks. However, the UNPROFOR could not guarantee their safety, so they were quickly removed to a safer place.