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Sarajevo's reproach.

Welcome to the Twenty-first Century," said Haris Pasovic, the director of Sarajevo's main theater. "Come and see the beginning of the end of Western civilization." Many people reiterated this theme during my recent visit to the Bosnian capital. "Fukuyama talked about the end of history," said Hirvo, a writer. "This is it. Sarajevo is Europe's future."

The international community's failure to save Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina is a monumental betrayal of fundamental human values. Sarajevo was, and even after almost a year-and-a-half of continuous shelling is, a model of multiethnic and multicultural society. The ruined city is still a jumble of Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman architecture; mosques, churches, and synagogues stand side by side. Mixed marriages, syncretic traditions, mutual celebrations of festivals take place even now.

More importantly, the city is secular, irreverent, cultured, and, as Sarajevans like to say, "European." Theaters and concerts are packed, more than before the war. Art exhibitions and seminars are held on such sonorous themes as "Death and Sacrifice" or "Art and War." I saw a naughty English comedy performed by candlelight. It was called How to Get Rid of Your Wife, and the audience rocked with laughter as wives, homosexuals, and policemen frolicked about the darkened stage. "What's it got to do with Sarajevo?" one of our party asked. "Everything," said Haris. "It's funny."

All this has been preserved, to some degree, despite the war and the siege. Every day people are killed and wounded; in one recent week, thirty-one people were killed and 194 wounded. Since the beginning of the siege, 8,871 people have been killed in Sarajevo, including 1,401 children, and 16,660 people wounded. It is dangerous to walk in the streets - not only because you might get killed but also because you might be picked up by one of the more fearsome Bosnian commanders to dig trenches while exposed to Serbian fire. There are thirty-six different armies in town and crime is rife.

There is no water, no coal, no electricity. Humanitarian aid is completely inadequate. During my visit, the monthly rations arrived; they consisted of one kilo of flour, half a kilo of rice, half a liter of oil, one can of beef, three bars of soap, and a packet of biscuits for those over sixty. The black market flourishes - much can be purchased for foreign currencies or for cigarettes. People are using up their lifetime savings; as one resident put it, living in Sarajevo is like being on a very expensive holiday. Every building has been damaged. Many trees have been cut down for fuel. My friend Zdravko, a law professor, soaks the pages of his books in water and rolls them out to make fuel for cooking.

Yet all the same, the social fabric survives. It is a mystery how everyone looks so clean and elegant. Clothes are ironed, hair washed, faces shaved, and houses and offices spotless. Despite the crime and the black market, there is a strong sense of community, with neighbors sharing rations, homegrown vegetables (nobody grows flowers anymore), and black-market spoils. But few people have any illusions; they do not believe that Sarajevo can survive another winter. Even if the Serbs do not take over, the character of the city will die. Most people want to leave and many have succeeded.

Sarajevo's existence is a reproach to the world and, at the same time, an indication of what went wrong and what could continue to go wrong. There is a deep bitterness against the international community, which is seen to have endorsed ethnic division and to have participated in a crusade against multiethnicity and, in particular, against the Bosnian Muslims.

There is also considerable cynicism towards the Izetbegovic government. People accept that Alija Izetbegovic is the legitimate ruler of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but they criticize him, above all, because he accepted the Serbian and Croatian war-lords as negotiating partners. They do believe that he favors the preservation or restoration of a united multiethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina but, all the same, he is the leader of the Muslim nationalist party and that makes it difficult for people of all nationalities to put their faith in him.

Nobody feels represented at the international talks. Only the nationalist views are heard, and nowadays the nationalists are supported by only a tiny proportion of the population. The antinationalist opposition parties - Liberals, Social-Democrats, and Reformists - gained 30 per cent of the votes at the last election and believe that their real support was much greater. They note that many people voted for the nationalists out of fear - they were told to vote for them in churches and mosques, much as they were told how to vote in the communist period - and many others did not vote at all. Now the antinationalists are convinced that they have more support, but nobody has considered taking their views into account. "Abroad, people don't recognize the existence of a civic political block," the secretary general of the Liberal Party told us.

By the same token, the outside world rarely listens to or reports the views of respected individuals, independent intellectuals, or civic activists, though these have much more standing nowadays in Bosnian society than politicians. Walking down the street with Zdravko, my friend the law professor, is like walking down the street with royalty. He was the person, at the beginning of the war, who called on people to pull down the barricades and demonstrate for peace. Hundreds of thousands came out, including families with children, until the shooting began. Now, he has his own radio station, the most widely listened to radio station in Sarajevo. It is called "Zid," which means wall.

The wall, says Zdravko, refers both to the Berlin Wall and to the wall that is Sarajevo and other towns in Bosnia-Herzegovina, "divided by hatred, nationalist fanaticism, and madness generated by people who have never been Sarajevans, who have never been citizens. The wall in front of which the conscience and morality of the world's mighty stops, unable to go over it . . . the wall that makes the |public opinion of the world insignificant' . . . the wall that gets a minute-and-a-half of TV time every time . . . the wall that is blocking every individual on the planet who can find room for more than purely egoistic interests.

"That's why we call ourselves |Zid' knowing that what we want to achieve is like |banging our heads against a wall.'"

Zdravko is respected because of his integrity, because of his consistent antinationalist stance, and because unlike the politicians, he shares the privations of life in Sarajevo - the exposure to sniper fire and shelling, the lack of food, water, and fuel. Everyone, from children to black marketeers, stops to ask his advice or shake his hand or just say hello.

Ordinary Sarajevans, as well as refugees, are critical of all the positions taken in the official talks. They are totally opposed to the tripartite division of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which they see as a recipe for more ethnic cleansing, more population exchanges, and long-term conflict. At the same time, I found considerable skepticism about lifting the arms embargo, given the proliferation of paramilitary groups and the danger of just intensifying the violence. What people want is a strong stance against nationalism and in support of all those civic and political groups that are struggling to preserve the spirit of Sarajevo.

It is this gulf between politics and society that is the essential failure of the international community, which has been unable to see beyond the warlords and unwilling to take seriously - or even to listen to - groups or parties that seem marginal but yet ate in touch with the victims. The international community seems to be unaware that there is a significant social alternative to nationalism. It has consistently presented full-scale military intervention or political compromise among the warlords as the only option.

Yet there has never been a choice between military and political means. Any military intervention would have to have a political objective and would have to be accompanied by talks. And any agreement reached in the talks would require military pressure to get the sides to agree and to enforce. What the international community has been completely unwilling to do is adopt its own political stance and to intervene politically in this war.

From the beginning of the war, Zdravko and others like him have been proposing a United Nations protectorate or trusteeship for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Their argument was that none of the nationalist parties could command sufficiently widespread support to hold Bosnia-Herzegovina together. So long as the nationalists remain in power, war and ethnic division are likely. The idea of a United Nations protectorate was to establish an international civil authority which could restore order, disarm and demilitarize the paramilitary groups, and reestablish machinery for justice and administration, to remove the atmosphere of fear so that the future of the country could be decided through a genuine democratic process.

What is now being discussed is the concept of a United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTA), under which the United Nations would offer to share power with the local authorities, although it would retain veto power, for a transitional period, as its main negotiating platform in the talks. This idea has always been rejected by the international community, ostensibly on the grounds that the warring parties would never accept it, but it offers the Serbs and the Croats a way to supplant Izetbegovic and it offers Izetbegovic a way to preserve the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Above all, it is a proposal that is much more likely to generate public support both within and outside Bosnia-Herzegovina because it would preserve a multiethnic community and, therefore, would be much easier to enforce. All other approaches, which implicitly or explicitly accept the ethnic division of Bosnia-Herzegovina, serve to discredit the international community.

Among most of the people we talked to, there was enthusiasm for the idea of an UNTA, although most people felt it was too late. We also discussed the more limited proposal of lifting the siege of Sarajevo and installing an international civil authority in the city. General Philippe Morillon, the commander of the U.N. forces, told me that they had developed plans to lift the siege of Sarajevo, and that this was feasible even with the troops currently stationed there. He also said that he has the mandate to lift the siege under U.N. resolution 770, which authorizes the U.N. troops to use "all necessary means" to ensure the provision of humanitarian supplies to the civilian population of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This means that U.N. troops are authorized under Chapter VII of the Charter to act even without the consent of local parties.

Morillon claimed that the Izetbegovic government was preventing action, for fear that if the siege were lifted, everyone would leave and he would lose his power base as well as the symbol of multi-ethnic resistance. Many people thought that this could be true, but it is only part of the story. Undoubtedly, Western governments are reluctant as well, unwilling to recognize what their helplessness could mean for their own societies.

This gulf between politics and ordinary people is, after all, a problem for the West, and that is why Sarajevans talk about the end of history. This is a bizarre war, quite unlike earlier wars, definitely a Twenty-first Century phenomenon. It is characterized by a strange mixture of parochialism and cosmopolitanism, nationalism and transnationalism, exclusivism and humanitarianism.

No war has ever been so open to the outside world. Sarajevo is peopled by foreign journalists, aid workers, U.N. troops, and representatives of many international organizations - peace groups, women's groups, and human-rights groups. All over the former Yugoslavia are hundreds of foreign volunteers in refugee camps or reconstruction gangs or locally organized humanitarian convoys.

In Croatia, I came across a woman from Manchester who was part of a network of women's groups in the North of England who collect and deliver humanitarian aid; they have two vans called Faith and Hysteria, and they say they are more effective than official agencies because of their personal links. All over Europe, cities and local groups are organizing aid convoys. This summer, the Polish Cities for Peace and the French Fondation Equilibre will send a relief convoy direct to Sarajevo. It will be called "Mir Sada" (Peace Now).

Yet this civil-society involvement has no political impact. It is hardly reported and little known about. Western governments listen hardly more to their own civic activists than to the courageous people in Sarajevo. The official level, whether in Bosnia or Geneva or London, is insulated from everyday reality. It responds to the logic of its own enclosed world.

Opinion polls in Europe, and especially in Britain, consistently show that public opinion favors stronger action in Bosnia; yet these attitudes ate poorly represented in the official political debate, which also tends to be the focus of media attention.

The unresponsiveness of the political world is a tragedy for Sarajevo, but it also has sinister implications for the capacity of our societies to cope with our own problems. In an independent world in which effective international institutions are desperately needed, the current paralysis of the international apparatus is alarming.

Meanwhile, the spread of racism and xenophobia and the waves of refugees plunge us toward the future.

Mary Kaldor is with the Sussex European Institute at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England. She went to Sarajevo as part of a Helsinki Citizens Assembly delegation. Together with some of the people mentioned in her article, they launched the Last Chance Appeal from Sarajevo, which calls on the international community to lift the siege of Sarajevo and propose a U.N. transitional authority for the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Copies of the appeal can be obtained from the Prague office of the HCA, Panska 7, Prague 1, 11669 Czech Republic.
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Title Annotation:Bosnia-Herzegovina
Author:Kaldor, Mary
Publication:The Progressive
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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