The Olympic flame was extinguished in Sarajevo forty years ago today. The closing ceremony of the XIV Winter Olympic Games, held indoors at the sold-out Zetra Olympic Hall, marked the end of the city’s and Yugoslavia’s grandest moment in the world arena.

“Yugoslavia in the world, the world in Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia in Sarajevo,” proclaimed Borba in the post-Games commentary titled, “The Olympics of All of Us.”

In both the media’s commentaries and people’s minds, Sarajevo was the center of the world—and pride and gratitude a pronounced sentiment.

“Thank you to Sarajevo, thank you to Yugoslavia,” Sport, 21 February 1984

That was then.

At the 40-year mark, media coverage reported on contrasting emotions locals feel about the anniversary and the Olympics themselves: “pride and melancholy” (France 24) or “sentimentality and regret” (Balkan Insight).

Resorting to the familiar narratives of war and nostalgia hardly comes as a surprise.

I wasn’t in Sarajevo for the 40th anniversary festivities but, following as I do a number of Sarajevo-based social media accounts of people and organizations, I feel I tracked the festivities fairly well. And in addition to all those cliché sentiments I saw something else as well.

  • A number of exhibitions were opened and books released or promoted, including 40: The Anniversary of Holiday Inn Hotel and Olympic Games: The Design. Rather than nostalgic takes at the superiority of past architecture or graphic design, I’m reading these as surveys of past accomplishments drawing lessons for today and the future.

  • One of the talks organized in connection with the anniversary was “The Olympics as a Driver of Sustainable Development.” The title alone sent a clear message: there’s a lot to learn from the Olympics and implement in architecture or management of sporting events.
  • Today the Olympic Museum of Sarajevo unveiled a new typeface, Typolympics, made by an art student.

These may be small incidents isolated around the anniversary, a skeptic might say. But they point to one thing: there is hope for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Even from the distance, I sensed a spirit of celebration and joy and, perhaps of “we did it once, we can do it again.”

Sure, some capitalize on the anniversary of an amateur sporting event. I don’t fault them for it one bit. On the contrary, I support these entrepreneurial initiatives, especially if they promote creativity and collaboration. The legacy of the Sarajevo Olympics is rich enough for all kinds of interests to honor it in their own way and benefit financially. Everybody wins, and if they can make a living along the way, all the power to them.

My eye is on those who take the Olympics as an example to follow and a legacy to build on. They are not some dewy-eyed idealists fearlessly forging a path to a brighter future. Rather, they recognize the good their parents or grandparents created all those years ago, and, shirking the sepia-tinted spectacles of nostalgia, they roll up their sleeves and get to work.

As one such Sarajevan told me: “The will to succeed is all in your head.”

Neither do I suffer from the snow blindness. I recognize the challenges Bosnia and Herzegovina faces. Whenever I’m in Sarajevo, it takes but a few days for me to get depressed about the country’s prospects (or rather, a lack of). Even the AI tool I use to transcribe interviews for the podcast sometimes renders “Sarajevo” as “sorrow.”

What I also know, though, is that it’s okay to be sad. What matters is what you do about it.

“A year of preparations, challenges, and a story to remember, and we are just at the beginning.

The idea was to place Sarajevo in the place on the map where it deserves to be, as a center of culture and a winter city for all generations. Our flame has only begun to burn and will do so much longer, demonstrating the power that art, culture, and sports bring to a city.

By noting the past, we build the future, and that is exactly the message of Sarajevo Olympic Week, one we want to be a witness of everything we do and will do.

Thank you all for believing in the vision, idea and image of the city we can have!

Follow us, for many more ideas that at first seem incompatible, and which, we hope, will change and improve this microworld around us, and bring back the spark to the city that deserves it.”

Marking and celebrating an anniversary isn’t a nostalgic act. A commemoration is an act of both remembering and honoring. The memory of a past event provides a foundation for contemplating its meaning and building on its message.

From 2024, thank you, Sarajevo ’84.

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