topics: pida (food), Sarajevo, Balkan war, living with war, HISTORY, acronyms; jump to dispatch

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Rider Notes: April 15, 1998

Food of the Day: pida

A pida is one of the fast food joys found throughout Sarajevo. Similar in many ways to the burek we have seen throughout our travels, it is still a little different. While the ingredients are pretty much identical - meat or spinach or cheese wrapped in a thin doughy pastry - the pida of Sarajevo had a different shape and presentation. Instead of being cooked in individual pastries or cut from a larger one, it was prepared as a long thin roll that is laid into a pan in parallel lines and then cooked. It is served by weight (250 mg being a standard portion) and often covered with a creamy yogurt topping.

Person of the Day: war refugees

Refugees are people that have been displaced as a result of crisis (war, economic hardship, persecution, ethnic cleansing, etc.). Over the past ten-to-twenty years, refugees have become a serious worldwide problem. As the battles of the late twentieth century have occurred more and more at the expense of civilians, the number of refugees (especially children) has skyrocketed. Camps have been established as temporary shelters designed to provide the essentials for these unwitting victims of bellicose politics. Unfortunately, these temporary shelters have often become semi-permanent communities where the infrastructure is incapable of meeting the sustained and increased need of their inhabitants. We saw some examples of these when we were in the Gaza Strip.

While we were in Bosnia-Herzegovina, we didn't see any refugee camps, nor did we have an opportunity to speak to any registered refugees, but we did hear a great deal about their plight. And we saw cruel evidence of why they have been forced to flee what had once been their homes.

In memory of the living victims of the lasting impact of war, we would like to call attention to them here. For more information about them throughout the world, please also visit the following Web sites:

Place of the Day: Sarajevo

Sarajevo was once the capital of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Up until 1992, it was a beautiful city with a long past and pleasant present. It was even the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics. However, beginning in 1992, the civil war in Bosnia tore this republic and its capital city to pieces. The once beautiful downtown area - and all its suburbs - was routinely shelled and bombed. Today the efforts to repair the damage are only beginning. The scars of the war will be visible and their effects felt for years to come.

Perhaps the best summary of what took place in Sarajevo beginning in the Spring of 1992 is offered on the back of the now-famous map of Sarajevo produced by FAMA, a Sarajevan organization devoted to calling attention to the lives that people continued to live while war slammed the city.

"On April 5, 1992, Sarajevo, the capital of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was attacked. The city which lies in the valley of the Miljac(z)ka River is surrounded by mountains click to view a photograph on which there were placed 260 tanks, 120 mortars, and many weapons of smaller caliber. The Yugoslav National Army aided by the local terrorists encircled the city and started to tighten the circle around 500,000 citizens. On May 2, 1992, the city was completely blockaded. A part of the city was occupied and the part which could not be conquered was exposed to a barrage of shelling and artillery fire. Every day the city was hit by some 4,000 shells and among the targets there were hospitals, schools, mosques, churches, synagogues, maternity hospitals, libraries, museums, and the places where citizens stood in line for bread and water. The aggressor destroyed the Post Office and the city was left without telephones, its water, gas and electricity supply was cut. The food supply was fast disappearing. The cemeteries were expanding. On February 26, 1996, by opening the northwest passage, i.e. by liberating the Vogos(h)c(h)a and Ilijas(h) districts, Sarajevo was proclaimed an open city. After the Dayton Agreement and the coming of the IFOR, the aggressor started to leave the occupied territory around the city. They plundered, burnt, and destroyed everything. On March 19, 1996, the aggressor left the occupied district of the city - Grbavic(z)a - which was the last part of the city to be returned to the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina under the Dayton Agreement. 10,615 persons, out of whom 1,601 children, were killed in Sarajevo. More than 50,000 persons were wounded, a great number of whom remain invalids. The siege of the city lasted from May 2, 1992 to February 26, 1996, or 1,295 days, which is the longest siege in the modern history of mankind."

This description is no exaggeration. The 1,295 days of the siege left the downtown area and certain suburbs in utter ruins. But the desolation was pretty widespread.

Perhaps it's time for a little more history. (For the more ancient past, see the dispatch from April 13-14, and for the 19th and 20th century, see tomorrow's dispatch.)

Sarajevo, once considered one of the most Oriental cities in Europe (home to 73 mosques!), remained essentially unchanged from 1914 until 1984 when the Winter Olympic Games caused new building to be built and brought worldwide attention. It was a famously tolerant and mixed city where Muslims, Serbs, Croats, Turks, Jews and other people lived in peace.

The war changed everything.

In 1992, as civil war erupted throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sarajevo came under the attack of Serbian forces backed by the ex-Yugoslavian federal troops and armaments. Throughout the republic, Serbs commenced a process called "ethnic cleansing." This means that they used the war machine to rid certain "Serb" areas of Bosnia of all non-Serbs. They terrorized people, destroyed property, and killed those refusing to flee. The war was further complicated when in mid-June, 1992, Croatia entered the fray as an enemy of Bosnia (with which it had earlier sided). Croatia's president made a secret agreement with Serbia's leader to divide the spoils of Bosnia.

Late in 1992, the United Nations finally took some first steps to provide assistance to the embattled refugees of Bosnia (see our People of the Day). United Nations troops were sent into Bosnia to accompany humanitarian relief convoys. Unfortunately, the troops were powerless to do anything else and proved to be pathetically impotent in the face of danger.

Thus began a three year period during which the UN, NATO, the EU, and the US ineffectually squared off against the Bosnian Serbs (tacitly backed by Serbia and looking to secure their Serbian conquests in Bosnia), the Bosnian Croats (eager to add Croatian-conquered land in Bosnia to Croatia in the creation of a "Greater Croatia") and the Bosnian government. Sanctions were imposed on all warring parties and threats were made on all sides... and skirmishes continued. UN-protected 'safe areas' were established for war refugees and then repeatedly violated, at the expense of refugees and UNPROFOR soldiers alike. Then the Croats turned against the Serbs too.

By mid 1995, all-out war seemed imminent.

In the face of Serb and Croat intransigence and mounting world horror at UN, NATO, EU and US powerlessness, deals were made. Most were broken. But one finally lasted. At a peace conference held in Dayton, Ohio in November 1995, all warring parties accepted the Dayton Agreement or Accord. Within the former boundaries of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, it created two entities: first, a Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina consisting of Bosnians and Croatians, and second, the Serb Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A Human Rights Commission and War Crimes Tribunal were set up and UNPROFOR troops were replaced by US-backed, NATO-led IFOR troops.

For the most part, Dayton has been respected and progress is very slowly being made tracking down and punishing war criminals. It is estimated that repairing the country's basic infrastructural needs will cost in excess of $5 billion and take many, many years.

For photographs of the effects of the fighting on Sarajevo, see the Rider Notes.

Tech Fact of the Day: acronyms

There was an enormous international presence in Sarajevo during the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A significant number of non-native residents are still in the city. Almost all of them work for the United Nations or for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) lending a hand in the revitalization of Sarajevo and Bosnia-Hercegovina. Almost every one of these groups has a vehicle, an indispensable item that allows for transport to other areas at the fringe and beyond the frontiers of the city. And each company vehicle has the company name printed in bold letters somewhere - the hood, the door - on the vehicle. Unfortunately, many of the names of the various international organizations are too long to fit in the space provided, so all that is printed is the acronym (the first letters of each word in the name that often spell a different name). There are so many groups in Sarajevo that the dizzying flow of company cars, vans, and trucks brings with it an even more confusing flood of acronyms. We may have been confused, but the Sarajevans were experts. Here are just a few of the most significant ones:

UN:United Nations
SFOR:Stabilization Force
which took over for:
IFOR:Peace Implementation Force
which in turn took over for:
UNPROFOR:United Nations Protection Force
NATO:North Atlantic Treaty Organization
EU:European Union
UNHCR:United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees
UNICEF:United Nations Children's Fund
USAID:United States Agency for International Development
OSCE:Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
IPTF:International Police Task Force
MP:Military Police
BiH:Bosnu i Hercegovinu (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
MAC:Mine Action Center
CRS:Catholic Relief Services

Group Dispatch, April 15
picture of Ethan

As our first full day in Sarajevo, today was pretty important. We wanted to see as much as we could and from as many different perspectives as possible. But we also had a lot of work to do. Despite the attention that we are giving to the writing of our dispatches, we continue to fall farther and farther behind. So we decided that we would make an all-out effort to get as much done as we could.

Still, we woke up fairly late. We had all been up late the night before going over e-mail and working on the dispatches. This morning was no different. Well lodged in the comfortable apartment that DIA's Euroclub in Sarajevo had generously made available to us, we settled into a long morning of work. Besides, we knew we had a little time. The Euroclub didn't open until after noon, which is when we hoped to reach Renato and see some of the Sarajevan sights.

By 2ish, we had worked and studied more than we could stand, and we were afraid to lose any more daylight. It was a beautiful sunny day - which was a nice switch from yesterday's snow - and we didn't want to let our time slip away from us, as it so often does. So Padraic scooted out into the brilliant afternoon light and called Renato at the Euroclub. Within 30 minutes, Renato was at the flat with the DIA Euroclub mobile click to view a photograph and ready to take us on a quick tour. (In the back of our minds was that evening's chat which we wanted to prepare for as properly as possible.)

So Renato, deftly handling the old Renault click to view a photograph, brought us up the slopes of the hill on the southern side of town, right below the old Jewish Cemetery (here is the synagogue click to view a photograph). This hill was right along the front line dividing the Bosnian Serb forces overlooking the city from the besieged people of Sarajevo. It was easy to see how the high ground held by the Bosnian Serbs throughout the siege gave them a tremendous advantage in terms of targeting people and buildings. We could identify almost every major landmark structure - the City Hall/National Library building click to view a photograph, the main post office, the National Theater, the Law School click to view a photograph, the Parliament buildings click to view a photograph, the Unis Towers click to view a photograph, the Holiday Inn Hotel click to view a photograph, buildings for prayer click to view a photograph, etc.

In each of the buildings, we could see the war history and understand some of the war lore associated with them. For more on this, see tomorrow's dispatch.

One of the most disturbing elements about being so high above the city, from positions used by snipers, gunners and shellers was that we could look down the streets click to view a photograph and across the squares and bridges of the city. click to view a photograph It was terrifying to think how exposed people were to the constant threat of death from snipers and shellers.

Sarajevo during the war was notorious as a place where snipers were active. From high perches in tall buildings or the hillsides from which we were watching, individuals with rifles would sit and wait until they saw people moving around the city. Any people. Ordinary people who had nothing to do with the war. And they would take potshots at them. And often kill them. According to data from 1995 (taken from the FAMA map), 1030 people were wounded, and 225 (including 60 children) were killed by snipers in Sarajevo. In order to move around as freely as possible under this constant threat, the Sarajevans and the UN forces put up shields of sorts made out of anything thy could find: destroyed vehicles, cement blocks, even large sheets of material to block snipers' views. Anything. The UN would also use its armored cars as moving shields, driving slowly with people walking behind them out of sight of the snipers across uncovered areas.

Sarajevo also endured a constant rain of shells. Mortars of all caliber landed everywhere. Designed to explode on first contact or after a short delay or after penetrating walls, mortar shells killed by producing incredible amounts of shrapnel. (This is the damage that is most visible today and was the greatest danger to civilians.) There were three massacres of innocent people shopping in or near the famous and beautiful Markale Market when mortars fell from the sky. The last of these occurred on August 28, 1995, killing 41 and wounding 85 people.

Basically, all we could do was imagine people's desperate actions as they raced around town, using shields and ditches and basements to get around town. We also thought about the famous Dobrinja-Butmir tunnel that ran underneath the airport runway and that was Sarajevo's only link to the outside world. The 760-meter-long, 1.2- by 1.6-meter (831-yard-long, 4- by 5-foot) hole was used for the transport of military personnel and important politicians (foreign ambassadors and Bosnian Members of Parliament) into and out of the city. It was also eventually used for black market goods when marketeers paid huge sums of money to the army for the right to move goods through it.

We were so absorbed by the distant spectacle and our thoughts of what life must have been like in the city that we barely had time to take in the devastation of the buildings right in front of us that had been sitting on the front line. click to view a photograph Nothing in a place so close to the battle could escape its destructive impact. click to view a photograph

From the hillside, we dipped into the center of the city for a stroll through the Bas(h)c(h)ars(h)ija, the old Turkish quarter. A small maze of narrow heavy-stone streets flanked by small two-story shops and stalls click to view a photograph, it is also home to the speedily prepared delicacies of Sarajevo, in particular c(h)evapi and pida (the latter being our Food of the Day). We all sat down for a pida lunch.

It was a nice change of pace to be in this quarter of the city, so full of life and activity. Pondering the past few years from the hill above town had almost eclipsed the present-day reality which is one focussed as much as possible on recovery and rebuilding. And we saw plenty of evidence of that.

Our next stop was the area around the Olympic Stadium. click to view a photograph The Kos(h)evo stadium were where the 1984 Winter Olympic Games opening ceremony was held and the Zetra sports hall was where they were closed. Today the Zetra is unusable (its copper roof collapsed after multiple bombings resulted in a fire which melted it), but the stadium is active. In fact, there was a soccer match (between the city's two teams - "Z(h)eljeznic(h)ar" and "Sarajevo" - so there were quite a few young people around. But in general the place is pretty peaceful. This placidity is reinforced by the fields around the stadium and hall - originally for track and fields event - having been converted into cemeteries. click to view a photograph

Nearby, in a residential zone built along the steep slopes of the valley, we all stopped in on another youth organization called Barcelona-Sarajevo A.D.L. Once a group that shared a much larger space with DIA's Euroclub, both organizations are now on their own. We agreed to return the next day and talk more with the center's administrators.

With the sun beginning to dip low in the sky, Renato took us on one last drive back out to the Euroclub for the weekly Wednesday chat. It took some time to get a secure link through the Internet account used by the Euroclub, but it did work and we enjoyed the two hours of good conversation.

By 9 o' clock, the chat had come to an end and the Euroclub was being rearranged in preparation for a drumming session. Sure enough, that evening an English bongo drummer arrived with a collection of percussion instruments and noisemaking toys and led a bright and cheery group of young people through a good session of rhythmic banging and drumming.

Asleep on our feet, we eventually all piled into the car one last time and Renato dropped us off right at the apartment where we are staying. We were not long awake.

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