Five years ago, the first shots were fired in the siege of Sarajevo which was to leave 12,000 dead. Now, a little more than a year after the ceasefire, the ravaged city is slowly coming back to life again
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The Independent Culture
LIFE WAS so simple for Sarajevo during wartime - all the city's exhausted, impoverished and undernourished masses wanted was the absence of war. It seemed then that an end to the shooting and shelling, to the terror and the horror, would be enough, that peace alone could repair some of the damage and restore the city to normality. The order to cease fire definitively came in December 1995, when the rebel Serbs and the Bosnian government signed a peace plan brokered by the Americans after weeks of negotiations in Dayton, Ohio. The deal split Bosnia into two adminis- trative parts - one Muslim-Croat, containing a reunited Sarajevo, the other Serb - but the first few days of calm were filled with tension and suspicion about each other's intentions. And by the time Sarajevans began to accept that the guns had been silenced, the moment for celebration had passed.

And so the city, which had been under siege for more than three years, relaxed into numb gratitude. People relished the opportunity to sit at a pavement cafe, even if the vast majority were forced to nurse a single coffee, juice or beer, making one drink last the night. The noises of war - crashes and bangs, whistles and booms, the whine of a sniper's bullet and the shatter of glass - were at last replaced by the more usual roar of car engines and the rattle of elderly trams.

Some who had endured the war intact began to fall ill, suffering the colds, ulcers and infections their bodies could not afford to indulge during the siege. Others, having survived the unthinkable for so long, relaxed their grip and sank into depression or nervous breakdown. Parents visited the makeshift graveyards where their children had been buried, and children mourned the parents destroyed in body and mind by the war. They might have shed tears in the first few months, but after a couple of years the worst news was met with a dull-eyed and deadened reaction. Partly it was a question of adjustment - everyone became used to bereavement - and partly a lack of energy. Who had the strength to cry for the dead when there had been so many?

Of course, the peace also brought relief and the prospect of another life: friends who had not seen one another for years were reunited. Often this was because both parties had spent the past 41 months more or less in hiding or indoors or in trenches. Many civilians ventured out only to queue for water or humanitarian aid; the soldiers were sent out to the mountains and the forests to fight. But other encounters involved Sarajevans who had stayed in the city and former neighbours who had found refuge abroad.

These were sensitive moments. Sarajevans were usually thrilled to see an old face back. But there was resentment, too, a sense of having been abandoned. The returnees felt a measure of guilt - and some sought to emphasise the hardships of life in exile - but also a conviction that they had made the right choice. Neither could understand, really understand, the experiences of the other, and few friendships could survive the gap. Camaraderie in wartime came to mean far more than years of peacetime friendship - this was especially true of couples separated by the war.

Children, though, made the most of a peace which brought the freedom to play outdoors. Most had been made to stay inside by anxious parents who converted basements into playgrounds. Now, after Dayton, they roamed the bombsites looking for shrapnel and, all too often, finding the mine hidden among the weeds or the hand-grenade abandoned in a ruin. The burnt- out wrecks of cars and buses, stacked up in wartime at intersections to act as sniper screens, became the venue for games of chase or hide-and- seek. And the adults began to clean up and to rebuild.

Streets that had not been used for years were swept first for mines and then for debris. Nato troops picked their way through the residential areas around the airport and along the front lines, searching for munitions and booby traps, posting signs with a red skull and crossbones and the word "MINE", and detonating any they found. But people, too eager to return to the houses they had abandoned years before, sometimes found the trip-wire first and ended up as casualties of a war that had ended.

And now, in the dim, small shops of Bascarcija, the heart of the pre- war tourist trail, where foreigners would sip Turkish coffee and buy Bosnian brass plates as souvenirs, the past has returned, slightly askew. The foreigners are mostly aid workers, diplomats and bureaucrats flown in to administer the new order, and the brass they buy has been harvested from the battlefield. Anti- aircraft shells are sold as candlesticks, while the larger calibres - tank shells, for example - retail for pounds 50 or so as unusual umbrella-stands. The new trade offers the chance to make some pin money for women like Samija (pictured overleaf) and her cousin, who trawl the land for spent cartridges, which they sell to the brass-workers.

The war has also provided work in peacetime - two films were made in the city last year. But locals hired to re-create the scenes of panic and chaos caused by snipers just couldn't do it: they ran across the most dangerous intersections as ordered, but it didn't look right. They ran, loose, relaxed, upright, instead of hunched low, haunted, hunted.

The apocalyptic front lines, the buildings ravaged by heavy weapons were gradually cleared of rubble. The shards of metal and glass that seemed organic were swept aside. Within weeks the optimistic had begun to replace the plastic sheeting donated by the UN to use as makeshift windows, and so long a distinguishing feature of the city, with glass. Bricks and mortar were not far behind as families plastered over the rose-print markings of artillery hits on their homes. They painted the rooms darkened by smoke from the wood-fired stoves, often made from half an oil drum, that had served as cooker and heater to so many.

Sarajevans - Muslims and Croats - expelled from areas of the city seized by the Serbs made their way home when the Dayton peace plan awarded the government control of the suburbs. They found that many Serbs, vengeful at the loss of territory they defended with blood, had stolen doors, window-frames, sinks, bathrooms, even light-switches. To cap that, many buildings were set alight as a final farewell. The Serbs were resettled by their leaders in the Muslim villages torched and cleansed earlier in the war; and in a bizarre merry-go-round, Muslim peasants expelled from the countryside moved into Serb flats in Sarajevo. Swings and roundabouts, but all would probably have been happier back in their own homes.

The enterprising have started businesses, but the future for most is bleak - thousands of young men are demobilised and unemployed. The only jobs available seem to be waitressing (if you are young, female and lovely), translating, driving or administrating in some part of the huge international aid sector. The city has not begun to produce anything, and its residents are learning the hardest way that peace is not enough.

Now that they are no longer afraid of dying in an instant, Sarajevans want houses, jobs, cars, televisions, holidays abroad - they want the lives they had before the war. The world is sending money but it will never be enough. During the war Sarajevans had at least the longing for peace to sustain them. Now, having discovered that the absence of hostile gunmen does not life in a late-20th-century European capital make, they must fight on for something more than survival without even that illusion for comfort.

Filming on the set of the movie 'Sarajevo', based on the story of Natasha, a Bosnian girl adopted by the ITN reporter Michael Nicholson, began six months into peace time. Locals were recruited as extras but found they could not respond to the phoney fighting as they had previously done to the real Captions: Main photograph: Four-year-old Renato Kricancic shared a flat on the front line with his grandmother, who is deaf and dumb. He learnt to warn her when the shelling or shooting was beginning, leading her to a safe corner of the apartment, in a block which was severely ravaged during the fighting

Soldiering on: Memanja Kovacevic, a former football coach forced by circumstance to join the army, lost his leg in combat. He now spends most of his time training children's teams in Sarajevo

Peacetime salutes: Neighbours greet one another in a devastated Sarajevo suburb near the airport. Most people spent as little time as possible outdoors during the years of fighting and so rarely saw their friends. Now, long-lost friendships, like the city itself, are gradually being rebuilt

The husband of 46-year-old Samija Cehovic (right) was killed by a shell in 1992 as he stood on his doorstep. Ironically, Samija, pictured here with her cousin, Habiba Jehovic, now makes a living by scouring the streets near her house for brass cartridges and other war debris and selling them on

A man pauses for breath outside the bizarre ruin that once housed 'Oslobodjenje', Sarajevo's main newspaper. It was targeted by the rebel Serb gunners early in the war, but somehow its reporters managed to move downtown from where they then continued to produce the paper for the next four war-torn years

Bosnian Serbs who moved out of Sarajevo in 1996 rather than live under government rule took as much as they could with them when they left, including doors, windows, sinks, even down to the light fittings. The man pictured here is carrying back a new front door to replace the one that was stolen from his own home

Eight years before the opening shots of the war, Sarajevo was in the news as host of the 1984 Winter Olympics. The symbols of the Games, dotted around the city, seemed to mock citizens with their allusions to the ideals of equality and freedom. This one, however, was used to warn people about the dangers of the snipers who hid nearby Devla Berberovic, a Muslim refugee from the countryside, has moved into a flat, its outside walls riddled with gun-shot holes fired by snipers. The flat is just one of many vacated by Bosnian Serbs who, after spending the war living in Sarajevo's front-line suburb of Grbavica, then saw the area handed back to the government