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November 20, 1995
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 216
On the Spot: Banja Luka

Srpske Toplice in Seher

by Perica Vucinic

Banja Luka has a new video ad - "My City". Good music accompanies aestheticized footage of remarkable Banja Luka buildings and parks shot from professionally chosen angles. The town shone in a forgotten light in that footage, and then some people said: "This is not my town". They noticed that the people were missing. And, when they did appear, they were "stylized" - a young, happy and relaxed family, emanating so much health and satisfaction that it can well stimulate birthrate, a carefree pensioner with laughing grandchildren on the swings... This is why the people have not recognized their town, they said the footage lacked authenticity.

It seems that both the old-timers and the newcomers in Banja Luka have the same problem - recognition. Banja Luka is teaming with people who had arrived in refugee columns. For the first time since the war erupted did the otherwise nationally solidary and patient natives think up revenge in the form of the following news: "Goat Kills Man." According to the news, the goat was calmly eating its grass meal on a fourth-floor balcony, when suddenly, something scared it and it jumped across the rail and fell on a man, a native of Banja Luka. Both succumbed to their wounds. Even more unreal is the reaction of the audience, who seriously listen to the news and ask - where, what man? And only after that, is it true? It isn't, but it could be. The city is living in its own, surreal dimension.

What might be interpreted as relaxation after the shock caused by the arrival of Croatian and Moslem troops within shooting-range is actually nothing other than numbness. War victims, the fear, the dark, the average 100 Dinar salary... all these keep life at low voltage. The food is two or three times more expensive than in Serbia. Banja Luka residents have noticed that the prices are the same, but, in Serbia, they are expressed in Dinars, and, here, in German Marks.

A shy pulse of hope can be detected in this twilight of life. The people believe the war is about to end. They are convinced Sanski most will be given back to the Serbs. Those who are more optimistic, who have so far been considered "well-informed", think Mrkonjic Grad will also be returned.

Nikola Popovic from Lusci Palanka near Sanski Most is waiting for the confirmation of these news beside his tractor, in the Ivan Goran Kovacic school-yard. He is also waiting to hear what happened to his nephew, whom the Moslems captured in Sanski Most. Two of his other nephews were killed in action.

The whole school, swarming with refugees, is silent, awaiting news on the fate of their parents, relatives, friends. The news isn't coming and the forebodings are are dismal, black. Could they be anything else after all the evil these people have witnessed?

With the passage of columns of 500,000 refugees, some of whom have decided to stay in Banja Luka, the town has become the town with an increasing concentration of Serbs. Embittered, defeated, impoverished, they lunged at the houses of Moslems and Croats - insecure and intimidated. Seher is a suburb of Banja Luka; this backwater town was once inhabited by Moslems and became part of Banja Luka after W.W.II. Now it's called Srpske Toplice and now it is a Serbian backwater town. When the war erupted, Serbian flags were flown from the houses - signifying they were occupied. Don't touch! The warning was intended for the ones who had just like them, fled Travnik and Bugojno, Jajce.... There are no flags now and the new residents, the Serbs, are working in their gardens, like real old-timers. The reconciliation with ethnic-cleansing as an inevitability is disgusting. "He got mine, I got his" says Nikola Udovicic, a new resident of Seher. And when he regains his composure after the unpleasant question, he adds: "Actually, I don't know any longer. All I know is that I had to leave my Travnik and that he had to leave his Banja Luka." "Together never again. Each with his own", he concludes.

When the Maricic family came from Bihac, they were taken in by the Kajtazovic family and began living in an spare room in the yard. Then the hosts decided to leave, gave the house to them and went to Sweden. The Maricics have packed their things and are waiting to send them. The belongings are covered with nylon.

We checked this story and saw for ourselves it was true. It is a nice story in a way, without cliches, but, unfortunately a very, very rare one.

The expulsion of technology is brutal. "Four men came last night and beat me up. Told me to move out. I didn't want to. They came in the morning again. Beat me up. Pointed their automatic guns at me and ordered me to leave. I called the police up, they came and said - not even Karadzic can help you." This is the story of Mirsad Hadzic, who says he was a volunteer in the Bosnian Serbian Army and had taken part in the occupation of Jajce. Jajce is now held by the Croats and he doesn't know where to go, because that is the one place he would like to live. He, his wife and retarded child are staying with a neighbor, a Serb, but they "can't go on like that forever".

Hadzic is telling his story in the Displaced Persons' Bureau, the walls of which are pasted with ads for house exchange: Jajce for Banja Luka, Banja Luka for Bihac, Banja Luka for Dvor... Head of the Bureau Radovan Glogovac says that the exchange of population and real estate with the Croats has so far been smooth, except once, when the Croats refused to let a young man from Zepca, able to serve the army. The exchange with the Moslems has always been difficult, he says, because they want to prove themselves as "advocates of mutli-ethnicism, while on the other hand, they are throwing you out from your job and not letting you take even your photo album with you," says Glogovac who fled Zenica without his photo album. "Everyone should live with their own people," says Glogovac as he prepares for another interview about exchange.

Anton Ruzic (a Croat) does not share his opinion. He sees himself first as a native of Banja Luka and has no intention of moving out. Ruzic was until recently a member of the Banja Luka Municipal Executive Board; then he was dismissed. Ruzic, as one of the top officials in Banja Luka, spent 44 days on "work obligation". He worked on the fortification of the frontline toward the Croats. He was saved thanks to Banja Luka Mayor Radic. "I'm not threatened by the official authorities, but from everyone else," says Ruzic. "I don't know what the individuals are doing", he says. Ruzic now works as a coordinator of physical education and sports in the Banja Luka Municipality. He was recently beat up by "four individuals". "They were obviously experts; they inflicted severe injuries on me in a very short time, in less than a minute. I am a native of Banja Luka and I belong here".

An active political life is being lived on the grey urban background, showing perhaps that Banja Luka may not be a civic community in world terms; it is, however, definitely the most civic in all of the Bosnian Serb Republic. There are around 16 registered political parties in the Bosnian Serb Republic and all of them, except the ruling Serbian Democratic Party, are headquartered in Banja Luka. In mid-October, at the height of the Croatian-Moslem offensive and its extremely dramatic and dangerous nearness to the largest city in the BSR, 12 parties, "social communities" and "citizens' associations" formed the Patriotic Front. It was a conglomerate of diverse political parties rallying socialists, radicals, regionalists, as well as the families of men killed in action, the veterans of W.W.II and this war, women, private businessmen... They succeeded in uniting to defend Banja Luka. Banja Luka was defended and the Front remains. If elections are held, it will most probably disappear.

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