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EDITOR’S NOTE: War in Bosnia has sundered even many

September 6, 1993

EDITOR’S NOTE: War in Bosnia has sundered even many of the families who have avoided injury or deaths. But within the tragedy, some have found new strength, grown and built new relations. The writer interviewed a Bosnian refugee in Germany and his son in Sarajevo for this story.

Undated (AP) _ By AIDA CERKEZ Associated Press Writer

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) - It’s a story as old as mankind, a story of an aimless son and a worried father, a tale of hardship and growth and love.

Nedim and Maid Rifatbegovic were like many fathers and sons before war broke out in Bosnia 17 months ago. They couldn’t quite find the time to get to know each other.

Now they are like few others. Separated by hundreds of miles, they are bound by shared hardship. Maid, 23, strong and healthy, became the protector to his 56-year-old father, a journalist crippled by polio, before his father sought safe refuge elsewhere.

″Before the war we lived our own lives, but when the war started I saw that he was lost and helpless,″ Maid said, sitting in a rocking chair in the family apartment surrounded by his father’s books. ″I realized how much I loved him. I would give 100 lives for him.″

Hundreds of miles away, the eyes of Nedim, a refugee sitting at a cafe table in Frankfurt, Germany, misted over and he turned his head away frequently as he talked about the son who kept him alive for eight awful months.

Maid, with his closely cropped military-type haircut, is a young and healthy version of his father. But Nedim said his son was lazy as a teen-ager, the type of student who would sleep until 1 p.m. When Nedi sent his wife and two other sons out of the country before the war started last year, he worried how he and Maid were going to survive.

The polio has left him with almost no use of one arm and limited use of one leg.

″For me, opening a can or washing myself with a few liters of water in a pot is impossible. But Maid did the laundry, cooked, took care of me and spent night after night fighting in the trench,″ the father said.

Nedim has documented his eight months of horror in a book dedicated to his son. The one time he walked across Sarajevo to collect water himself was a terrifying experience.

″Snipers were shooting all along the way,″ Nedim said. ″I felt so alone with this damned canister, the can and one arm.″

He would pick up the canister, carry it a few steps along the street, go back for the can, then repeat the whole process.

Thus they survived together, the soldier son and the writer father.

″It is amazing how capable he is in civilization,″ Maid said of his father. ″But in this wildness where there are no rules, he is helpless. He is perfect for a world where words count, but this is not a time for words.″

″Weapons are talking now, and I had to stand in front of him,″ the son said. Finally, with winter coming, the crippled father was smuggled out of Sarajevo to join the rest of the family in Germany.

Maid, who as a soldier had no choice but to stay behind, reread his father’s books and articles in Oslobodjenje, the main Sarajevo daily newspaper, and gained a deeper appreciation of him. His father wrote during the winter and told him to burn the furniture, and even his beloved books, to keep warm. Maid didn’t.

The younger man did find himself a wife, 23-year-old Dijana, whom his father has never met. But he is convinced that ″she must be a good girl if my son decided to marry her.″

What remains for the relationship is reunion when the war is over.

″I’d like to see him again,″ Maid said of his father. ″I’d like to see him sitting next to a fireplace, reading and writing. I’m stronger, I’m a soldier. He is a poet. He was not made for war.″


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