A SURVIVOR of the Siege of Sarajevo opened up about the consequences of leaving hate and prejudice unchallenged in the hope that lessons can be learned from the Srebrenica genocide.

Resad Trbonja visited Warrington for the first time last Thursday to share his story of how hate transformed the beautiful city he called home.

The 45-year-old, who was invited to speak at a hate crime conference hosted by Cheshire Police, was 19 when the longest siege in modern history began.

The dad-of-one said: “Growing up was a beautiful experience where people were basically sharing life and being kind to each other.

“I grew up in a multi-cultural and multi-religious city where ethnicity, religion and different backgrounds didn’t play any role. 

“It was a place that was shared equally between the Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and Jews – there was no religious or ethnic hate but unfortunately the rise of a particular political figure was the breaking point.”

Almost overnight Resad’s life changed dramatically to one where walking to collect water was a matter of life or death and shelling was an everyday occurrence.

Children were killed in front of his eyes – heartbreaking memories he will never forget.

“We never thought that anything bad could happen to people living there,” said Resad, who works for British charitable initiative Remembering Srebrenica.

“But that changed overnight after the siege started. 

“I was just an ordinary European teenager, 19 years old, in my jeans and Converse, really into punk music. 

“The next day, after the declaration of independence, the shelling started and ordinary Sarajevans were under attack.”

More than 10,000 people were killed during the genocide which started in 1992 and lasted for three-and-a-half years.

Thousands fled in fear for their lives but many remained trapped in the city after Bosnian Serb forces laid siege to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia.

“Whereas before we were just Bosnians living in Bosnia it changed and people were now being recognised as a Muslim or a Serb,” said Resad who still lives in Sarajevo with his wife and 15-year-old son.

“All of a sudden your ethnic background started to be really important.

“It was such a beautiful city and I still can’t comprehend today how it was possible and how it became so divided but unfortunately it can happen.

“People fell for the nationalistic rhetoric which was served to them by their politicians.

“They accepted the idea that they are better than others and the first thing was the division of society to us and them – us being a superior race against them who were the others who you were allowed to kill and execute.

“Unchallenged hate like in our case in Bosnia can lead to genocide.” 

Cheshire Constabulary joined other north west police forces to raise awareness of hate crime last week which is under-reported in the county.

The awareness week aims to educate people on the different types of hate crime and encourage them to report this offence.

Nick Bailey, acting ACC, said: “Everyone in Cheshire should feel free to be themselves. 

“No-one should face violence, abuse or hate just because of who they are, who they love, where they are from, what they look like or what they believe. 

“Being targeted because of your race, gender identity, religion, faith, sexual orientation or disability is a hate crime and we are determined to do all we can to stop this.”

To report hate crime call 101 or in an emergency dial 999.