Another Balkan winter

International | The relative tranquility of Sarajevo is a welcome respite

Issue: "Parable of the perjurer," Jan. 9, 1999

in Sarajevo - The sun seldom breaks over Sarajevo in winter. It just lifts the gray haze until mountains and hills on all sides are in plain view. From those ridges three years ago, snipers felled victims with efficiency and anonymity. Artillery lobbed shells that shattered buildings and infrastructure. There is much rebuilding and repair. Skendarije, the 1984 Olympic ice rink, is no longer a shattered hulk. Trolleys jammed to capacity race along restored track. Evenings, illuminated construction sites mark new rails nudging into outlying communities. Shops multiply throughout the region and, while they may not be thriving, there is at least enough commerce to keep more new ones coming. Even the famous Sarajevo roses-gouges in sidewalks and avenues where bombs fell, painted red in remembrance of their victims-are disappearing under new surfaces. If this is not yet revival, at least it is respite. Still, there are scars. A ring of devastation around the city demarcates the boundaries of the siege. Buildings are shattered beyond repair, the fury of the fighting framed in hollow, fire-scarred windows and walls pocked with the spray of small-arms fire and shrapnel. Yellow tape marks minefields. It appears and disappears with perplexing regularity. It may outline fields that have been combed 10, 12, 17 times. When 80-85 percent of the mines have been removed, a field is considered clear. Human wounds are harder to clear. As much as a third of the population consists of refugees who remain scattered after the partitioning of Bosnia. The Serb Republic begins at the eastern edge of the city. Serbs fearing retribution in Muslim Sarajevo abandoned homes and escaped into the mountains. Muslims from mountain villages fled Serb forces and escaped to the city, into those homes. One group fears a third winter among mountain snows, the other fears another displacement. Both face uncertainty. For both, life is marginal. Yet here and there scattered throughout the city are pockets of hope. In Dubrinja, site of some of the fiercest fighting, where hundreds died in the streets, a Baptist congregation has been meeting for two years. They worship together, pray together, help one another. It is small. But this year they baptized 10 new members. Muslims, Croats, and Serbs-people whose knives but a few months before would have sought one another's ribs-locked hands in recognition of the truth that transcends dividing lines.

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