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October 24, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 161
On the Spot: "The Corridor''

The Long Road To Knin

by Uros Komlenovic

The traveller who does not know that the ``Lasta'' bus is the most pleasant form of transportation to Knin (capital of the breakaway Republic of Serb Krajina-RSK-in Croatia) is left with the three choices offered by the Belgrade bus station-all three depart around the break of dawn. A civilized person will choose the last departure at 7:30 and, of course, will make a huge mistake: what awaits him is a difficult boarding of the ``Suboticatrans'' bus, which arrives in Belgrade from Subotica full of baggage overflowing with stuff from the local flea market. Arguments about ``overbooked'' seating are a must-there were three tickets with seat number 48. The person who first sits in the disputed seat is the winner. After a ten minute delay, the overcrowded bus embarks upon its journey toward the uncertainty of the ``western Serb lands.''

The Yugoslav customs officer at the Sremska Raca border crossing is unrelenting-the 150 liter tank of petrol cannot cross the border. The signature of a company director, cussing Mihalj Kertes's (director of Yugoslav customs) mother, and attempts at explaining that the trip to Knin and back is over 1000 kilometers long are all in vain. The passengers cuss an absolutely innocent member of the international monitoring team, who is uninterestedly walking around the bus: ``Look at that trash, may his mother...'' The bus returns to the drab and overpriced cafe ``Sava'' in Bosut, where the petrol tank remains behind.

Unlike the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SRJ) officials, who are only interested in the goods and not the people who are leaving their country (identity cards are not checked), the Bosnian Serb Republic (RS) police and customs officers verify everyone. ``My friend, I believe that you guarantee for him,'' says a policeman to a middle-aged passenger whose son does not have any identification. ``But, if he happens to be a `balija' (derogatory term for Muslims), we will slaughter him immediately.''

The bus fills with laughter and approval:

``Damn well, we will!''

``That's the way!''

``Oh, how many still remain in Bosnia, not to mention in Serbia.''

Relaxed by the success of his witty remark, the policeman carelessly finishes his work, asking some people their mother's name, just in case. Only one Serbian lady from America payed a customs duty on a large package of medicines for the Krajina.

Lamenting about the borders between the Serbs lasts a little while longer. Milosevic and uncaring ``brothers'' from Serbia have now joined Kertes and the UNPROFOR contingent on the ``black list'': the further we go from his heavy hand, the less popular the president of Serbia becomes.

The bus breaks down in the Corridor, at Dugo Polje, not far from Derventa. Immediately, an informal ``contact-group'' for repairs is spontaneously formed: the drivers know a little bit, but they are not exactly sure of what the problem is; a passenger who obviously understands mechanical repairs, but is unsuccesful at explaining what's wrong (``squeeze the little slipper,'' ``grab a hold over there,'' ``not over here, over there,'' ``oh, fuck it''); another passenger, much more eloquent (``this is nothing, all we need to do is find a `9er', I'm surprised that they don't have one among their tools''), who offendedly gets out of the way after a slightly drunk local in a masked uniform appears from somewhere and takes matters into his own hands after presenting himself as an auto mechanic.

After one and a half hours of attempting to make the necessary repairs accompanied by mostly professional commentary (``chief, isn't it about time we got a move on?,'' ``you don't need any oil, find a `9er' someplace,'' or ``squeeze it, let it go, oh man, not that''), a real mechanic finally arrives, but must first undo the ``repairs'' of his uniformed predecessor. In the meantime, the most resourceful passenger succeeds in hitching a ride in the automobile in which Milan Martic (president of the RSK) was returning from Belgrade after his ``cold talks'' with Milosevic.

The bus resumes its journey with the advice that it stop as little as possible. The road to Prijedor is ``decorated'' by the ruins of the Kozara region, ``liberated to the ground.'' Upon exiting the city, the tired users of the services of ``Suboticatrans'' are joined by three women who are, of course, carrying ten suitcases, bundles and packages. Misfortune enters with them and arguing over the price of tickets begins:

``What, fifteen dinars to Grahovo? Come on, man, it's only eight dinars to Knin. I don't have more than ten, for the life of me.''

``If our husbands weren't where they are, you would not drive like this and charge this much.''

From one of the passengers: ``Excuse me, ma'am, my husband is also on the front lines, but I honorably pay for my ticket.''

A compromise is nevertheless found, but, as soon as interpersonal relations have begun to improve and the majority of passengers are drifting into peaceful naps, a desperate voice is heard:

``Hey Chief, did we pass Sanski Most?''

``Yes we did, ten kilometers ago. We don't stop in the city.''

``What will I do now?''

At night and on a deserted road, the unfortunate man begins unloading a small mountain of baggage and a just awakened and extremely combative wife. The ``chief'' dejectedly proposes that they disembark at the intersection of the road to Kljuc, at a control point where the police would be able to stop someone going to Sanski Most. They accept the proposal, and the police really do stop the first vehicle, which turns out to be a black hearse, better known by the expression ``the final taxi.'' Obviously aware of his guilt, the ``chief'' quickly ``starts the machine'' and takes off without waiting to see what happens.

The bus somehow somehow makes it through the mountainous terrain of the Bosnian Krajina, accompanied by frighteningly loud shaking during descents. The justified wrath of the considerably aggravated driver leaves the desired effect even upon the traditionally strict controllers-the military police in Ostrelj, between Petrovac and Drvar, simply wave us through. For the seventeen-hour adventure to finally end, it is necessary to go through the final and most thorough search at Grab, near Knin, the border between the RS and the RSK.

The return trip on the ``Drvar'' bus is less interesting and three hours shorter. The most time is lost at the very beginning of the trip, because the bus stops at least ten times in Grahovo and Drvar, until the baggage area is completely filled with sacks of potatoes. After leaving their native region, the drivers can breathe a little more easily-neighbors, relatives and friends are satisfied, so there are no more non-compulsory stops.

In such an atmosphere as on the ``Drvar'' bus, small talk about national questions and everyday politics is common:

``I hear there used to be many `balije' here?''

``Oh, there were tons of them, but we have expelled them all.''

``We still have a lot of Croats in Knin.''

``That's not good. They are loyal to you today, but tomorrow they will kill your children. It is best to finish with this business once and for all, so that we can then live in peace.''

``Can you believe that Milosevic? Who in their right mind would create borders and divide people?''

``Indeed, what he is doing to us is not right. That Karadzic, even if he wasn't our president, is really a smart man.''

``Seselj would be able to do something, if he wasn't a fool.''

This continues all the way until we reach the border by Pavlovic's bridge (over the Drina, near Bijeljina), where remarks about Milosevic quickly subside. Only the Yugoslav police and customs officers perform their functions. It appears as if there is nothing left to take out of the RS.

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