TELEVISION / Tales of the city

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The Independent Culture
AS psychiatrist stories go Bill Tribe's is pretty good. 'In May 1989,' he said, looking up a snowy hillside at a shattered building, 'I came here for treatment to Dr Radovan Karadzic.' He had been suffering from depression. By the end of Tribe's wrenching film (a video diary of his return to Sarajevo), the viewer was too.

Dr Karadzic's prescription was casual and chemical (he apparently didn't think much of the talking cure then, either), revealing a somewhat mechanical approach to the agonies of the mind. Sarajevo now suffers under the former psychiatrist's doubtful regime and it's looking far from healthy. Tribe's film was made five months ago, when the city was still under snow, so it was difficult to draw from it firm conclusions about what life is like in the city now. What it powerfully conveyed were the oddities of a life under siege, in which the superficial civilities survive long after the fundamental civilities have been shot to dust.

In the street, Tribe bumped into a former student who automatically murmured 'Nice' when he explained why he was back. 'It's been . . . difficult,' she said when he enquired after her, as if she had been having problems with a boyfriend. Later, in the offices of Oslobodenje, he chatted to a young journalist typing her copy at minus 10 degrees (the windows had been blown out long ago and there was no stove). 'My father got killed three months ago but . . . I hope to survive'. She gave an apologetic little laugh, as though she was making heavy weather of things.

The most moving scenes, though, were the most personal. Tribe's daughter now lives in England with her new-born son, but her husband is still in Sarajevo, serving in the Bosnian army. He sat and looked at the snapshots as Tribe wept, and then showed you round the room prepared for the child, with unused toys and an empty cot. In a fiction film the image would have been insufferably trite, here it just made you ache for lives so casually broken up.

Tribe himself made a fierce, almost reckless commentator, the urgency of his feelings coming out in bitter twists of conventional cliches. 'What kind of people would do this?' he asked over footage of Sarajevo's library burning (an attack aimed to destroy the city's Islamic and Turkish archives). Then, unexpectedly, he answered his question: 'University professors,' he said, before angrily reeling off a list of former colleages who had thrown their lot in with the besieging forces.

His fury was not directed against Serbs as such but against those who aimed to divide the city's inhabitants by race and religion - an endeavour abetted by the journalistic tendency to describe Sarajevo as a Muslim enclave, though many Serbs remain to defend it. If we do nothing else, surely we can avoid that unconscious surrender to the language of national division.