Thirty years ago, the XIV Olympic Winter Games were held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, a momentous opportunity for the Eastern European nation to emerge from the shadow of two World Wars — and a Cold one.
"This Serbian Austrian-Turkish town is about to become known for something besides the assassination of the Austrian archduke and the igniting of World War I. That something is the 1984 Winter Olympics," read the Christian Science Monitor in 1981. At the time the Olympics were seen as a chance to revitalize the city and, similar to Sochi, make it more appealing as a tourist destination.
The Games, the first since the boycotted Moscow Summer Olympics, were wildly popular. In March 1982, Ahmed Karabegović, the secretary general of the Sarajevo Olympic Organizing Committees told Sports Illustrated that, last December:
A special referendum was held in which Sarajevans voted on whether to give a percentage of their salaries—"a self-contribution" of 2% over four years—to underwrite part of the cost of the Games. No less than 89% of eligible voters turned out, says Karabegović, and of them 96% voted yes. "It's one thing to talk in favor of something," he says, "but it is quite different to actually give money out of your pocket."
By 1992, the Yugoslavian Federation broke up, triggering a three-year civil war between Bosnia's Muslims, Serbs and Croats. The 44-month Siege of Sarajevo killed 11,000 people and was the longest siege of a capital city in modern history. The shining new city was left in ruins.
Along with much of the rest of Sarjevo, the Olympic Village and Zetra stadium were early shelling targets of the Serbs, who fought against the Muslim-Croat alliance.
From the Associated Press:
Making the most of the latest cease-fire around their city, Sarajevans stroll across a main city square inlaid with an Olympic emblem, Sunday, Feb. 13, 1994. Despite the relative calm, and bright but cold winter weather, people here are recalling happier times past this weekend as the Lillehammer Winter Olympics get under way. Ten years ago, Sarajevo was abuzz as it hosted the 1984 winter games.
Scott Hamilton soared to a figure skating gold medal under the snowflake-shaped roof of Zetra, a new $20 million indoor arena where Vladislav Tretiak, the legendary Soviet goaltender, earned his fourth gold medal in his Olympic finale.
As a major target of Serbian artillery, Zetra is a burned-out shell. It is surrounded by graves.
After the war Sarajevo rebuilt the stadium with help from the International Olympic Committee. In 1997, U2 performed in the stadium.
But many of the Olympic landmarks are still in disrepair.
Despite the tragedies to follow, the Olympics, which were suppose to revitalize the country, are still a source of pride. According to this AP photo credit, "Sarajevans cherish the memories of the Olympic Games held here and each year celebrate the anniversary of the games."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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