Related topics

Government Lobs Mortars, but Skiing Goes on at Olympic Resort

April 22, 1993

JAHORINA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ The sun is shining, the slopes are laden with snow and tanned skiers glance skywards at the French Mirage jets streaking overhead.

Could this be a resort in the French Alps? Not quite.

It is another well-known ski center, site of the women’s Alpine events in the 1984 Winter Olympics. Serbs hold this spot in the heart of the worst war to rock Europe since 1945 - Jahorina Mountain in central Bosnia-Herzegovina, only 12 miles from Sarajevo.

Here amid pristine forests, chalets and carefully tended slopes, the conflict seems distant. But signs of war are difficult to conceal in what used to be known among skiers as ″Heavenly Valley.″

A 120mm mortar and triple-barreled anti-aircraft guns guard the peak of the mountain. Some skiers wear camouflaged or snow-white military overalls and carry automatic rifles slung across their backs. The Mirage jets are enforcing a no-fly zone over Bosnia.

Although no major clashes have occurred on the mountain for months, Bosnian government units are positioned less than 2 miles south of the crest. They have the unnerving habit of lobbing occasional mortar shells at the resort.

″We can never let our guard down,″ declared Novak Novakovic, a ski-lift operator who fondly recalls the Olympics.

Nowadays about 100 skiers, mostly local Serbs or refugees, use the slopes each day, instead of the thousands of Sarajevo residents and tourists that used to pack Jahorina’s seven hotels and hundreds of pensions each winter.

Novakovic is proud of how well the slopes have been prepared, with 28 inches of densely packed snow, and complains that the fighting has been awful for business.

″If this were a regular season, we could keep the lifts going well into May,″ he said.

Glancing up at the white trails left by the patrolling fighters in the clear sky Novakovic repeats the standard Serb propaganda line: ″The West is responsible for this war - it will end when the West decides that enough is enough.″

Other skiers also blamed the international community for its support for the Muslim-led Bosnian government.

″Why does the Christian world not support Christian Serbs against the Muslims who are trying to occupy Europe?″ asked Milan Rudic, as he and a group of friends reclined on skis and poles, tanning themselves on a plateau near the top of the ski-lift.

Rudic, a member of a military ski unit, went on to describe a clash in December when Serbs ambushed a government column trying to sneak up to the mountain crest.

He claimed about 70 loyalist soldiers died in the three-day firefight, many of them freezing to death in temperatures as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit.

While the Olympic spirit may be dead and buried in Jahorina, mementos of the 1984 Games still abound.

Fading images of Vucko, the games’ grinning mascot, are plastered everywhere, while the intertwined Olympic rings and the square, stylized snowflake that was the symbol of the Sarajevo games grace empty hotel entrances and deserted ticket booths.

As though frozen in time, colorful roadside signs still point to the sites of the various alpine events.

Other venues of the Sarajevo games have been badly damaged or destroyed in the yearlong war. The huge Zetra figure-skating and ice-hockey stadium has been gutted and the Trebevic bobsled run devastated. Igman mountain, site of the Nordic competitions, is now a government stronghold and artillery base.

The only competition held on Jahorina is the championship of the Bosnian Serb army. Teams competed over the weekend in biathlon, giant slalom and ″patrol running,″ a discipline similar to a relay and involving firing short bursts of automatic fire at designated targets.

″Skiers make hardy and courageous soldiers and are very, very good Serbs,″ proclaimed Gen. Stanislav Galic, commander of the Sarajevo Corps, as he slalomed clumsily past.

Update hourly