In December 2009, the train between Sarajevo and Belgrade resumed service for the first time since the war began. Its last trip prior to this was in 1992. The tickets are handwritten. A round trip journey to the Serbian capital costs about 30 euros, a bargain compared to the plane that costs 6 times as much. The train consists of 3 passenger coaches, one from Serbia, the Republika Srpska of Bosnia and Bosnia and Herzegovina respectively. The railway between Sarajevo and Belgrade was one of the three main traditional lines: from Belgrade to Zagreb, Ljubljana and then Europe. The other routes were from Belgrade to the south, towards Skopje and Greece, or via Sofia to Istanbul and the Middle East.
The siege of Sarajevo abruptly interrupted the connection with Belgrade and this journey was turned into a one-way trip to a future as a refugee.
Progressively other railways, roads, connections and relations became extinct. People were forced to live in territories that were more and more confined, inside increasingly tight borders. Both physical and psychological contact came to a halt, although this schism was not complete until the isolation became a siege.
Now, after 18 years, this train once again connects the two capitals. The stops on the route have been rehabilitated: one is Sarajevo’s Central Station, which was severely damaged during the war.
Despite this, it’s a long and uncomfortable trip since it takes more than 8 hours to go 480 km from Sarajevo to Belgrade and viceversa. There are 2 passport controls at the borders and 4 changes of locomotive. In spite of all this, it is a railroad linking these 3 States, marking the territory like a long iron scar that looks almost completely healed. While this iron scar is a sign of the evident strife it is also a strong message of hope for all people of the Balkans.
The railway was a symbol of the development of socialist Yugoslavia more than anything else. The stops along the line were the most important for this country, and you can trace it back through the construction of this railway line.Travelling by train, as it is less expensive than by road, is re-gaining popularity. Workers and students are using it to reach their places of work and study in the two capitals. The Balkans and the former Yugoslavia, in the heart of Europe, but at the periphery of the European Union is going through a period of marked contradictions and unresolved issues but at the same time, there are signs of peace and coexistence.
The reactivation of the railway gave a strong incentive and a new reason for cohesion in a region where political divisions, ethnic and religious, are still extremely evident and tangible. On the same carriage, you can see Muslims, Orthodox, Catholics, Croats, Serbs, and Bosnians travelling. The forced isolation could be coming to an end. It’s time to get on board.
Giuseppe Chiantera travelled through this railway for the project The Iron Scar.