Memici Market Unites Serbs, Muslims
Memici Market Unites Serbs, Muslims
SUSANNE M. SCHAFER
Oct. 25, 1997
MEMICI, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Where artillery shells once screamed, a cacophonous mix of cattle lowing, sheep bleating and tunes from a tinny Bosnian accordion fills the air. Scores of grizzled farmers and simple workers gather to sell, buy, drink a bit of coffee _ or something stronger _ and talk, talk, talk.
The Sunday market in this rural Bosnian village would appear normal in any Balkan land. But the fact that Muslims and Serbs have been coming together here for several months to trade is touted as a sign of major progress in an area that was once a front line in Bosnia's brutal ethnic war.
The Memici market is an attempt to reinvigorate commerce in a land without a national currency, where factories remain gutted and skilled workers have fled. But progress may seem slow when you only have a few cartons of cigarettes, bits of electrical wiring or fabric, or a cow or lamb to trade.
U.S. Army Capt. Ross Coffman and his troops from the NATO peacekeeping base at nearby Camp Dobol patrol the market, making sure no trouble breaks out. The market is positioned inside a 2-mile wide ``demilitarized zone,'' which crosses the highway that links the industrialized city of Tuzla to the west and Serbia to the east.
``Don't walk off the road, or where there are weeds,'' Coffman says, warning of potential land mines still uncleared nearly two years after the war. Fields that have been planted, or where crops have been mown, may be cleared of the deadly weapons, but one can never be sure, he adds.
Toting heavy M-16s and outfitted in heavy combat helmets and flak jackets, Coffman's men appear a bit out of place as they stroll among the farm women in kerchiefs and men in black berets.
The young officer and his troops aren't there to make purchases, but to patrol the roads to ensure freedom of movement and that no weapons are inside the zone of separation.
Inside the market, Safeta Alic says many people stroll by and touch her bolts of fabric, but few can afford to buy.
``Mostly, people come for the friendship,'' she says.
The Muslim mother of two says she had worked in a shoe factory in now Serb-held Zvornik, but dares not to return home. Others, she has been told, live in her house, but she doesn't know who they are.
``The Americans should stay, we need them'' to keep the peace, she said. Other than that, she insists she knows nothing of politics.
Standing by his table loaded with drill bits, electrical outlets and other German-made hardware supplies, Sevko Sacinovic says business has been ``quite good'' for the past two or three months. Homes devastated by war must be rebuilt.
Sacinovic, who says he is trading at the market until he can regain his ``real job'' as a driver and private contractor, said the market is a ``very secure'' place.
``There is no fear ... If the Americans leave, there will be war again, definitely,'' the Muslim father of two said. ``We hope the Americans will stay here a long time.''
Standing next to a meager pile of cigarette cartons, Ljubija Mihajlovic said his situation is ``not going so well.''
``It is very hard to save money, and very easy to spend money. There are no jobs,'' said the Serb, a former waiter. The restaurant where he worked was completely destroyed in the war, and everyone there lost their jobs.
The market, he said, is a good thing. Queried about the future, he said he'd heard that the NATO troops would leave. ``I'm afraid of that,'' he said.
The region must climb out of the devastation brought by war. Phone connections are non-existent. A bus runs between Tuzla and Zvornik, but few take it, expressing fears they will be maltreated upon return to their homes.
Coffman leads his little convoy into Mahala, a cluster of farm houses and buildings that was the center of ethnic clashes last summer when Muslims who fled the area in 1992 attempted to return to their homes.
At that time, American troops intervened to bar armed Muslim soldiers from entering the village, as well as Serb police.
Now, instead of using their armor to prevent ethnic clashes, the troops brought in a tank with a specialized roller to make sure the road that led to the local well was free of mines. An elderly woman worked her way up and down the hill, carrying a bucket of water.
``Thanks to the Americans, nobody bothers us,'' said Omer Alic, 67, a farmer who paused to talk while rebuilding his house.
His grandson, 10-year-old Semir, smiled at the visitors.
His wish? More children, so he could play soccer, the boy said.