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BosNet Digest V5 #25 / Jan. 16, 1996

From: Dzevat Omeragic <dzevat@EE.MCGILL.CA>

Bosnia-Herzegovina News Directory


  • [01] Salvaging Bosnia's Past

  • [02] Bosnia's Postwar Battle: Library is at Heart of Debate on Future

  • [03] Sacirbey: "Elections should be delayed if not free"

  • [04] Croats To Resist Plans To Reunify Mostar; Croat Mayor

  • [05] Repatriation of the Refugees

  • [06] Refugee camps around Zagreb to be closed

  • [07] UNHCR: Several Bosniak families returned to Banja Luka

  • [08] Theft In UN Headquarters

  • [09] Sarajevo Artists Display In Dubrovnik

  • [10] Bosnians Soon To Buy Off Tenure Apartments

  • [11] NATO Forces Take Control Of Key Utilities

  • [12] Bildt: "Bosnia Election Deadline Tough To Meet"

  • [01] Salvaging Bosnia's Past

    January 15, 1996 - Opinion page

    No matter what the peace arrangements, some things destroyed in wartime can never be recovered. The destruction of Bosnia's National Library by Serbian shelling, although less immediately horrific than the murders and other atrocities that have marked the Balkan war, might stand as a symbol for all such unrecoverable losses.

    Bosnians in Sarajevo now seek to rebuild the city and, perhaps, the library building that went up in flames in 1992. The ruins of the burned library have become the focus for a complicated philosophical dispute over whether to rebuild the structure or preserve it as a ruin to recall the loss of history and identity that burning a library produces.

    The loss of what was in the library -- not only a million books, but the periodical archive of Bosnia's history in this century -- has deeper resonance even than the loss of the structure that housed them. Even if the building (a former Sarajevo town hall before it was a library) is restored to its former glory, those who burned it accomplished one important and uncivilized goal. They erased the written record of half a millennium of cosmopolitan, legally regulated coexistence among the city's ethnic groups.

    Central Sarajevo, as faraway spectators of the war know by now, was where Serbian Orthodox, Catholic Croats and Muslims lived and worshipped side by side. That such coexistence is or should be impossible has been an article of faith for the "Greater Serbia" forces and others who gradually, by the sheer buildup of atrocities, made that coexistence vastly more difficult than it has been in the past.

    The destruction of history, not accidentally but in the service of ideas like this, is one of wartime's familiar barbarities. The National Library's head, Enes Kujundzic, has become a familiar figure as he travels to other libraries seeking to replace his onetime library's vanished holdings. Whatever the Sarajevans decide, the emptiness in this onetime library is a measure of what this war sought to destroy. The history recorded there needs to be remembered despite its destruction.

    [02] Bosnia's Postwar Battle: Library is at Heart of Debate on Future

    January 10, 1996

    By John Pomfret
    Washington Post Foreign Service

    Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- On a hot summer night in 1992, Serbian gunmen attacked Bosnia's National Library from four directions, peppering its stone walls and copper cupola with phosphorus shells. Within minutes the building turned incandescent as more than a million books and 15,000 meters of wooden bookshelves erupted into flame.

    At dawn on Aug. 26, 1992, tongues of fire lapped from each of its 86 windows, and burning wooden rafters sailed from its roof. Amid the chaos, Kenan Slinic, the chief of Sarajevo's fire department, and the rest of his ragtag team braved fusillades from Serbian anti-aircraft heavy machine guns to battle the blaze. By midday, Mr. Slinic and his crew had doused the flames, but the building was gutted. Today it remains an empty shell.

    Now, with the onset of a shaky peace in Bosnia, a new battle has broken out over the grand four-story Austro-Hungarian structure that celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. On one side, the city government of Sarajevo wants to restore the building to its 19th-century grandeur as an exceptional example of quirkily crenellated arabesque architecture in the heart of Europe. On the other, the library's director seeks to keep the place in its distressed state as a living memorial to the 3-year siege of Sarajevo.

    "The library was a symbol of the city," said the director, Enes Kujundzic. "It should be the keeper of our past."

    The struggle over the National Library is a struggle over memory, over how this war should be commemorated so that it will never be repeated. It is a struggle between the pragmatism of city government officials like Mohamed Zlatar, who believes Sarajevo and Bosnia should move to heal and forget the scars of the war, and those like Mr. Kujundzic, who contends that recollections of suffering and destruction should form a permanent part of this city.

    But the fight over the library's fate is also a struggle over ownership. Mr. Zlatar and the city government say the building should be returned to its original purpose as Sarajevo's city hall. Mr. Kujundzic counters that the building, which became the library after World War II, should remain that and house a permanent exhibition "to remember the suffering and the dead."

    The library tussle also relates to a broader debate in Bosnia about how the country should move into the future. Should it raze its rickety buildings, bankrupt factories and technologically backward schools and start anew? Or should it patch together what the war left -- a legacy of scrap metal and rusting railroads?

    All over Bosnia, struggles like this are taking place as the warring factions and cabals within them pick over the wreckage. The resolution of hundreds of these seemingly petty conflicts will have much to say about what kind of country emerges from the war.

    In Zenica, for example, city authorities are battling the bosses of the Zenica steel mill, which employed 24,000 people before the war and was the biggest in Yugoslavia. The factory bosses want to reopen and start production as early as next month. City authorities, fearing a backlash against the factory that once doused the streets of Zenica with gray powder and spilled black effluent into the Bosna river, are seeking to keep it shut.

    "Those ecologists say that now people in Zenica are accustomed to clean air," said Aziz Mujezinovic, the factory's deputy director. "But they are also accustomed to eating. What are you going to tell soldiers when they come off the front line? That there's no job, but there's clean air?"

    Back in Sarajevo, Mr. Kujundzic has tried to keep the building within his bibliographic empire. On Dec. 21, for example, as artists, scholars, intellectuals and city officials gathered in the building's brick-strewn shell to unveil a huge, six-panel wall hanging by the Czech artist Jiri Sozansky, Kujundzic brought a book along.

    He placed it on a crumbling brick and told the crowd that he was depositing the first book in the library since its burning, thereby staking his claim. City officials at the gathering were not amused.

    Even half-ruined, the library has a regal feel. It was built mostly with Bosnian materials. Only the granite columns, from Austria's Tyrol region, and the marble steps and ceramic tiles, from Hungary, were imported, according to a detailed description published in an old Bosnian magazine called Hope.

    In some senses, its confused design -- half stolid Austro-Hungarian and half arabesque -- reflects Bosnia's confused political status at the time. Under an agreement worked out in 1878 at an international conference called the Congress of Berlin, the Roman Catholic Austro-Hungarian Empire took administrative control of Bosnia while the Muslim Ottoman Empire continued to exercise suzerainty over it.

    For his part, Mr. Zlatar, the chief city official in charge of reconstruction, cannot be accused of cold feelings toward the building. As a student in the 1950s, he did research in the library. His grandfather was the last mayor to sit in it, just before World War II.

    On Aug. 26, 1992, Mr. Zlatar showed up as the library burned, to bear witness to the destruction and to cheer on the fire chief, Mr. Slinic. With tears in his eyes, he spoke of the building's place in Sarajevo's heart.

    Taking a break for some water and to bandage a bleeding arm, Mr. Slinic approached Mr. Zlatar. "Because it's a library, you're crying," Mr. Slinic yelled to Mr. Zlatar above the din of Serbian gunfire and crackling wood. "Hey," continued the fire chief, a hard-drinking roisterer who was killed the following year in a lover's quarrel, "if it were a cafe, I'd be crying, too."

    [03] Sacirbey: "Elections should be delayed if not free"

    Mon Jan 15, 1995

    Bosnian Foreign Minister Muhamed Sacirbey said Monday it would be better to delay elections in Bosnia than to hold a poll that was not free and fair. "I must emphasize that the key issue here is not to have elections but to have free, fair and democratic elections," Sacirbey said on the sidelines of a meeting to discuss organization of the vote. "Just to have elections can turn out to be nothing more than legitimizing the existing status quo," he added.

    The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has been given the task of supervising the elections, organized the Stockholm meeting in order to define the problems and find ways of solving them.

    [04] Croats To Resist Plans To Reunify Mostar; Croat Mayor

    Mon Jan 15, 1995
    MOSTAR, Bosnia and Herzegovina (ONASA)

    The mayor of the Croat part of Mostar said on Sunday he would continue to resist plans to reunify the divided city in line with the Bosnian peace accord. Mijo Brajkovic said he told Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel of Germany, Mate Granic of Croatia and Muhamed Sacirbey of Bosnia at talks earlier Sunday that Bosnian Croats in the city wanted urban neighborhoods to remain ethnically pure.

    "The Croat party wants to live together in one town, but on a totally different basis" from the past, Brajkovic told Mostar's Croat radio, adding that his people rejected Bosnian Government proposals for multiethnic neighborhoods.

    [05] Repatriation of the Refugees

    Tue, Jan 16, 1995
    GENEVA, Switzerland

    Officials from more than 40 countries and 20 international aid agencies are meeting in Geneva on the planned repatriation of the more than two-million Bosnians forced from their homes during the war. The UN High Commissioner For Refugees, Sadako Ogata, says she hopes nearly half of the refugees and displaced persons will be able to return before the end of this year.

    She also said that the repatriation program faces enormous obstacles, and will in many ways be more complex than UNHCR's effort to deliver humanitarian aid to Bosnia. Several other conditions must also be met, including the implementation of the military and human rights aspects of the Dayton peace accord. Officials say the repatriation program is inextricably linked to reconstruction efforts in Bosnia. Mrs. Ogata told Tuesday's Conference here it may be some time before large scale reconstruction projects envisaged by the World Bank and other institutions are started. And as a stopgap measure, UNHCR is establishing a 30-million dollar trust fund to provide the returning refugees with building materials, including bricks, roofing tiles, and lumber.

    The plan unveiled by UNHCR here today has the approval of both the Bosnian Government and the leadership of the Bosnian Serb entity. It envisages the repatriation or resettlement of around 870- thousand Bosnians this year, most of them displaced inside the country.

    [06] Refugee camps around Zagreb to be closed

    Mon Jan 15, 1995
    SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (ONASA)

    Croatian authorities have decided to shut down all refugee camps in the region of Zagreb and to move refugees to a refugee camp in Gasinci, Sarajevo state radio reported on Monday.

    By doing so, the Croatian government has violated an agreement with the Bosnian Federation to postpone the transfer of refugees until March 1, 1996, until when programs for their return to Bosnia are supposed to be completed.

    According to information obtained in the Bosnian Croatia Embassy refugee department, workers of the Tempo construction company have entered most of the camps in the region with the task of tearing them down. The expelled people are being threatened to move out by policemen with dogs.

    [07] UNHCR: Several Bosniak families returned to Banja Luka

    Mon Jan 15, 1995
    SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (ONASA)

    Since the Dayton agreement was initialled, a small number of evicted Bosniak (Bosnian Moslem) families in Banja Luka have managed to get back their homes by court order in December, UNHCR spokesman Mans Nyberg said on Monday, adding that a few Bosniak families in Prijedor have also been reinstated in their homes in judicial way after having complained at the Banja Luka Corps. Nyberg said the total number of these families is 15.

    "Of course, this number cannot in any way be compared to the tens of thousands of families who had been evicted from their homes during the whole conflict," Nyberg said, adding that the UNHCR is encouraged by the positive development. He said the events point to a "change of atmosphere, but not the authority" in the regions. Nyberg, however, said he would not encourage ethnic minorities to begin returning to their homes.

    [08] Theft In UN Headquarters

    Tue, Jan 16, 1995
    ZAGREB, Croatia

    The United Nations is reporting missing human rights material from the UN office in Zagreb, Croatia. The theft is said to have occurred last Friday or Saturday.

    The U-N headquarters is waiting for a full security evaluation of the break-in. But initial reports say among the missing items were two desk-top computers, two lap tops (computers), two walkie-talkies and a fax machine. The lap-top computers contain interviews with mainly Croatian Serbs about the looting and burning of their property and forced expulsions following a Croatian army offensive last august. This is considered potentially vital information for the UN human rights center, which until recently focused almost exclusively on crimes against Bosnian Muslims.

    A UN spokeswoman, Sylvana Foa, says the feeling now is that it was a common theft -- not a political one -- and probably an inside job by someone with access to the UN compound. She also noted that this was not the first burglary.

    [09] Sarajevo Artists Display In Dubrovnik

    Mon Jan 15, 1995
    DUBROVNIK, Croatia (ONASA)

    An exhibition by two Sarajevo artists on life in Sarajevo Sunday opened in Dubrovnik. The organizer, art workshop Lazareti, presented the "WAR-um" project comprising pictures, paintings, drawings, sculptures and installations which describe everyday life in Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994, all made by Sanda Hnatjuk and Bojan Bahic.

    The exhibition, which was earlier presented in Sarajevo and Prague, will be open until the end of January.

    [10] Bosnians Soon To Buy Off Tenure Apartments

    Mon Jan 15, 1995
    SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina (ONASA)

    Bosnian citizens will soon be able to buy off their apartments which they now use based on tenant's right, according to a draft law on the buy off and sell off of tenure apartments.

    The draft law, Monday discussed by the Bosnian government's legal council headed by Omer Ibrahimagic, envisions that the initial price for a square meter of housing will be 850 German marks, and citizens will be allowed to pay it in 100 three-month instalments over a period of 25 years.

    [11] NATO Forces Take Control Of Key Utilities

    Tue, Jan 16, 1995
    SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina

    French forces in Sarajevo have taken control of key utilities in Serb-held Sarajevo to prevent sabotage by the nationalist Bosnian Serbs. NATO says its forces encountered no resistance, and French troops and armored vehicles are now stationed at four key facilities. It was the most aggressive military operation undertaken by NATO since it began enforcing the Dayton peace agreement.

    The city's main water pumping station, two electrical transformer facilities, and the natural gas regulator station are now under the control of French soldiers.

    NATO spokesman Brigadier General Andrew Cumming. said recent statements from Bosnian Serb leaders, and indications that Serbs fleeing Sarajevo might resort to violence had prompted the action French officers said they were concerned the facilities would be sabotaged.

    "Everyone in Sarajevo depends on these facilities particularly the water pumping station," he said.

    If the four facilites were destroyed by the Serbs, Sarajevo would be in the cold and dark without water for up to six months while repairs were made.

    On Monday French troops also inspected an airfield at Visoko, in Central Bosnia, after Government troops tried to stop the French from entering the airport. The soldiers found nothing at the airport, but the military action is a clear evidence NATO is taking strong moves to reinforce its authority before Friday's deadline for all sides to withdraw from confrontation lines around the country.

    [12] Bildt: "Bosnia Election Deadline Tough To Meet"

    Mon Jan 15, 1995

    Carl Bildt, coordinating the civilian peace effort in Bosnia, said on Monday it would be extremely difficult to meet a September deadline for elections in this former Yugoslav republic, Reuters reported.

    "Anyone with any experience in organizing elections knows the time frame is an exceedingly short one," Bildt told an experts meeting on Bosnian elections in Stockholm. He added "five months is not realistic. We are looking more at early autumn."

    Bildt said the biggest obstacle to the election process was election registers which have been destroyed during the four year Balkan conflict. The huge migrations which have taken place will add to the difficulties, he said.

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