How Sarajevo's Brewery Helped People Survive the Seige

Main gate of Bosnian brewing company | © Fotokon/Shutterstock
Main gate of Bosnian brewing company | © Fotokon/Shutterstock
Photo of Sam Bedford
10 December 2017

Telling someone a brewery in a city with a Muslim majority helped people survive is like saying dieters should eat fast food. It seems like an oxymoron. The Sarajevo Brewery, birthplace of the delicious Bosnian beer Sarajevsko Pivo, was essential during the four years of a besieged Sarajevo. But it has nothing to do with beer…

Background on the Sarajevo Brewery

Sarajevska Pivara lived under five different eras in Bosnia. Opening in 1864 under the Ottomans, the brewery lived through Austria-Hungary, Yugoslavia (both the Kingdom and the Socialist Republic of) and present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Few breweries have such a grand and colourful life. One of the critical elements to its success is the underground water springs. High-quality water brews high-quality beer.

Sarajevo Brewery Pub | © Sam Bedford

The Siege of Sarajevo

After Bosnia announced its independence from Serbian-ruled Yugoslavia, in the same way Slovenia and Croatia did prior, the Bosnian Serbs weren’t happy. Belgrade supported the Bosnian Serbs who besieged Sarajevo between April 1992 and February 1996.

Sarajevo during the war was horrific. Snipers hid in the surrounding hills targeting civilians. Grenades and mortars rained down daily. A total of 13,952 people, of which 5,423 were civilians, died during the Siege of Sarajevo.

Death and destruction became part of ordinary life. Residents tried their best to live as usual. Dodging bullets was just another thing. Finding food, water and firewood to live in Sarajevo in winter was another.

03 JULY 1993 - The famous "welcome to hell" graffiti on a wall in Sarajevo | © Northfoto/Shutterstock

Sarajevo has lots of water springs from nearby mountains. Refilling water bottles made civilians sitting; fountains were in open spaces and people were waiting in line. Dozens died.

This is where the brewery became their saviour.

Sarajevo has many fountains like Sebilj | © Andrii Lutsyk/Shutterstock

The Sarajevo Brewery Saved Lives

During the Siege of Sarajevo, the brewery kept brewing. Despite production being barely 3%, it was symbolic of their resilience.

Locals flocked here, especially children, but they didn’t come for the beer. The brewery had a water spring where people weren’t exposed to snipers as they refilled bottles to take home. And the kids? A local who lived through the Siege as a child said, “We were smaller and faster than our parents. It was safer for us to get water.”

The Sarajevo Brewery saved lives by providing fresh water for the citizens.

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