Conflicting Urban Identities: The Multiple Images of Sarajevo

  • Abstract:
    This paper discusses the urban transformation of Sarajevo as a controversial process of identity making and reshaping; in particular, it shows how the East-West dichotomy, along with its stereotypes and imposed imaginary, can be acknowledged by looking at the city’s architecture. Particular attention is addressed towards two diverging trends concerning the urban transformation of Sarajevo: on the one hand, the progressive construction of new buildings reproducing the architectural feature of western metropolises; on the other hand, the growing diffusion of huge mosques as the result of a strong economic and cultural linkage with Islamic countries, especially Saudi Arabia. Insisting on such elements this contribution discusses the extent to which the East-West divide still affects the collective imaginary both within the city and from the western European standpoint. Skyscrapers with glass surfaces, fashion shopping malls and luxury apartments represent the physical expression of the city’s attempt to emerge as a modern western capital. As such, consumerism and economical prosperity appear the most desirable values within the imaginary related to the process of “Europeanization”. Nevertheless such representation harshly clashes with the real situation as the standards required by European Union for the integration of Bosnia-Herzegovina are still far from being reached and several public structure, such as the National Gallery, are progressively closing due to the lack of funding. The image of Sarajevo as a prosperous western European capital is further challenged by the public debate – occurring both at national and international level – about the progressive Islamisation of the city. Indeed, the sumptuous mosques built with the economic support of Saudi Arabia significantly connote the urban landscape in religious terms, contributing to foster the East-West dichotomy and encouraging discourses that exclude Sarajevo from the western civilized world. As yet, a smooth synthesis between such conflicting urban identities appears still controversial and problematic.