Herald education writer speaks to Mak Muranović, a Sarajevo tour guide teaching visitors about the history of his city, the truth about genocide, and the power of art.

You were a child when the Siege of Sarajevo started, but spent much of your early life away from the city. Can you tell us a little about your experiences?

I was two years old when the Siege of Sarajevo started. My brother was eleven and my parents were 39 years old. Not just our family, but the whole society in Sarajevo, didn’t think the war would start because we were living for 74 years together with a mix of nations, but unfortunately it started on the 6th of April 1992. Me and my family were stuck in the siege. My father had to immediately join the army because he was more than 16 and a male while me, my mum and brother were hiding in the basement of our building. My father also had to go every second day with his bicycle from one side of the city to another and to cross sniper alley in order to get water for us from the local brewery. That’s why my brother has some PTSD – he was always watching his father going for water and didn’t know if he was going to come back. Two months after the Siege of Sarajevo started, me, my mum and my brother were able to escape with the convoys of buses that were going out. We travelled to Kaštel Gomilica, which is 30-40km from Split in Croatia, and then I stayed for one month in a refugee camp. Later on I was smuggled by my cousins into Switzerland, to a city called Neuchâtel, where I stayed for six years. After we came back from Switzerland my parents divorced because my father had really serious PTSD, so in the end I saw my father for just seven days after the war.

What was it like to come back to Sarajevo after all of that?

We came back three years after the war, in 1998. Two people were living in our flat and our bedroom was completely bombed from a grenade. I continued with the third year of primary school. We didn’t have any heating or anything. Still there were clashes between the different ethnicities, because I used to live on the main line that divides the two entities [Federation Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska] in Sarajevo and it was a really tough time. We had a small hill where in winter the kids would go there with the slides – one day we came and there were three bombs there, probably by some of the Bosnian Serbs, so you could see the results of the war even in 1998.

Read more: Bosnian genocide: Srebrenica massacre survivors speak out

You own and operate a tour guiding company for visitors to Sarajevo. Clearly there are many visitors who want to learn about the history of the war, even if they are on holiday. Why do you think it’s important to teach them?

Yes, I own a touring company that has been operating for the last five years, since 2018, named Art & Tours Sarajevo. I was the founder of the company. It is extremely important to include the Roses of Sarajevo tour, which is a war tour, a siege tour, of 1992-1995, and of course including the Tunnel of Hope museum, because the tunnel is the best representation of the city, and it is a message that has to be shared all around the world: that people were stuck in a siege and actually managed to find a solution in order to save themselves. Srebrenica is even more important because the international community was watching and saying that it would be a safe zone, but in the end they just gave people into the hands of the enemy, who killed 8372 men. In order to not repeat that we are trying to share the message and bring people to this place. In my opinion it should be studied in all educational systems as the biggest and bloodiest massacre in Europe after the Second World War.

Read more: War Childhood Museum in Sarajevo: What it can teach us

Your company does more than war tours, which is made clear by the name – Art and Tours Sarajevo. What is the idea behind that dual focus?

It was on purpose that I called it Art and Tours Sarajevo, not Sarajevo Tours, or Info Tours or anything like that, because I was trying to do something positive – to put some colour into this dark history that we have. Our main source of tourism is war tourism and of course when we do the tours we have to connect the history, but we are also trying to connect the art with that history, and to say that the art did not die during the time of the war: it was still alive. I think it’s really important because when people come to Sarajevo for a vacation you can’t just bomb them with all of this dark history. We are also trying to remember our oldest art, which is copper art, connecting with the different empires ruling here throughout history. We are all local artists and we are also trying to highlight many murals with big political messages or historical messages about our country and our city. In all this darkness we are trying to bring some colour.