Updated: Thursday, 09 January 2014 13:59 | By Agence France-Presse

Sarajevo's legendary shoe-shiner dies

Sarajevans paid tribute Tuesday to a legendary shoe-cleaner known as "uncle" Miso, who died at the age of 83 after more than 60 years working on the streets, even during the 1992-1995 war.


Sarajevo's legendary shoe-shiner dies

Sarajevans gathered to pay their last respects to Sarajevo's last legendary shoe shiner, Husein Hasani better known as "uncle" Miso, who died on January 6, 2014, from heart failure

An empty wooden chair, covered with roses, stood in front of a fast-food restaurant in the main Sarajevo Tito avenue with a large photo portrait of the man who has become a symbol of the Bosnian capital.

Dozens of people paid tribute in silence, while others lit candles put around a pair of shoes on the pavement.

"Emotions felt by Sarajevans after his death reflect the best of his deeds," said architect Kenan Husic.

Always in a neat suit, freshly pressed white shirt, his hair carefully combed under a hat, with a meticulously trimmed grey moustache and a large smile, "uncle" Miso did not leave his spot even during the siege and the bloodiest shellings.

A Roma originally from Kosovo who moved to Bosnia just after World War II, his real name was Husein Hasani, but he took on the nickname given by his boxing coach, a Hungarian who could not pronounce his name.

At 21, he took over a job from his father and soon became the most famous and the "most beautiful" shoe-shiner in Sarajevo as he said.

In recent years, he was the last one to keep up with the traditional trade, which has deep roots in the Balkans, inherited from the centuries-long Ottoman rule in the region.

Albina Curkovic, a retired 78-year old retired nurse, said uncle Miso was "both a lucky charm and a symbol of Sarajevo" during the war years, when he could hardly be convinced to move to a shelter during the shelling.

"When he was there, we knew that even if the sky fell overnight, we have survived another day" of a more than three-year-long siege of Sarajevo, she said.

Despite food shortages and poverty during the war years, he always kept treats for Sarajevo's stray dogs, which he called his "faithful comrades" in the streets.

Sarajevo mayor Ivo Komsic said that "uncle Miso, as the only and the most famous street shoe-cleaner, was an indelible image" of the capital.

In 2009 "uncle" Miso was awarded a medal for merit by city authorities, as well as a modest apartment and a pension.

At the time, he trumpeted the news to his clients and passer-bys, drumming his brushes on a metal box.

But tears came to his eyes as he remembered that love of his life, Dzemila, died before she could enjoy the rewards. 

"Now when someone puts a foot on a metal case in front of me, he often asks why such a legend still polishes shoes," he said in a recent interview.

"But I say, this job is in my blood and you can only find me dead in this chair," he said.

Thanks to his exuberant personality, Hasani often appeared in films and TV shows shot in Sarajevo. 

He proudly kept dozens of news articles, written about him and the  famous "brush-dance" he performed before cleaning the shoes, in a fake-leather bound memory book.

"There were shoe-cleaners in every street when I started and now, I'm the only one, why? Because I have been brave and people laughed to my jokes," he said in a documentary.

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