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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SAT, 22 APR 1995 20:44:06 GMT

    In Sarajevo After Three Years

    LIFE AS A DREAM

    AIM, Belgrade, April 19, 1995

    It happened that in a single week, that part of Serbia which can watch the Independent TV Studio B, could see two events which symbolize two completely different stances on the war and on what is happening across the Drina River.

    One of them was - the stay of a biggish group of citizens from Belgrade in the occupied Sarajevo, and the other - Seselj's crossing of the Drina after the rally in Loznica, as a demonstration of disregarding of the border between Serbia and Karadzic's state. The first group counted 38 - and the second ten thousand people.

    The first were "traitors who are going to Muslim Sarajevo to pay homage to to Alija Izetbegovic". The others - "patriots, fighters for Greater Serbia". The first won ten black, and the others ten white votes in a popular contact program of the NTV Studio B, competing for the event of the week.

    That is how Belgrade welcomed us, the first travellers from Belgrade on our return from Sarajevo.

    And the first greeting of an unknown Sarajevan, just as we arrived there, was: "Welcome to Sarajevo, wherever you may be from". This greeting accompanied us during the three days of our stay organized by Belgrade group called "To Live in Sarajevo", which maintains contacts with Sarajevans from the beginning of the war and organizes sending aid to people under the three-years long siege.

    Solidarity with the Sarajevans

    We have started on the journey at the invitation of the Serb Civic Council whose representatives had stayed in Belgrade about ten days before that. On a regular bus line, representatives of three opposition parties - the Civic Alliance, the Serb Renewal Movement and the New Democracy, started on their way. There were also Montenegrin Social Democrats, Reformists from Vojvodina, members of the Belgrade Circle, Helsinki Committee, Independent Trade Union, journalists, feminists, a physician from Pozarevac...

    The motives of the different passengers were the same: to show solidarity with the people in Sarajevo.

    - For a long time I have felt the need to show Sarajevans that there are people in Belgrade who think differently. We are all the same, we are just accidentally in different places at this moment - that is how Ljubica Minic who has noone close to her in Sarajevo explained her motive.

    - I was invited by Sarajevans. I wish to see both that city and those people. We have lived together in this space for so long, and I dare say, after everything that happened, it has become clear that we must live together - the former politician, Ivan Stambolic declared. This is the first time he appeared in public after the Eighth Session of the former Serb League of Communists when the present President of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic came to power.

    Sarajevo used to be 320 kilometres from Belgrade. Now, in order to reach it, one must take a road which is almost two thousand kilometres long and cross four border crossings: between Yugoslavia and Hungary, between Hungary and Croatia, between Croatia and Herzeg-Bosnia, and between Herzeg-Bosnia and Bosnia. We arrived in Zagreb in the morning, made a detour around Karlovac, and through Gorski Kotar reached the Adriatic Highway. It was a meeting with the sea after four years. Karlobag had a strong association with Seselj's borders of Greater Serbia. The first encouncer with ruins was above Maslenica. In Herzeg-Bosnia, we observed all the signs of a separate state. Neither Croatia, nor B&H. Herzegovina is one enormous ruin, like after a natural cataclism. Mostar gives the impression of a large stage scenery. Is it possible that anyone lives here?

    From Igman to Sarajevo, we travelled long and slowly, along a macadam road once used for transportation of timber. Parts of the road are within shooting distance of Serb artillery. At a sharp bend of the road we got off the bus. This was a suburb of Sarajevo separated from the rest of the city by the airport runway, where every vehicle that passes is shot at. We continued on foot. A large group of soldiers and several women are here who offer to take down our bags and suitcases for ten German marks. The usual "war business" - survival the Bosnian way.

    - My neighbour was in Belgrade, they did not believe her when she told them that here neighbours take care of each other, that we open the parcels all together, that we share the little we have. That we are all here together, the Serbs, the Muslims and the Croats - one of the local women told us while we were waiting for the tunnel to open - the only way into Sarajevo. - When the first oranges arrived, chilren who are below the age of three started playing ball with them. They did not know that they are something to eat - another woman added.

    The tunnel is the greatest humiliation for the Sarajevans. It was dug during the war as a road for food, departure or arrival with special permits. It implies floundering through mud or ankle-deep water for about half an hour. It is about a metre wide, a metre and a half high and 850 metres long. A rat passage for people.

    Sarajevo Longs for Belgrade

    - Sarajevo longs for Belgrade - a woman tells us from the group of our hosts, friends and relatives who wait for us in front of the building of "Prosvjeta". - Does Belgrade know what is happening to us? Have you seen the photos of Markala, Vasa Miskin, the destroyed buildings, the disabled, our cemetaries where parks used to be in the centre of the city - she asks.

    When there is no shooting and when one avoids looking at the building fronts, Sarajevo resembles any other city. Women dressed up, men out for a slow walk, parks being tended, shop windows being painted, streets being swept, the eternal flame burning in front of the memorial tablet to patriots from the Second World War. The cafes and the pizza parlours are full of people. Then suddenly it strikes. Like the second evening of our stay, when the seventeen-year old girl Maja Djokic was killed. She was at a sports training. We stop together with the passers-by at the place of the killing.

    Irena Antic is Maja's friend. She is sixteen. She lives alone with her blind mother, her father is in Pale. On the other side, Irena says. She was wounded in the leg a few months ago while she went to collect plastics for firewood. But, she does not intend to leave Sarajevo, although young people usually leave the city.

    Why are they here when there is general danger and may start shooting at any moment, we ask the others passers-by, and they answer - In Sarajevo, a bullet may reach youd anywhere, or a shell fragment. It is not safer in the apartment, or any other street.

    And truly, if by traces of shelling, you try to find a place which is less exposed, you will soon realize that there is no such thing. It is impossible to detect any logic: the Southern side of a building is destroyed, and on the one next to it the Northern, a small house between two tall buildings was hit. The first, just like the fifth or the fifteenth floor of buildings.

    The people who are doing it from the hills are usually referred to by the Sarajevans as "they" or "the Chetniks". You will never hear them say that they are the Serbs. And according to official data, there are about 50 thousand Serbs in Sarajevo, and according to some unofficial assessments, about 20 thousand. They say that they had the worst time at the beginning of the war, when hordes of criminals raided the city. The Serb Civic Council, at its second session, pointed out to the difficult situation of the Serbs "who find it more difficult to get permits to leave the city, are who lose their jobs more easily than the others..."

    University Professor and the founder of the popular Radio Wall, Zdravko Grebo, smashes many cliches about Sarajevo and its citizens, speaking openly about the evil which happened in the city itself. But, he cannot explain either how it is possible that there was no, as he said, organized revanchism, mass slaughter of the Serbs and the Croats.

    - It is not quite clear to me - Grebo says - how can anyone explain the dignity with which the people in Sarajevo are enduring it all. How can they find the strength to keep their apartments tidy, how can the women be smartened up, how can they manage to welcome their guests at least with a cup of coffee in their privation.

    The basic impression is that authentic Sarajevans are defending their city both of those who are physically destroying it, but of those who are changing it from within, bringing something else with their exiledom. Therefore, stratification into three parts is evident in this city, too. Croat society, Boshniak, Serb... Sarajevo is not apart from the rest of the world, regardless of the fact that it was turned into a large camp. What will happen later on, as Zdravko Grebo said, is uncertain. Just let the war to end. And the month of May which brings joy to everyone living in this clime is something citizens of Sarajevo fear the most. That is when the ceasefire expires.

    Meetings with other Sarajevans follow one another.

    Two mothers, both about thirty, two friends, have made different decisions. One has sent her children out of Sarajevo at the beginning of the war, they are living in Danilovgrad with their grandmother, gradfather and disabled father, and the other has brought her child back to Sarajevo.

    - I have not seen my fifteen-year old Mimi and Tanja who is eleven for three long years. Mimi was up to my chest when she left, now they are writing to me she is a centimetre taller than I am. We can neither hear nor see each others. I think of it as a bad dream. The only sign that I have not lost my mind is that I know that I get dressed and come to work. It was the worst when my daughter sent me a photograph and wrote: I hope you will not count my wrinkles on the photo. She said everything in that single sentence - story number one.

    - My daughter was eight at the beginning of the war, and she was away from Sarajevo for four months, but she was homesick. When I decided to bring her back, it seemed irresponsible. I did it anyway, because I realized that it was all relative. If it is in the stars, it will happen, if not... I am happy that we are together, and time will show whether I have done the right thing - says the other.

    Living in a Cage

    As a rule, the Sarajevans keep their refrigerator turned on, but it is empty. Food can be found in the shops, there are even fruit and vegetables in the market places. The prices are several times lower than before. Potatoes cost three German marks, lemon six, spinach costs five markes, a kilogram of meat about 15 marks. But, many cannot afford this, because the salaries and pensions are about 20 marks. In April they were still waiting for November pensions.

    We are accomodated in the homes of Sarajevans. One of our hostesses is Marica Mihajlovic, a sixty year old pensioner who lives alone. Her husband died in the beginning of the war, after their daughter left with her family to live in exile. Since then she is alone in a flat on the seventh floor of a skyscraper which is shelled often.

    I remember the last war, too. It is sad that my life should begin and end like that. I cannot hate anyone. My whole life is in Sarajevo. When I think about the previous life, it seems to me as if I have dreamt it - she says, adding that it is better now, there is electric power supply, water every other day. - It was the worst with the water. You start with the canisters, and they shoot exactly at the water queue. I remember one Saturday, nine women were wounded. When a large shell smacks, I return home out of fear, sit for about half an hour and then start again. It is not courage, I do not understand what it is. Sometimes I feel furious because we are so humiliated, helpless, because we are living in a cage.

    Marica Mihajlovic has survived the hardest years thanks to parcels sent by a distant relative from Belgrade. - I know that she too has a hard life, she is a pensioner, and it makes me feel even worse when I think about it all.

    Sarajevo is full of such stories. Death and life. A thousand and six hundred children werew killed in Sarajevo.

    - Eighty per cent by snipers - Salahudin Dizdarevic says, who is the head of the Clinic for Child Surgery, and who remembers his Belgrade friends. Especially his colleagues from the Children's Hospital in Tirsova street, Professor Perovic who taught him the surgical procedure which he is applying now in Sarajevo. He sends his regards via the camera of the Video-Weekly. - I called them in November '93 to ask them to appeal through the Serb Physicians' Society to the administration of Serbia to prevent this bloodshed. They know what it means when surgeons have to remove five, six damaged kidneys a day, just as many spleens, to amputate several extremities - Dr Dizdarevic explains the only contact he had with Belgrade colleagues since the beginning of the war.

    We left Sarajevo after three days, taking the same road back. Just before we left, the poet Izet Sarajlic greeted us. - For a short while the feeling that I am living like I used to came back to me. I am terribly glad to see among the faces of my Sarajevans, a few faces from Belgrade. Because, we Sarajevans, if we were disappointed with anything at all, it was Belgrade we were disappointed with. It is terribly important, it is important for you to be in Sarajevo as much as possible."

    We took thousands of letters in our bags. A little more than we took to Sarajevans. Dr Zarko Korac believes: had there been no ignoring of Sarajevo, concealing of what is going on over there, Belgrade would have, perhaps, been less indifferent. Had there been more truth, there would have been more solidarity.

    Or is this just an attempt to find an alibi for Belgrade, after this three-day experience.

    Branka Mihajlovic