No one is really sure when this story began but it did happen and many people suffered. What’s more important is that many people suffered completely needlessly. Although the catastrophe which took place was most likely unavoidable, the human loss of life and suffering was, for the most part unnecessary. The people, however, didn’t believe that something like this could ever happen to them as many Canadians don’t believe that bad things can happen in their lives. This is why many people don’t take precautions to ensure that their families are safe. We all pay utmost attention to safety in our jobs while driving and while raising our children. There are however some aspects of our lives that we just don’t want to hear about. We all believe that our big government will fix any sort of larger disasters, keep invaders off our front doorstep and keep us all safe. It’s almost as if past a certain point, we the people, lose any semblance of self-reliance, self-pride and most of all, independence.


The year was 1980 in a European nation known at that time as Yugoslavia. In May of that year, a leader by the name of Broz Tito died as a result of complications from having his leg amputated. His death was a great loss to Yugoslavia. Tito’s funeral was, by attendance, the largest state funeral in history. Attendees included four kings, 31 presidents, 6 princes, 22 prime ministers and 47 ministers of foreign affairs. This concentration of dignitaries was unmatched until the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 and the memorial of Nelson Mandela in 2013. Clearly, this was a man who commanded respect.

Tito in 1971

Shortly after Tito’s death, old problems began to resurface in Yugoslavia. Nationalistic and patriotic movements began to gain speed and by the time the Berlin wall fell in East Germany, Yugoslavia’s future was hanging in the balance. One of the places which suffered the most damage was the city of Sarajevo.

In the 1980’s this city was ranked as one of the most modern in the world and in fact, hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. All equipment and facilities were state-of-the-art at the time, designed by the best engineers and build by the best workers of the time. Canada ranked eighth overall with 2 Gold medals, 1 Silver, and 1 Bronze. Only four short years later, the Olympics were held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


In early April 1992 however, the situation in Sarajevo was very different. Ethnic groups within Yugoslavia’s borders demanded autonomy and slowly but surely, Yugoslavia began to fall apart. The city of Sarajevo became surrounded, initially by Yugoslav People’s Army and eventually by the Army of Republika Srpska. The siege began in April 1992 and lasted until 29th February 1996. This was the longest siege in modern warfare. It lasted three times longer than the Battle of Stalingrad and one year longer than the Siege of Leningrad in the Second World War. During the siege, the residents of Sarajevo had no access to basic human needs. The nation’s logistical and delivery network collapsed and nothing and no one was allowed to leave the city. There were no supplies going in and no wounded going out. Soon, playgrounds and soccer fields were turned into graveyards and trees and bushes were used up for fuel. Hospitals were overcrowded and people began dying in the streets not only from sniper fire but also from diseases due to lack of proper hygiene. At the end of this horrible tragedy, there were approximately five-and-a-half thousand civilians dead as well as thousands of soldiers.


Throughout the nineties, Sarajevo received excessive news coverage and many stories, as well as movies were produced about this conflict. An excellent film called “Shot Through The Heart” directed by David Attwood, clearly shows how “unbelievable” it seemed to the residents of Sarajevo and other cities that something very terrible was about to happen. But the tell-tale signs were there. Even when everyone saw the troops moving into position, few took precautions and began thinking about their survival. Many did see what was coming and most of those people left. Many went to Austria, Germany and even Canada and the U.S. But many didn’t. They buried their heads in the sand and figured all was well. This can’t happen here…..

So next time someone says that something “like that” whatever “that” maybe can’t happen here, take a good look. Look at the picture of Sarajevo during this terrible conflict. You will see buildings, roads, and cars on fire. This means that there were highly educated people who build all of that infrastructure. And there were highly educated businessmen who imported the cars. There were schools and universities which sponsored foreign students. There were policemen, firefighters, hospitals and emergency services. On top of all of that, Yugoslavia was a very multi-cultural nation long before multiculturalism became a household word in Canada. And…they were good enough to host the Olympics…four years prior to us. So what makes “them” so different from us? What makes everyone so sure that nothing like that could happen here…?

Look carefully. In every conflict, you can see infrastructure built by workers and highly educated engineers. They had schools and universities business people and all the services that we take for granted.


Most human suffering during disasters can be prevented. Many times we can even see a disaster coming and leave the area before it strikes. The worst attitude, however, is the thought that it will never happen to you. It is this attitude that kills pilots, outdoors men, soldiers and even those who like to indulge in extreme sports. It is this attitude which kills businesses, causes accidents on our highways and even destroys relationships. Our world is too complicated for us to simply give up our interest in what is going on around the world. We have to understand that when we turn on the CBC evening news, what we see is not necessarily “the truth” but an endless quest for ratings. This means that in order to prepare effectively, we must always “look behind the curtain” and be careful whose information we buy. And in the end…don’t ever say “That couldn’t happen here…”

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