When I became soldier with 16, I was in an age when you are looking for an ideal. Fortunately, I chose my then-commandant, because from this wrong choice I have learned a lot. The man was uneducated and not so bright and he was interested only in his own well-being. For this reason he wasn’t suitable at all for an ideal, not even for his own children.
But sooner or later you get realistic.

Already after few years I noticed that one should change his environment by himself and not let this be done by others. I learned how to see through such so-called leaders, as my commandant was, through people who drove us in the wrong direction. I understood that my life should not be controlled by such people. This was a lesson which I as a young person took along from the war. But all of it began in a different way.

I don’t like to recall that time too often. The reasons are very personal. At 16 I was actually immature, and impressing others was of big importance to me. When the war slowly started in 1992, for us it was important to possess a weapon and to swank with it before the girls. At that time there were many arms. It was almost impossible to hinder you as an adolescent to get in contact with them. What this arms meant, what they actually existed for – at that time we didn’t think about it. In this way I slowly got involved in the war myself.

At first we didn’t apprehend what is going actually going on. There was a lot of Serbian propaganda on the radio and the TV. In my city Sarajevo appeared more and more military and paramilitary units. We came know more and more often that people have been killed again. In April 1992 we slowly understood that we have no normal life anymore. We saw the first barricades in the city, and the first snipers commenced with their horrible work. Also the first Serbian tanks came to my part of the city, to the new district of Sarajevo. Serbian units controlled the city parts which were of importance to them – these included also the airport which is located in my part of the city. Slowly the situation in Sarajevo became more chaotic.

Friends of mine were killed too and all of this made me use the arms available. Nevertheless, there was still no organized form of resistance. Everybody provided himself with arms and ammunition from wherever possible. Our Serbian neighbour had set a small arms stock and one day we invaded his place and served ourselves. All possible arms were in circulation, even sporting guns.

In May 1992 the war started officially. There was the Serbian army with its paramilitaries on the one side and us, armed civilians without a clear command structure on the other. We slept at day, at night we shot. All of it had anarchistic strokes. Former officers, mostly pensioners and deserters from the Serbian army – at that time still called Yugoslav Peoples Army – tried to teach us the basics of military fight. In this way in 1993 we were increasingly capable of also holding the positions we have once eked in the city. In 1993 we slowly turned into an army which in 1994 and 1995 was capable of not only defending but also of attacking. Nevertheless, the inner condition of this army was increasingly not satisfactory. Fortunately, the war ended in 1995 with the Dayton agreement.

The army came increasingly under Islamic influence and this was not the aim of many of its participants. Slowly the army was dominated as Bosniac army. This excluded many others.

At 16 years of age I myself started to fight without any training and preliminary knowledge. In February 1993 young soldiers in good shape were needed who will be ready to participate in a special training. At that time I was 17 and I ended in two months the training with lieutenant grade. We were 15 soldiers which would in future be charged with special tasks. These were the so-called prevention tasks which consisted in penetrating deeply into the front of the enemy and destroying it.

Now, after the many actions we carried out only four or five of us stayed alive. It is for sure that none of us who was killed was not involved in killing as well. We fought directly against soldiers and none of us had to be ashame of this.

After the war we started with studying, we went to clubs etc. We have a saying, which is: It is easy to change from a donkey to a horse, but difficult from a horse to a donkey. Today I don’t know whether we succeeded to return to a normal life. Of course, we had our families, and I thank my stars that nobody from my closer family got killed in the war.

Other families, other people had to bear a much bigger suffering. They too should live with it, should learn to forgive but not to forget.
They too live for the future. Today I personally acquire a lot of strength from the life and the preparedness for the future of these people – also the strength to take over responsibility in this society, responsibility for a future life. Such a life should emerge from talks, negotiations, compromises. But it must not be – as in my case – the result of a war.

Damir Hazic is mayor of the new district of Sarajevo and was the youngest mayor in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is member of the Social Democratic Party of the country.