Not Welcome At The Holiday Inn

“Not Welcome At The Holiday Inn: How a Sarajevo landmark influences political relations,” unpublished paper, 2011 (invited as contribution to special issue of Political Geography)

Every conflict has one. In some circles its name becomes a short-hand for events, moments, or for the wider conflict itself. In Kigali it was the Mille Collines: refuge for ex-pats and select Rwandans during the 1994 genocide; subsequently immortalized through the film Hotel Rwanda (George 2004; Harrow 2005). In Baghdad it was the Palestine – the ringside seats for the toppling of Saddam’s statue in 2003. In Kabul, the Serena has become synonymous with the international community: a refuge where NGO workers, journalists, and other ex-pats excess gather to exchange information and relax (Montgomery 2008). During the 2006 riots in Dili, the attacks on the Hotel Timor – windows smashed and walls burned – symbolized the failures of the internationally bolster state to reform its security apparatus. And while this list could continue endlessly, enumerating countless examples of hotels entanglements in the context of international affairs, what would be notable is that in almost all cases, the hotels themselves would be seen as nothing more than the neutral material screen upon which geo-political events unfold.

This article is a first attempt to think through the role of the hotel in conflict. Focusing on the paradigmatic example of the Sarajevo Holiday Inn during the 1992-6 siege, it identifies and explores three inter-dependent ways in which hotels specifically, and the built environment more broadly, is significant for our understanding of conflict and geo-politics. First, these hotels are a key constituent part of the geography of the conflict – both internationally and domestically. They are a key interface between external actors and local contexts. They are often one of a limited number of physical places that members of the international community will visit. The result, is that they will have undue influence on the way in which the international community writ large experience and understand the conflict (Kalyvas 2004). Second, there is a need to further understand how the experience of enclosed and proximate embodiment contributes to constructions of the international community. The repetitive association of the international community with a symbolic venue – that of the Holiday Inn – needs to be considered for how it creates a shared subjectivity amongst internationals (Habermas 1989) and whether it communicates a symbolic message to surrounding populations. Third, it needs to be understood as a valuable resource both in terms of physical and tactical importance, but also in the strategic construction of narrative. The hotel became an important information resource for all sides and shaped the way in which both the root causes and eventual solutions came to be constructed.

The general lack of attention to the form and space of the hotel in social sciences and humanities may be explained by its ubiquity. How do you analyse something that is present everywhere – from the smallest town to the largest city; or problematise the most basic of human needs – that of shelter whilst traveling? Part of the task of this article is to filter out the form of the hotel as a necessary aspect of undertaking travel, from the specific yet ubiquitous presence in contemporary conflict of the social space of the grand hotel. Instead of accepting that its constant use in international diplomatic and journalistic affairs is inevitable, and therefore not worthy of attention, I ask what the implications are of this normalization for geo-politics. In setting our three distinct ways in which the hotel is integral to international understandings of conflict, I identify a series of research avenues of significance for the broader project of understanding the relationship between the built environmentand politics. Taking up the critical challenge to “attempt to articulate the material construction of a historically specific social reality” (Levin 1995: 10) this article brings the seemingly inert surface to the fore: challenging those narratives which prioritize – explicitly or by accident – the unimpeded agency of human actors to understand, reflect, and change the political events in which they find themselves embroiled (Coward 2006).

The methods used in this paper are a combination of primary research on the hotel itself in June 2010 including interviews with among others, the architect, Ivan Štraus and hotel staff who had worked at the hotel prior to and during and after the siege. It was supplemented by first hand written accounts of the siege, by a variety of officials, journalists and indeed Štraus himself. While the article draws heavily on the everyday experiences of journalists who can be considered to be part of the ‘Western’ press corps – European, English, American – its implications are relevant for the international community more widely. While the Holiday Inn was by no means the only hotel involved in the Siege of Sarajevo (Di Giovanni 2010; Vulliamy 1994: 186) its bright yellow facade captured international attention and became, with many members of the international community, synonymous with the city and the siege. It is also important to note that this piece is not a revisionist history of the Bosnian war, or more specifically of the Siege of Sarajevo. I am not suggesting that if the hotel had not been there, the narrative would have been inverted, but rather, by destabilizing the materially predictable relations that so unobtrusively, yet so decisively shape international understanding of conflict, we destabilize the given binary relationships of international/local; victim/aggressor; Serb/Muslim. By recognizing the embeddedness and emplacedness of our epistemologies we are forced to rethink the both the content and structure of our narratives, and ultimately the (im/potent/ial) content and (im/possible) structure of our response (Campbell 1998b, 1999). And now…welcome to the Holiday Inn…


The Holiday Inn in Sarajevo stands twelve floors tall and contains 206 rooms (Figure 1). Built by award winning Yugoslav architect, Ivan Štraus in the American inspired ‘atrium style’ (Goldberger and Craig 2009), the main building is square with rectangular wings protruding from the first two floors (Figure 2), one on the South side overlooking the River Miljacka and one on the East side, facing the UNIS towers (also built by Štraus). No buildings stand close adjacent. It is set back about 25 meters from the main road – Zmaja od Bosne – where the main East-West tram lines run. It is across the street from the State Executive Council and the Parliament. While the Holiday Inn was made famous by its construction for the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo and for its recognition within Yugoslav architectural circles, the building gained a new kind of notoriety during the Bosnian war.
On April 6, 1992, the day that the European Community announced that it recognized Bosnia Herzegovina as an independent state, it was from the roof of the Holiday Inn that snipers opened fire on peace demonstrators standing in front of parliament, across the street (Sudetic 1992). Six people were killed and more than a dozen were wounded (Andreas 2008: 27). “After they were fired on, thousands of demonstrators stormed the hotel, smashing windows and searching room by room for gunmen whom witnesses said they had spotted on the upper floors” (Sudetic 1992). A hotel worker recalled seeing the snipers pinned to the floor and arrested, as well as several staff. Many analysts date the start of the war to that day, when “Bosnian Serb forces began shelling Sarajevo from hillside positions” (Andreas 2008: 27; Donia).

A ‘War In Miniature’
Over the next three and a half years, the ‘luxurious setting’ of the bright yellow Holiday Inn played host to many of the most renowned characters involved in documenting, resolving and perpetuating the conflict. It provided the visual background for numerous television broadcasts, provided the infrastructure to send the reports around the world via satellite and created the environment to negotiate agreements and hold conferences and briefings. As there is ample high quality material describing the wider context of the siege I am not going to describe the specifics here (Campbell 1998b; Dauphinee 2007; Donia 2006; Judah 2009; Power 2002; Silber et al. 1996; Woodward et al. 1995). It is sufficient to recall that from April 1992 until (officially) February 1996 the city of Sarajevo was under siege by surrounding Serb nationalist forces. Under the oversight of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) and a humanitarian relief effort spearheaded by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), the city’s inhabitants were effectively cut off from the rest of the world – unable to leave, not allowed to surrender.
For the rest of the world, however, it became “the most accessible war-zone in Europe” (Andreas 2008: 38). Thanks to the world’s longest running air-bridge, journalists, philanthropists, writers, artists, intellectuals, diplomats and rock stars were able to visit the besieged city in the same way that one might visit an exotic tourist destination. The Holiday Inn became a central part of this. Says Washington Post reporter, Peter Maass,
“[i]t was, at times, a miniature war in which you could leave the Holiday Inn at ten o’clock in the morning, nearly be killed by a sniper’s bullet, and then, at eleven o’clock be on the other side of the front line, talking to the sniper who tried to murder you just an hour before, and watch as he took aim at your friends as they left the Holiday Inn” (1996: 150).
More specifically, it was not necessarily that the war itself was contained or ‘miniaturized’ but that the way in which certain segments of the international community experienced the war was rendered small. In Sarajevo, for much of the civilian international community, this smallness was locatable in the very building of the Holiday Inn. “After Karadžić’s paramilitary troops left the hotel in April 1992, it served guests – mainly journalists, diplomats, and aid workers – throughout the war” (Donia 2006: 315). For these people the Holiday Inn became their home, office, bar, refuge and ultimately source of local information. Particularly when the surrounding fighting became more intense, there was the tendency to report on what happened within a 200-yard radius of their rooms at the Holiday Inn (Maass 1996: 148). Critics would say that this is inevitable, unavoidable, the nature of the beast. But when policy decisions “depend on such considerations as where CNN sends its camera crews” (Toal 1996: 214 quoting Lake) it’s worth exploring the implications of these practices. Why was it that the “imaginative geopolitical topography of ‘Bosnia’” that held sway at the Holiday Inn was one portraying Bosnia as “the site of a clear moral struggle between good and evil, victims and perpetrators” (Toal 1996: 193)?

Do not disturb (the balkan ghosts)
Both Toal and Campbell are interested in the way in which epistemological categories were rendered geographical and topological in the context of the Bosnian conflict. Through an application of Derrida’s concept of ‘ontopology’ Campbell demonstrates how the initial dominant reading of the conflict as driven by historical ethnic hatreds was informed by assumed alignment of “territory and identity, state and nation, all under the sign of ethnicity” (Campbell 1998b: 80; Derrida 1994). This assumption has since come under mainstream scrutiny across the former Yugoslavia but especially in Bosnia where, through Dayton, this ontopology has carved a political landscape that is primarily determined by ‘ethnicity’. What is less accepted and less known is how this ontopological norm came to dominate the international understanding of the Bosnian conflict.
Lisle (2006) and Campbell (Campbell 1998a, 1998b) emphasize the key role of written and visual representations (journalistic, personal or academic) in the construction and dissemination of a clear –cut narrative of the conflict as a tale of ethnic hatred. They have both described the formative role that travelogues played in informing a predominantly ethnic understanding of the war among Western politicians. In particular, it was widely rumored that key actors within the Clinton camp were influenced by reading Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts (Campbell 1998b; Lisle 2006: 33; Toal 1996: 212). But these explanations assume or skirt over the more immediate, embodied ways in which the initial narratives or understandings were constructed. How did the authors, the journalists, the international community interact with(in) the space of Bosnia?
A possible explanation is provided by Kalyvas’ (2004) who argues that research on civil war displays an urban bias “promotes explanations of motivations that are heavily biased toward ideology” (2004: 173). Particularly prominent is the tendency amongst external parties to the conflict – journalists, policy makers, the international community – to assume that there exists “a clear, unequivocal, and fixed dividing line between combatants and noncombatants, and that the latter have only one role in the war, that of victims” (2004: 183). In line with Kalyvas’ wider project of investigating the ‘micro-politics’ of conflict, this hypothesis can be extended to even smaller units of analysis: identifying the biases created by certain spaces, such as the hotel, in contemporary understandings of conflict.
“Sarajevo was the lens through which most outsiders viewed the conflict…At most times, the army of privileged observers could get into and out of the city, stay in relative comfort at the Holiday Inn…ride in armoured vehicles along the city’s most dangerous routes, and send dispatches to the outside world using the latest communications technology” (2006: 287).
Many of the large news outlets had set up shop in the hotel’s larger suites and rooms and by December 1992, all the big names in journalism were in attendance. A shot from Marcel Ophuls’ documentary on war correspondents pans around the make shift dining room of the Holiday Inn to reveal John F. Burns – Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist – noshing with John Simpson from the BBC and an assortment of international correspondents and stringers (Ophuls 1994). Other notable names include Kate Adie, Anderson Cooper, and Paul Marchard. All of these have also published auto-biographies describing their time in Sarajevo and in all of them the Holiday Inn figures, sometimes prominently (Adie 2003; Cooper 2006; Marchand 1997; Simpson 1998).
John Simpson spends several pages describing the hotel. When he arrived in December 1992,
“[m]ost of the big plate-glass windows on the ground floor had been smashed and covered with thin clear plastic….Inside, the hotel was dark and very cold. It had been built in ‘atrium’ style, so that there was a large open space bigger than the Center Court at Wimbledon. The upper floors had been walled with glass, sheets of which fell whenever the hotel was hit…In the bedrooms, the “windows had long since been knocked out, so there was nothing between the curtains and the outside world except a single thin sheet of clear plastic. There was no electricity, and no water of any kind, hot or cold…Our rooms were on the fourth floors: the others, lower down had been taken” (1998: 435-6).
But despite this dismal description, the Holiday Inn remained the hotel of choice for the international community. Even those freelancers and stringers who couldn’t afford the outrageous room rates, still relied on the Satellite Phone connections to file their stories and on the connections and information that was found in the lobby and dining room. The hotel was also the place to access visiting foreign dignitaries or experts who stayed in the Holiday Inn during their brief trips to Sarajevo (2010). Most days, the UN held a briefing at the Holiday Inn (Rose 1998: 105). The UN spokesman, Aleksander Ivanko, was a regular fixture and many UN staff slept in the conference centre which – especially early on in the conflict – doubled as an operations center. Starting in 1993 the US Embassy occupied one suite (Donia 2006: 315) and for ten months in 1994 and 1995 the French army was also accommodated here. Part of this was lack of choice – it was the only hotel that remained open throughout the war. And although this changed as the war wore on, other attributes made it an attractive base, particular for those wishing to construct a story of what was going on.

Writing lines of sight
The Holiday Inn was located on the front line of the conflict (Figure 3). Just north of Sniper Alley, the hotel’s south side was only a few hundred yards from Grbavica, the Serb controlled neighbourhood on the opposite bank of the river Miljacka. “The rooms at the front …looked out at the Jewish cemetery a few hundred yards away on the hillside opposite. The Jewish cemetery marked the Bosnian Serb front line” (Simpson 1998: 434). When the fighting was less intense, journalists would sit on the terrace of the restaurant and watch the Serbs firing from the hills overlooking the city (Figure 4): “[t]he Holiday Inn became a grandstand from which you could watch the snipers at work. A journalist could convince himself on a slow afternoon that he was doing his job by peering through a window at people running for their lives” (Maass 1996: 146). An examination of this “hotel balcony gaze” (Toal 1996: 297) provides insight into the consolidation of a dominant narrative emerged whose clear moral lines paralleled those visible from the terrace of the Holiday Inn.
The first aspect that needs to be considered is how this practice consolidates the position of ‘viewer’ and separates it from that of ‘viewed’. Although not unassailable, the act of looking out over Sarajevo – up to the hills where the snipers were positioned; out to the city where civilians were being killed – undeniably entailed a degree of power over: over all those who were not protected by the Holiday Inn and by the international norms and conventions it implied. From their windows, from the terrace, journalists and others “exploited their verticality…their ‘visual control’ of the city” to collect the information and witness events that would inform their stories (McNeill 2008: 387; Wharton 2001: 139). The ability to survey the scene, with a degree of security that (on a good day) they would not be targeted, contributed to what Jay, Feldman, Cambell & Power and others have referred to as a ‘scopic regime’: “an ensemble of practices and discourses that establish the truth claims, typicality and credibility of visual acts and objects and politically correct modes of seeing” (Campbell and Power 2010: 168 quoting Feldman 2005; Jay 1988). In the context of modernity, there has been “a tendency toward both mimetic and ‘authentic’ visual representations and an imposition of this sense of natural order on the ground” {Gilbert@228}. In the case of the hotel in conflict, this does not necessarily imply intentionality on the part of the journalists, but that the confines and constrains of the building and its associated environments such as armoured personnel carriers (see below) contribute to the way in which journalists see, understand and in turn represent the events and environment that they survey. This observation is supported by work by Crary who stresses the co-constitutive role of both the observer and the instrument of seeing in a given scopic regime (Crary 1990; Gilbert 2010: 230). While Crary’s instruments of observation are more traditionally occular – the camera obscura, phenakistiscope, kaleidoscope and stereoscope – his observation may equally be applied to the hotel balcony where vision and what is observed, is shaped, ordered and constituted by the space, position and limitations of the building. Further, as the hotel balcony (or the hotel more general) has become a recognizable space of conflict geographies is it possible that the resultant vision and commensurate ontopologies are no longer dependent upon their precise location and are rendered increasingly interchangeable through their reliability upon a “visual propinquity between viewer and visual device” (Gilbert 2010: 231).
This structuring effect of the hotel is implied in its opposite, by Maggie O’Kane’s “anti-geopolitical eye” which “rather than adopting the detached perspectivalism of diplomats [or journalists]…brings a ground-level traveling eye to bear upon the landscape of the conflict. Her eye records the fractured lives and broken bodies of the victims of war that fall between the lines of official governmental cartographies of the war” (Toal 1996: 221). Unlike those “visual contortions of war” described by Jay – the gunfire of the trenches, the haze of the battlefield, the trickery of camouflage – which serve to destabilize and undermine a rational, Cartersian scopic regime {Gilbert@228} war as reported from the hotel balcony re-inscribes their assumptions, replicates their ontopologies.
Even when journalists did leave to cover a story, it was often done en masse. The Olphus documentary shows multiple scenes where Simpson and Burns are covering the same story, within earshot of each other, talking to the same witnesses, shooting the same scenes. This is hardly a phenomena that is unique to Sarajevo however, in the context of Sarajevo it was amplified as journalists were hyper-limited in their movements, and restricted to covering only the events that happened in their miniature world. Those journalists, such as Marchand were considered to be rogue, and were actively threatened (by outside forces) or discouraged (by their colleagues) from pursuing a line that differed from the established ethnocised narrative of good/bad; victim/aggressor. There was an overwhelming tendency of journalists to report upon the conflict from an “instinctive pro-Bosnian and anti-Serb position” (Simpson 1998: 440). According to Simpson, other viewpoints “weren’t welcome at the Holiday Inn. The prevailing mood among the Western journalists was profoundly partisan” (1998: 440). Says Simpson, “much of the reporting from Sarajevo was openly one-sided” (1998: 440) a claim supported by Brock (2006), Smajlovic (1993) and ICTY testimony (2010). The generalized sense of “occluded vision and unknown depth” with regards to Bosnia also made those areas with clear lines of sight all the more important to international understanding (Toal 1996: 207). According to General Lewis MacKenzie, of UNPROFOR, many journalists now contact him, concerned that they may have not been wholly representative in their reporting: “[a]nd my message to them when they start wallowing in their anguish is, ‘Don’t feel too guilty about all of this – because you only reported what you saw, and what you saw was only 150 meters on either side of the Holiday Inn’” (quoted in Brock and Binder 2006: 177).

In his book, Blue Helmets, Black Markets, Peter Andreas frames his analysis of the three year siege of Sarajevo by Serbian forces using Goffman’s famous dramaturgical metaphor of front and back stage behaviours to describe the formal and informal roles that international and local actors played during the course of the siege (Andreas 2008: 8). According to Andreas, although the actors’ “front-stage behaviour was often carefully staged and choreographed for various audiences, sticking closely to the official script and engaging in what Goffman calls the ‘art of impression management,’ backstage there was greater room for improvisation and deviation” (Andreas 2008: 8). However, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, the book in which Goffman details his front/stage backstage analogy, Goffman is less concerned with creating a binary opposition between front and back stage behaviour, and more focused on identifying a range of behaviours that will depend upon the position, intent and self-awareness of the actor and upon the audience (1990). A crucial part of this is the physical setting or stage in/on which these performances take place: “the furniture, decor, physical layout, and other background items which supply the scenery and stage props for the spate of human action played out before, within or upon it” (Goffman 1990: 33). The setting influences the types and range of behaviours that the actors may choose from (Goffman 1990: 34-35) and when combined with setting, appearance and manner contributes to a front which “becomes a ‘collective representation’ and a fact in its own right” (Goffman 1990: 37). Applied to the setting of the hotel in conflict, this raises questions with regard to the ways in which the setting influences the actors who use it – its residents, workers, visitors, snipers.
The last section looked at how the hotel structured the vision and epistemology of its residents. This section is concerned with the way in which the hotel contributed to the performance and practice of a distinct space and associated identity – that of ‘the international’ – amongst its users and why this is important. In the same way that Habermas’ attention to the spatial and social significance of seventeenth century coffee shops elucidated the emergence of what we now understand as ‘the public sphere’ (1989), attention to the spaces which have become associated with the category of ‘the international’ helps us to understand what this term means, and how its members understand themselves and their role. I am not necessarily saying that the presence of grand hotels led to the creation of ‘the international’, but rather asking how the latter has been influenced and enabled by the former. How has the built form of the hotel enabled certain types of actions, performances, ways of doing that have become accepted as commonplace? How do these spaces forge shared understandings, positions and expectations?

Sanitized for your protection
The first practice, which is central to the creation of an international subjectivity, is that of maintaining stability, even in the context of war. Be it a peace-keeping base, a diplomatic embassy, or a hotel, the spatial demarcation of the space of the international is crucial. It not only provides symbolic and physical protection, but it also creates the affect that it is a physical extension of a stable (Western) normality (Calhoun 2010).
In Sarajevo, it may not have incidental that the hotel was a Holiday Inn. The brand, named after a Bing Crosby film of the same name was quintessentially American (Wilson 1996). With its signature green and yellow sign, it evoked for the Western journalists, a sense of normalcy, a sense of home:
“[f]or me, Holiday Inns represent suburban quiet and comfort, everything that is ordinary and unexciting about the world. They are reassuring, because you know what you will get, including an ice machine at the end of the corridor, a Bible in the top desk drawer and a toilet that, according to the white paper strip across it, has been sanitized for your protection” (Maass 1996: 122).
The Holiday Inn was designed in the city-in-miniature style of hotel architecture (Ibelings; Katz) : hotels like the Embarcadero Center in San Francisco or the Bonaventure in Los Angeles that went to great links to ensure that their visitors had no need and no desire to venture outside (McNeill 2008: 286). This embodied expectation “actively constitutes the consumption of the hotel…as bridgeheads of American culture in ‘hostile territories” (McNeill 2008: 387&395; Wharton 2001) and conversely constructs the surrounding hostile territories in contra-distinction to the interior rationalism of the Holiday Inn. Speaking of motels, Morris refers to this process as the making of “a myth of the Modern Universal: seriality, chain self-reference, territorialisation by repetition-and-difference” (Morris 1988: 4). In the same way that the Bosnian war was in Europe, but not of Europe (Toal 1996: 203), the Holiday Inn was in Sarajevo but not of it.
Staff too went to great lengths to try and maintain the spatial and temporal standards expected of their international (American) establishment. “Uniformed maids came everyday to make up the beds” (Di Giovanni 2010) and “waiters carefully placed salad forks and soup spoons in front of us” (Carter 2004: 252). Interviews with staff revealed the effort put into preserving the guise of normal functioning. Initially, they attempted to keep up the weekly tradition of a fancy meal resulting in more and more bizarre combinations, including one memorable dinner composed entirely of scampi and caviar. The eventual and inevitable decline in standards led to the company revoking the franchise but this didn’t mean that the staff stopped working. Simpson describes “[t]he reception staff huddled in a little room on the edge of the foyer around a stove which ran on bottled gas. They wore long overcoats and gloves” (Simpson 1998: 435). Similarly, Maass says, “I dragged my backpack and computer bag across the atrium to the reception desk, where a shivering woman was to be found under a half dozen sweaters and jackets. She gave me the keys to a fourth-floor room and apologized for an absence of towels” (Maass 1996: 123).
And while the performance of normalcy was being performed on the ‘front stage’, in full view, the actions that kept the hotel running were taking place behind the scenes. Power depended upon “the amount of fuel the manager had procured on the black market” (Maass 1996: 122). And although initially, there were huge food and wine stocks in the cellars, these ‘mysteriously’ and quickly disappeared. With the cellars depleted, it was up to the managers to find ways to put food on the table. This was procured through a variety of channels the three main ones being through the black or ‘grey’ market at Ilidža (a Sarajevo suburb), diplomatic and journalistic largess and or smuggling. Staff tell the story of the first time they had to go to Ilidža to get food. The infamous market was set up on the front lines – between the Serbs and Bosnian Muslim forces. Getting there meant a dangerous trip down Sniper alley and the first time they went – in Autumn 1992 – one staff member said that he “almost died in fear.” They arranged it so that three staff member went together: a Serb, a Croat, and a Muslim. The Serbs across the border organized that food be brought to the border and then given to a Muslim who passed it to them. In this way they once bought a cow (which they then cut up and drove back to the hotel in the back of the van). It is unclear the degree to which the food being for the Holiday Inn facilitated this exchange, although it is certain that someone higher up permitted it to occur – potentially signifying the importance of the Hotel to both Serb and Muslim sides (see ‘Resource’ section, below).
What is striking, as Andreas (2008) documents, is how the front stage narrative of ethnic homogeneity and grievance was perpetuated and sustained as the official story while the back stage behaviours were well known by all those who visited the Holiday Inn; obvious for any who choose to see them. But perhaps the explanation for this oversight can be found in Habermas’ emergent European public sphere which “could never close itself off entirely and become consolidated as a clique; for it always understood and found itself immersed within a more inclusive public of all private people, persons who…as readers, listeners, and spectators could avail themselves via the market of the objects that were subject to discussion” (1989: 37). In the same way, the residents of the hotel were oriented elsewhere: toward their viewers and audiences back home, intent on providing them with the front-stage story of ancient hostilities, or toward each other (Jeffrey 2007).

In our lobby we were all the same
The second practice fundamental to the creation of a distinct ‘international sphere’ was the forging of affective bonds between patrons: patrons who, though exceptional vis-à-vis their surroundings, were united in their common experience. Similar to Habermas’ coffee shops, the space of the hotel disregarded status, but celebrated “rank with a tact befitting equals” (Habermas 1989: 36); “nervous and cynical journalists from the world’s biggest newspapers…[mix with] Humanitarian workers, diplomats, international bureaucrats, military officers, wheeler-dealers and one or two dumbfounded intellectual-humanists” (Vasic 1994).
Prior to the war, the hotel was the city’s only luxury category hotel, and its position as a space of elite and interaction was acknowledged by the city at large. As the siege commenced, these distinctions became increasingly marked. As described by the infamous Sarajevo survival guide, “The hotel is well supplied …you try the best of local cuisine – big selections of Viennese and Oriental delights… At night, the hotel resembles Casablanca” (Prstojevic 1993: 82). Initially, the “hotel had its own generator, so during the long spells when the city had no electricity or heating, the Holiday Inn might have some for a few hours a day” (Maass 1996: 122) and by 1994 “[e]lectricity supplies have been restored” (Davico 1994). The hotel also produced its own bread and was even known to produce cakes for special occasions for purchase by those who could afford them (usually staff of international organizations). However, the supply of water was erratic. Staff were sometimes able to secure water from the brewery cistern; other times, they had to truck it in.
The prices within the hotel, already exorbitant before the war, reached preposterous rates during the siege. “Prices are war-like. The average menu is 50 DM per person” (Prstojevic 1993: 82); “bed and breakfast (croissant, butter and a spoon of marmelade), cost 122 US$” (Davico 1994). “You could order wine for $40 a bottle, a fortune by siege standards but for journalists on expense accounts this was no problem” (Maass 1996: 124). This rate was only affordable for the top international newspapers, and well established international agencies such as the UN. But, the centrifugal force of the hotel, meant that many other individuals involved in international affairs would venture in for a meal, a phone call, or merely to exchange information.
The hotel attracted a variety of sentiments from the local population. On one hand the physical presence of the internationals may have fed the hope that their city’s plight would not be forgotten. On the other, the disparity between what they had and what was on offer at the Holiday Inn was sometimes hard to bear. Ivan Štraus recounts an evening at the height of the war where he was invited to dinner at the Holiday Inn to honor some academics [sic]. At a time when the rest of Sarajevo was struggling to find food, the guests of the Holiday Inn “could eat and drink all night… there was champagne, whiskey.” Štraus, disgusted, said that as Sarajevans living under siege, “[i]n our poorness we were all the same” while within the walls of the Holiday Inn, the journalists, the diplomats, the generals were all the same in their bizarre and enclosed experience of the war. Meals were supplemented by diplomatic luxury items such as wine, and foie gras. “In Sarajevo, it was very easy to convince yourself that you deserved any luxury that came your way” (Maass 1996: 124). A clip from the Ophuls (Ophuls 1994) documentary shows John Simpson, his camera man Nigel and a French journalist discussing the availability of Stilton cheese courtesy of the BBC.
The social and economic disparities were reinforced through highly visible security measures. “The battered and extremely expensive Holiday Inn Hotel is full of foreigners: …Armed men guard them—there’s a police station in front of the lobby. It’s the Saigon ‘Inter Continental’ of the late sixties revisited: an air-conditioned island with an armed guard” (Vasic 1994). There was a use of bulletproof vests and armoured vehicles to a degree never before seen in any humanitarian operation (Cutts 1999: 2). “The basement garage of Sarajevo’s Holiday Inn was packed with ungainly steel-plated white Land Rovers with the logos of news organizations stencilled on the doors” (Kifner 2002). Even sortees from the Holiday Inn were done as an extension of the building itself with passengers and driver in constant communication with the hotel (Vasic 1994).
The vests, helmets and cars and the hotel itself formed a material shell that separated out those that had the freedom to leave, and those that were forced to stay. Describing a scene where Maass and other journalists went to report on a nursing home on the front lines (Jan 6, 1992) where they found dead and dying residents
“[w]e were aliens in that room, dressed in our high-tech clothing, wearing Gore-Tex gloves, our wallets stuffed with money and passports that meant we could leave this hell at any moment we wished and fly, for example, to Paris, where we could stay at the Ritz and impress our friends with tales of adventure from Bosnia…We left in a hurry, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit I was relieved. I returned to the Holiday Inn, wrote a thousand-word story and, later on, drank several glasses of wine with dinner” (Maass 1996: 139).
In contrast to the lived experience of a city under siege, “the atrium [of the hotel] was like an alien pod” (Carter 2004: 224): utterly separate; utterly strange.
In the early days of the siege, when accommodation was ad hoc, and when shelling was bad, all types of people were sleeping together in the nightclub. As the number of visitors increased staff decided to convert the large second floor conference room into a dining room. With movable interior walls, a bar, and most importantly – no windows – the conference room was big enough to accommodate any number of diners. The lack of windows and easterly position made diners feel safe (even if they were still exposed) and the access to an enclosed staircase, which led down, to the underground nightclub, provided an escape route, should one be needed. “Dinner, served between six and nine, was a communal affair in which everyone sat together at large tables and ate the same food, like at boarding school” (Maass 1996: 124). The shared experience of living within the Holiday Inn created a bond between patrons and and may have contributed to the lack of perspective which developed.
“Dubbed the ‘Pack Shack’ by critics who felt [sic.] the close living quarters, scrounging, supping and the regular late-night boozy roundtables, the not-so subtle peer-pressure for pro-Muslim, pro-Bosnian government bias that fostered pack-journalism, the Holiday Inn at Sarajevo was home to over 200 journalists in August 2003” (Brock and Binder 2006: 178).
In the case of one of the most high-profile journalists, Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist, John F. Burns, Brock claimed that Burns lost objectivity completely and was effectively in the pockets of the Muslim leadership while Simpson claims that “if you share the sufferings of a city under siege you instinctively side with the people in it; that’s natural enough. But what many of the journalists based there did, and it has to be remembered that they were young and inexperienced, was to line up with the government rather than with the people” (Simpson 1998: 440). Part of this lining up was due to the fact that the journalists were not sharing in the experiences of the city at large, but forging their own awareness – and narrative – of the war from within the elite space of the Holiday Inn – an awareness not lost on other actors in the war.
Even those journalists who attempted to disrupt the binary spatialisations enabled by the hotel, found themselves reinforcing rather than disrupting them. In a famous incident, Paul Marchand, a French free-lance journalist abseiled down from the fifth floor into the middle of the atrium/lobby onlookers cheered and clapped. (“It was acrobatics” said one informant.) Marchand was acutely aware of the over-simplifications and sanitization that occurred in the process of reporting war. A troubled individual (he committed suicide in 2009) he was known for engaging in constant risk taking , all the while refusing to wear a flak jacket, or a helmet and driving a battered car (Burns 1992; Marchand 1997; Ophuls 1994). Exercising his “anti-geopolitical” eye, he sought out necro-geographies – “J’aime les morgues des pays en guerre “ – in order to better understand the nature of death, of war (Marchand 1997: 17). An obituary essay says, “he despised those who reported from the confines of the hotel and admired those who worked amongst the ordinary people who were the victims of that war just as he did and he never failed to tell anyone exactly what he thought of them.” But his performances – the abseiling, the lack of flak jacket – remained oriented toward to ‘international’ and were often practiced within and with reference to the Holiday Inn (Burns 1992; Marchand 1997).

The hotel was considered by all parties to be a protected space, evidenced by the fact that it generally avoided intentional shelling. And although it was hit – the upper floors and south facing rooms were closed (Prstojevic 1993: 82; Simpson 1998: 434) – when compared to the utter decimation of the parliament buildings across the road – the hotel was left relatively unscathed. Although some analysts attributed this to logistical considerations – “snipers could angle their shots inside the rooms; thankfully, they had easier targets to go after” (Maass 1996: 122) – as the war wore on the hotel’s relative lack of shelling became less about luck and more about design. Three explanations may be put forward as to why the hotel was too valuable to be hit.

War Economies
A huge body of work has been done on war economies: on how conflict is both driven by economic interests (Collier and Sambanis 2005; Keen 1998; Nordstrom 2004; Pugh et al. 2004) and more recently, how the event of the conflict itself permits criminal or extra-normal economic pursuits (Andreas 2009; Kalyvas 2004). These often criminal activities then become an important factor in sustaining the conflict and often transforming its dynamics, allegiances and rationale – particularly at the micro-level (Kalyvas 2004). In the case of Bosnia, these economic incentives are widely accepted to have been a decisive aspect of both how the war was fought (all sides relied heavily on irregular soldiers, and criminal gangs) and in sustaining the conflict. Particularly, in the case of Sarajevo, the siege dynamic, created uniquely lucrative opportunities for those who were willing to take the risks and make the moral sacrifices (Andreas 2004; Donia 2006). In this reading, the Holiday Inn was spared as a particularly lucrative asset – for one or possibly both sides. It was well known that the hotel had “two directors. One was appointed by the City Parliament, and the other one by the Republic” (Prstojevic 1993: 82). It was reputed to have contributed to the grey economy either as a money laundering mechanism or as a key interface between local and international actors seeking to cut a deal. This is largely and necessarily speculative as information on the economic significance and role of the hotel during the war, is almost impossible to find. However, its prominent and controversial position in the post-war privatization exercise indicates that its economic potential has not gone un-remarked upon by key political actors. The hotel was notoriously sold for just over 10% of its estimated worth to group led by Nedim Čausević – a prominent Sarajevo business figure with close relations to the director of the Federation Privatization Agency who in turn was “a close relative of former Federation Prime Minister Edhem Bičakčic, a senior figure from the Muslim-nationalist Party of Democratic Action (DSA) and widely considered to be among Bosnia’s most corrupt politicians” (Donais 2002: 7). While USAID – the organization in charge of privatization in post-war Bosnia – said that they were unable to discuss the sale of the hotel, the Čausević contract was annulled in February 2001“even though many of the international community continued to insist the sale was ‘technically’ legal” (Donais 2002: 7). The hotel has subsequent been various sales and is currently owned by an Austrian consortium with plans to redevelop the hotel into a large retail and leisure center.

Since its construction in 1983, the Holiday Inn has been a metaphor for the age. The government’s original intent for the building was to use it to showcase the city on a global stage during the Olympics, however, it can also be read as an attempt to embody and unify the competing philosophical and ideological trends present in Sarajevo in the post-Tito era. The building includes (then) contemporary Western architectural elements such as an enclosed atrium and clean exterior lines, while the interior modifications such as the circus tent and the use of light and space in the lobby, evoke the Morića Han (a café/inn in the Baščaršija), and are intentional nods to Sarajevo’s cosmopolitan, urban history (Figure 5). While, the architect, Štraus, was intent on using the building to weave together competing strands of civic identify (Štraus 1994), these subtle nuances of design were outshone by the brilliant yellow façade and the internationally recognized sign.
It was these qualities, and the prominent placement meant that meant it lay physically and metaphorically at the heart of the city. “If you stand on the mountain Bjelaànica and look down onto the city of Sarajevo, the only building that you see clearly is the Holiday Inn: right at the centre of the city.” Its position between the Baščaršija and the Marin Dvor districts symbolizing an attempt to reconcile the modern and the traditional in Sarajevo’s built heritage (Alić and Gusheh 1999). The significance of the structure itself to Serbs as well as Muslims is evidenced by the suggestion of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) leader and Republica Srpska Vice President, Biljana Plavšić, in September 1992 that “Sarajevo be divided at the Holiday Inn” (Donia 2006: 288).
Indeed, Bogdanović, Coward, and Štraus make the argument that the Serbian attacks on Sarajevo (and other Bosnian cities such as Mostar) were a clear case of urbicide – the destruction of the urban environment as an extension of warfare (Bogdanović 1993, 1996; Coward 2009; Štraus 1994). Drawing on Heidegger, Coward (Coward 2009) suggests that the pointed destruction of sites such as the Mostar Bridge, the Sarajevo Library and the Bosnia and Herzegovina Parliament buildings were an attempt to destroy the lived togetherness that defines all urban spaces, and in particular, the cosmopolitan identity that had been a self-conscious part of Sarajevo’s built identity during the Tito era (Neidhardt 2004; Štraus 1994). The lack of shelling of the Holiday Inn, could therefore, be seen as an indication of a recognition on the part of the snipers – Štraus’ anti-cosmopolitan ‘barbares’ – that the hotel was not a space of togetherness – that this was a space of separateness, of the other, of the international. Instead of being a “metaphor of cosmopolitianism”, the Holiday Inn consolidated a particular and bounded notion of ‘the international’ (Berens 1997; McNeill 2008: 385). Kate Adie describes a Serb soldier apologizes to her for accidentally hitting the Holiday Inn with sniper fire (Coward 2009: 7) and Mauss himself describes an encounter with a Serb sniper in Grbavica “’You see that yellow building?’ Slobodan pointed with his pistol. ‘Is Holiday Inn. No problem! No problem!’” (Maass 1996: 152). Although Maass is not clear as to whether the sniper “meant that it was no problem to kill the hotel’s guests, or whether I should not be worried about staying at the hotel” (Maass 1996: 152), what is evident from this exchange is that the sniper was well aware of the relationship between the building and Maass, as a foreign journalist. The building of the Holiday Inn and the presence of the elite, civilian international community in Sarajevo were considered as one by the snipers who looked down on them.

A Visual Echo Chamber
A final way in which the hotel was a significant resource, was in its informational value. The wars of the ex-Yugoslavia were always closely tied to media representations (Myers 1996; Robinson 2000; Robison 2004) in particular in those areas which suffered from a lack of access. And while Sarajevo, was very much one of the locations, the apparent ease of access disguised the reality that the journalists were little more than embedded reporters – seeing what the elites wanted them to see; going where they were allowed to go resulting in a situation where almost every major news channel carried the same story (Brock and Binder 2006). There was a disregard – either intentional or accidental – of Kalyvas’ warning against taking “elites’ descriptions of who they are and who they represent at face value. Because these elites are aware of this propensity they manipulate it accordingly” (Kalyvas 2004: 171). Returning to the Holiday Inn and Adie and Mauss’ conversations with snipers with regard to protection of the Holiday Inn as a space, it seems almost certain that the hotel and its residence was considered – either implicitly or explicitly; officially or unofficially – to be an audience to be performed for, entertained, excited, horrified. As least, both sides were aware of the potential that the presence of these embedded journalists provided. Speaking to Karadžić’s spokesman, Ljubica Rakovic, Maass was told “We read your stories very carefully. I personally was very interested in the stories you have written about so-called mass rapes by Serbs” (Maass 1996: 157). This quote demonstrates the elite awareness of the potential risk – and utility – of the hotel and its residents in the war of information.
The importance of the televised news as a way of promoting one side over the other, was amplified by the fact that most Sarajevans had little other diversions than to shelter at home and watch TV, the reporting from the Holiday Inn was streamed back to them via London or Washington. “The citizens of Sarajevo saw from close up the biggest world powers, they saw their houses and streets on CNN, glamorous faces and names visited them in order to encourage and support them, and in the end they were left with the impression that their misfortune was just a good background to the pictures which were sold in world metropolis [sic.]” (Cerovic 1995). Štraus’ wartime journals regularly describe his witnessing of local events via international television networks, as he and his family were confined to their flat (Štraus 1994: 99). And so, with a limited number of potential scenes, stories and angles, “[a] visual echo chamber developed: rather than encouraging reporters to find the news, editors urged them to report what was on TV” (Maass 2011).
The relationship between a place, observers and events is one that has not gone unremarked upon in the context of war (Baudrillard 1995; Retort and Boal 2005; Virilio 1989). In the more specific context of hotels, Maass argues that the proximity of The Palestine Hotel, in Bagdad, was not incidental to the ostentatious and arguably somewhat staged display of the now famous destruction of Saddam’s statue in the city’s Firdos square, suggesting that the US military, aware of the concentration of journalists only meters away, enabled the removal of the statue with the recognition of the part of a media-savvy general, that this would make good viewing ‘back home’ (Maass 2011). While the strategic objectives and nationalities of the actors in Sarajevo and Iraq are quite different in both cases, their tactical use of the hotel as information resource is the same. Both situations recognize the potential of this information resource to disseminate information in ways that appears, from the audience’s perspective, to be of their own interpretation. That is, in distinction to situations of ‘embedded’ journalists where there is a consciousness on the part of the journalists that what they observe is what they are being allowed to see, in the context of the Holiday Inn (and hotels more widely) an illusory space of autonomy is created which suggested to its residents that they had more power, more independence than was actually the case. Maass was one of the journalists who had been present at the Holiday Inn, and who frequently returned in his writings to descriptions of the building and his experiences in it. It is not coincidental that he recognizes the significant role of these places in the construction of international geopolitical narratives.


This article has tried to expand upon existing explanations of conflict narratives, by looking at the built form of the grand hotel and arguing three things. First, that the ubiquitous presence of the ‘grand hotel’ which becomes the centre of international activity in a conflict zone, should not be taken for granted, but need to be understood as constitutive of the conflict geography, and therefore how the conflict is understood and represented. These observations emphasize the need to bring considerations of the material and built environment on par with other factors of conflict (Coward 2006).
Second, an examination of the hotel in conflict points to their importance, and the importance of spaces like them to create shared social identities. This is some through affective factors, for example shared living conditions, shared risks, but also through the perpetuation of clear demarcations between who is inside ‘the international’ and who is not. This allows the maintenance of a sphere of (relative) normality, against which the exception of the conflict can be contrasted, as a sphere in need of intervention (Calhoun 2010). It was possibly the attempt to maintain normalcy that contributed to journalists clinging to a coherent (if flawed) narrative of clear-cut ethnic conflict, in spite of conflicting evidence to the contrary, in the kitchens and back corridors of ‘their’ hotel. These affective considerations of how shared subjectivity are formed is essential to gaining a better understanding of what is meant by the ‘international community’ at large and how its members identify and understand themselves both vis-à-vis each other and their surroundings. If identity is closely linked to the notion of a figurative, or literal home space (Bulley 2006), how does the predictable and globalised environments provided by hotels such as the Hotel Holiday Inn, the Inter-Continental or the Serena influence what is thought to be possible?
Finally, there is the need to consider the hotel as a strategic resource in conflict,
materially, symbolically and informationally. This adds to the existing literatures on war economies, by highlighting the particular ways in which international interventions need to be considered for their simultaneous feedback effects on the conflict. It is worth considering how advancements in information technology may change this – by opening up new avenues for information, but also disinformation.
Taken together, these three insights, point to the need to consider how spaces and the built environment are not only stages upon which we perform, but integral and constitutive of the performance itself.


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