Bravado Remains, but Sarajevo’s Resistance Is Wearing Thin
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ A firefight crackled at both ends of Slavise Vajnera Cice Street. The acrid smell of cordite hung heavy in the air, but Beethoven’s ″Fuer Elise″ blared from a shell-shattered apartment window.
On a low hill under sustained mortar and machine-gun barrage, a group of young men sang folk songs into an inky dark Sarajevo night, seemingly indifferent that the music could give away their position.
Even after seven months of siege, Sarajevo often appears to be a vast improvisational theater of the absurd, its cast a defiant population given to symbolic gesture of weariness with war and deprivation.
But the city is exhausted. From Sarajevo and beyond, the news is almost always bad. There is less and less behind the gesture.
″Everybody is fighting to show life is all that matters,″ said Dzevad Karahasan, a novelist and fine arts professor at Sarajevo University. ″We are trying to act normal. And we are having some success. We are still on our feet.″
His third-floor apartment trembled from an artillery round exploding on the roof one flight up. Moments later in the cellar, he continued, his steady hands rolling a cigarette from a tin of loose tobacco.
″We are aware we are going to die soon. We are trying to use what’s left of our batteries to die honorably and with dignity.
″But seven months of total siege, total isolation, of not being understood - of danger and hunger - takes the power from the people,″ he said. ″You look at the people and think they are without hope. Actually, they are just tired.″
Sarajevo is not just tired, it’s exhausted - pushed beyond the limits. Garbage overflows the bins and spills onto the streets.
There is electricity, sometimes. There is running water, sometimes. The phones work, sometimes.
Weariness is evident in the faces of people plodding the streets under leaden skies in an often-futile search for food and fuel.
Snipers still pick off unwary citizens. Artillery rains on the city every day. And every night, those with electricity watch replays of the horror on Bosnian and Belgrade television.
The war news is almost always bad. Jajce has fallen. Bihac, Gradacac and Brcko to the north are under heavy attack. Bosnian defenders claim they were abandoned, and in some cities attacked, by their Croat allies.
Ejup Ganic, a Muslim member of the collective presidency, claims Jajce fell because Croatian President Franjo Tudjman cut off the supply of ammunition.
Scores of Sarajevans in soiled, ragged coats lineup at the Red Cross in a cold, drizzling rain. They’ve had enough. They want to get their families to safety.
Most say they don’t have the contacts or the money to pay Croat or Serb militiamen to smuggle them through the lines. The price can vary from $65 a person for a perilous dash through the lines to $325 or even $1,300 for safer escorts in militia vehicles.
A Red Cross worker, Zlatan Ljevarevic, quoted refugees as saying the price varies with ability to pay.
″We have no hope of saving our city and our past. Maybe by leaving we can save the memory,″ said Karahasan.
U.N. spokesman Adnan Abdelrazek says the U.N. has been flooded with hundreds of requests recently to help people flee the city. Last summer, he said, there were only a few dozen such requests a month.
The answer is almost always no. Only people with life-threatening medical problems that cannot be treated locally are authorized to fly out on relief planes.
″Last summer, there was some kind of euphoria in the air. The people just grabbed weapons and rushed to the front without caring if there was any ammunition. Now food supplies are running low, the people feel left out of political decisions and winter is approaching,″ said Ljevarevic.
On Sarajevo’s streets, resentment of the government - which has recently signaled a willingness to discuss division of Bosnia - is palpable.
″What do we say to all the people who died for a united Bosnia? What do we say to the invalids?″ Ljevarevic asked.
″I’m an angry man. You are looking at an angry man,″ said Mladen Milidragovic, an electrical engineer. ″I’m not sure any more about the political goals of this war.″
After months of siege, confidence in final victory is waning.
″What will happen is what has to happen. The army has no weapons. Of course it can’t resist,″ said Karahasan.
But somehow the people still resist.
On Saturday, in the midst of the heaviest shelling in a month, an elderly man fished from the banks of the Miljacka River.
As shells burst nearby and machine-gun bullets crashed into the building in front of him, he adjusted the grip on his rod, lit a cigarette and patiently waited for a bite.