Lonely Planet Writer

Children's mementos from Bosnian conflict touring the country to help heal wounds

An exhibition of mementos kept by children growing up during the 1990s Bosnian War is currently touring Bosnia, and there are hopes that a permanent Museum of Wartime Childhood can be established in the capital Sarajevo.

Screenshot from "How do you make a museum?" War Childhood.
Screenshot from “How do you make a museum?” War Childhood. Image by Screengrab from YouTube

The project was started by Jasminko Halilovic, a 27-year-old who grew up in Bosnia during the war. In 2003 he published a book called War Childhood that collected together the experiences of Bosnian children during the 1990s war. Soon afterwards he came up with the idea to collect together young people’s mementoes from the war in a museum. “Many people preserve wartime items, they still connect memories from the war with these objects and have an urge to share their experience and that’s where the idea for the museum came from,” Halilovic said. He found that when people donate their items to the museum, “they would break down in tears but they were the kind of tears you shed when you are over the past and ready to start over.”

The collection now has more than 2,800 exhibits, including toys, photographs, diaries and humanitarian food packaging, as well as over 70 hours of video showing Bosnians describing their experiences of childhood during the war. One Sarajevo resident called Mela, who was eight when the siege of Sarajevo started in 1992 donated her old ballet shoes to the collection. She said: “This museum is an opportunity for us, who were children during the Bosnian war, to recall our lives during wartime without any kind of nationalist bias or hatred. We were too young to know anything about the political situation at that time… so we can just share the truth about the war and our personal experience.”

Another woman called Asmira was three when her family was expelled from the town of Bratunac. Of the barbie doll that she donated to the museum she said: “I took care of her as if she were sacred. She always slept in a shoe box. Barbie did not have a name. When I played with her, she was selling food, sewing up casualties’ wounds or healing sick people. Later I became a doctor, too.”