Sometimes a day’s reporting can feel pretty fragmented, but then, on a good day, it all comes together anyway. Today was like that. I had time to let the morning unfold a bit. Walked east to west through Sarajevo’s old town and then most of downtown by the river, taking photos, marveling at the mix of still-war-battered buildings with the new.
My first interview was with Miroslav Lajcak, the international community’s “High Representative” to Bosnia. He’s disappointed some people here, but I found him forthright and thoughtful about my particular set of questions, namely the central contradictions and dilemmas of being in charge of this place and the legacy of Dayton and what might have happened differently at Dayton and what the challenges are now as a result of Dayton. He was patient and eloquent and did not try to evade the trickier stuff. For that he has my thanks.
I also spoke to Tim Clancy, author of the Bradt guide to Bosnia and Herzegovina, about the last of the highlander villages in the Dinaric Alps near Sarajevo.
And I spoke at length with Jacob Finci, leader of Sarajevo’s Jewish Community and soon-to-be Bosnian Ambassador to Switzerland. He was particularly eloquent about life under 44 months of siege in Sarajevo:
It’s not very easy to describe in two minutes because this was so strange and almost totally unbelievable. It was unrealistic to live in the city without electricity, without any source of energy, without water, without phone lines. We succeeded to survive with 5 liters of water per day per capita and this same water was used for cooking, for washing, for toilet, everything in 5 liters.
At the same time we pretended we were living normally. We organized theatre performances and theatre performances used to start at 11 o’clock in the morning and after, instead of going to some fancy restaurant, we went to the soup kitchen, being lucky to get one pot of beans or pasta or whatever was served there and this was as I call it an imitation of life and this was also kind of our so to say way of our struggle because not everyone had a rifle but this was also way of our struggle for survival, our battle to show we are living persons and that we are fighting for survival.
I remember the journalists who covered the war here they have been amazed that each and every person on the street was dressed lovely with the makeup and so on and said how it can be? The answer was simple: maybe some foreign television will take a picture of me and my family probably will see that I am still alive and I shall always be properly dressed in the clean clothes because I can get laundered and if they take me to hospital and somebody will see that my underwear are not very clean they will get the wrong impression about me. So it was the small things that we always count on and it was everything so unbelievable.
People who survived Sarajevo are not willing to talk about this to the people who never have been here because it looks so unbelievable that no one will believe you so nobody will understand me and that’s the reason why these stories are only for the insiders. And maybe just after Sarajevo I realized why the people who survived the Nazi camps who survived Auschwitz and then came back, they never spoke about Auschwitz because to say such things it’s so strange nobody will believe me. Just after years years after WW2 finished they started to open themselves and tell us the real stories. Maybe something similar will happen about Sarajevo but now you have some books or political essays about war here and how it was stopped, what is possible to be done on the field of reconciliation and similar things but at the same time we still don’t have any novels or movies about inside life in such siege because maybe it will look a little bit as a fantastic story invented by some lunatic.
Finci has a case against Bosnia and Herzegovina at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. He maintains he should have the right to run for the presidency in Bosnia but under the current (Dayton) constitution he is precluded from doing so because as a Jew he doesn’t belong to one of the three designated identities: Muslims, Croats and Serbs. He’s pretty confident the Court will rule in his favor; he hopes that in turn will add to pressure for Bosnia to change/update its constitution.
Mid-afternoon we set off on a last-day excursion to a highland village called Lukomir which is struggling to maintain the old ways in the face of rapid change all around. Just two hours from Sarajevo and we were in an other-worldly landscape of limestone and lingering snow and shepherds tending flocks. Look for an audio portrait soon on The World.
And finally, a lovely late dinner with new-found friends at Dveri (see www.dveri.co.ba) in Sarajevo. I had the muckalica and a glass of white wine from Herzegovina.
Sorry for lack of pics in this post; I even tried to post video from up in Lukomir, but the internet is too slow tonight and I don’t have the time or patience to wait it out.
Not sure when I’ll post next. In transit tomorrow. Thanks to all who’ve been following.