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May 4, 1992
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 32
Sarajevo Diary

The Final Escape

by Ivan Radovanovic

One day, when Sarajevo was overcome by a strange peace which gave no-one any sleep, the people of this city slowly ceased to laugh. It was as if then, when the grenades no longer exploded around their heads, they finally realized how small their chances were. 200 gr. of nettles cost 100 dinars at the market. The apartment of a "Borba" reporter was broken into one night by territorials.

Life slowly began to settle down. The morning struggle around the truck that brought break and milk. The rapid retreat, around five, to flats, cellars and shelters. Then the first news program, the second, YUTEL, excerpts from HTV (Ctoatian TV) and Radio Television Serbia, another news broadcast and then over to the radio.

One completely anonymous man, who had hidden for days in cellars, decided at last to escape. He put a barrel in his mouth, died afterwards in the car that tried to take him to hospital, and left behind a wife and six children.

All of us, the crazy crowd from the crazy hotel "Beograd" (that is full of innumerable doctors, the Red Cross, foreign correspondents, UNPROFOR officers, has a white UN transporter parked in front of the door and even a Blue Beret guard) are very worried about Hasim. He's stopped coming to play rummy. He's stopped smiling. One night we asked him to sing for us, and his silence just deepened. Has anyone heard anything about the Kelemis family, a wife and two children from the outskirts of Foca? They are the family of my friend Hasim and he's heard nothing for twenty-six days.

The war has entered the final stage of madness. A Montenegrin volunteer was shooting in Ilidza, drank a bottle of vodka, sat in a tram and fell asleep. The tram took him to the city center where he woke up and took a walk down the main street, all the time with the white volunteer band on his arm, and they arrested him. He said that drink had always been his problem. It's no longer any wonder that so many people want to escape from here.

Straight to the airport. In front of it a tank and soldiers. They look just as tired and frightened as the various berets and territorials in town. Some, like the berets, think they're something special with their big guns. Ciao guys, we probably won't see each other again. This was on Saturday, five days before I left Sarajevo. They checked my ticket, took us out onto the runway, and after a wait of two and half hours, informed us that the flight was canceled. Some women started to cry. There were a lot of children. Back to the sad and battered city. The tram rattles. In the newer areas people run across the streets fearing the stories of sniper fire. Those who want to stay will go mad in the battle between fear and the desire to be brave. They will first hate those who have left, and then all the others. They will be suspicious and thirst for revenge. There are nettles enough for another few days.

All connections are used to find seats on military aircraft or buses. Those who never drank get drunk every day. Serbs tell you in confidence that the Moslems are really to blame for it all. The Moslems begin to hate the Serbs. We succeed in getting seats in "their" DC9. Now it's ours. We hide the shame, if we have any because of our departure, somewhere where no-one can find it. Least of all ourselves.

The children are the same ones who were waiting for the other flight. The first we speak to is a Moslem. He had no problem with the army, they didn't even ask who he was or what he was, and he boards the plane, like us, unlisted.

Last instructions. Women and children will board first. Children up to the age of ten will sit on laps, and children over ten will sit on each other's laps. Men will stand in the aisles and it is better there should be more in the front of the aircraft.

No-one wants to go back, and no-one is happy to leave. The crew are volunteers, no-one asks about nationality, and Seselj supporters are not transported to Sarajevo as announced that day on the radio by a woman from the city Council; someone says they are transported to Belgrade, mainly from Banja Luka.

Last scenes of a small war. The hanger at the Batajnica airport. Beside huge rockets (or tanks with fuel, we don't know) is parked an old bus, full of furniture. Cupboards, tables, dressers, a mound of old things, a bed, carpet... The army is leaving Bosnia.

That evening Sarajevo endured one of its worst bombings. More people were killed. The next day they closed off the traffic in Belgrade to let Milosevic and some foreign guest go by.

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