Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Sarajevo Daily" by Tom Gjelten [9]

Chapter 7: Winter
The opening sentence of this chapter is something of a shock:

"I returned to Sarajevo in January 1993 after a six-month absence and was astonished at how wretched a place it had become."

All of the earlier scenes of struggle and survival, the reader is reminded, were from the earliest months of the war. At that point, Sarajevo had yet to experience the deprivations of winter. In this chapter, we see how the grinding, relentless struggle to survive in a city under siege was wearing people down, and eroding the sense of community in the process. Society wasn't fracturing on ethnic lines, but rather atomizing into a collection of  families and households, each able to do little more than look after their own.

The cold, the darkness, the lack of adequate food, the constant work involved merely in acquiring water, the loneliness, the isolation...the nobility and spirit of Sarajevo was being reduced to grim day to day scramble for firewood, rations, shelter from sniper and mortar fire, favorable relations with the inconsistent UN officials who were the only conduit to the outside world.

Ivo and Gordana's son lost his only friend, an older neighbor boy who shared his love of hard rock, when that neighbor--serving as a soldier in the army--was killed. On average, Oslobodjenje gave over a quarter of each issue to obituaries, which now served not only ceremonial purpose but also informational, as people around the city often had no other way to learn of the fate of family members, coworkers, and acquaintances around the city.

The Cyrus-Vance plan legitimized the ethnic division of the country, scoring a victory for Bosnian Serb propaganda and triggering the Muslim-Croat civil war of 1993. The war in Bosnia took a step closer to being a self-fulfilling prophecy, the three-way war between "nations" that Karadzic and company always claimed it to be.

Gordana was able to travel to New York City for a few days to receive an award. The guilt at her temporary escape coexisted with the sense that if she allowed herself to get used to the comforts of life in a city not at war, her return to Sarajevo would be unbearable. And indeed, when she returns, she finds that the cold was worse than anyone expected; her bathroom shelves are gone, having been used as firewood.

It is only January.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't know whether you wer privileged to watch that extraordinary documentary "A Street in Sarajevo" series broadcast from the city under siege every night on Channel 4. It was an unreal experience, and extraordinary that the world could live with it.

You might find this article by Barbara Demick about her stay in Logavina Street interesting too