Love Amidst Conflict: The Tragic Tale of Sarajevo’s Romeo and Juliet, 1993

In the heart of the brutal Siege of Sarajevo, a city plagued by death and despair during the Yugoslav Wars, a story of undying love emerged, capturing the hearts of people worldwide. It was the tale of Bosko Brkic and Admira Ismic, the star-crossed lovers of Sarajevo, whose love defied ethnic boundaries in a time of relentless conflict.

The Siege of Sarajevo, which raged from 1992 to 1996, left a trail of destruction and shattered lives. Among the countless tragedies that unfolded during those dark days, none were as poignant and emblematic of love in the midst of chaos as the story of Bosko and Admira.

In a city torn apart by ethnic strife, Bosko, a Bosnian Serb of Orthodox Christian faith, and Admira, a Bosniak Muslim, found themselves entwined in a love that transcended their differences. Theirs was a relationship that flourished amidst the ruins of war, a beacon of hope amid the darkness of conflict.

Admira Ismic and Bosko Brckic pose for a picture after their high school graduation in 1985.

As the Siege tightened its grip on Sarajevo, those who could escape sought refuge elsewhere. Bosko’s family lived in Serbia, and he had the option to leave the besieged city, but he chose to stay with Admira, weathering the hardships together. After a year of enduring the horrors of siege, the couple decided to make a perilous journey to Bosko’s family in Serbia, a journey that would ultimately test the limits of their love.

For Bosnian Serbs, like Bosko, there were certain privileges during the conflict, while Muslims, like Admira, faced greater hardships. Bosko and Admira pooled their resources and made payments for safe passage out of Sarajevo via the Serb-held neighborhood of Grbavica. Their route to safety would take them over the Miljacka River via the Vrbanja Bridge, a structure that would become the backdrop to their tragic love story.

On May 19, 1993, as the clock approached 5:00 p.m., Bosko and Admira embarked on their fateful journey. The city held its collective breath as they began their walk across the bridge, with an agreement in place that no one would fire upon them. However, tragedy struck when a shot rang out, hitting Bosko and ending his life in an instant. Another shot followed, wounding Admira, who fell but clung to life. She crawled to Bosko’s lifeless body, embracing him, hugging him, and, ultimately, succumbing to her wounds. Heart-wrenchingly, Admira held onto life for at least 15 minutes after being shot.

He was a 15-year-old Serb; she, a 16-year-old Muslim. Bosko Brkic and Admira Ismic met at a New Year’s Eve party in Sarajevo. They had been together for nine years when they were killed on 18 May 1993, both aged 25.

Mark H. Milstein, an American photojournalist, captured the haunting image of Admira and Bosko in their final moments. He recalled the moment, as he and fellow journalists witnessed the tragedy unfold amidst the chaos of war.

The identities of the snipers responsible for their deaths remain shrouded in mystery to this day, adding to the tragic enigma of their story. The bodies of Admira and Bosko lay on the Vrbanja Bridge for days, as Sniper Alley, a perilous no man’s land, prevented anyone from approaching to recover them.

As the bodies lay exposed to the elements, the Serb and Bosnian armies engaged in a bitter dispute over responsibility for the killings. It took eight agonizing days before Serb forces finally ventured into Sniper Alley under the cover of darkness to retrieve the bodies. It was later revealed that Bosnian prisoners of war were forced to carry out this grim task.

The war eventually came to an end in 1996, and on the wish of Admira’s parents, the remains of the star-crossed lovers were transferred to the Lav Cemetery in Sarajevo, where they were finally laid to rest together.

Brkic’s mother, Radmilla, hailed her son and Admira as “symbols of peace,” emphasizing that their love had never been forbidden, and both families had always respected each other. Their story symbolized the historical mosaic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a land that had long been a crossroads of nations, where different ethnic and religious groups coexisted for centuries.

Admira and Bosko’s love story touched the hearts of many, inspiring songs, articles, and stories. One notable article by Kurt Shork, published by Reuters in May 1993, spread their story across the globe. Sarajevo’s Zabranjeno Pusenje and Bil Maden also paid tribute to them through music.

For the people of modern-day Bosnia, the tale of Ismic and Brkic serves as a stark reminder that, in the end, only time will reveal whether love or war triumphs in the grand tapestry of history. In a city marked by tragedy, their story stands as a testament to the enduring power of love even in the darkest of times.

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