The Broader Picture: Sarajevo's summer of hope

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The Independent Culture
MOYO stood with his battledress unbuttoned to the waist. He smelt of the sweat that trickled across his chest. 'World Cup,' he smiled, 'ceasefire good,' and proceeded to trip the youth running past him with a ball.

The behaviour of Sarajevo's inhabitants has been transformed. It is hard to believe this is the place that shuddered through a winter of shells and grenades, a winter which climaxed with the Market Massacre, before the February ceasefire. Fashionable men sporting Ray-Bans lounge in the cafes, eyeing girls over their coffee and discussing ways of avoiding the draft to fight on the northern front. Children bathe in the Lido, their cries mingling with those of the swifts scouring the sky. The trams are running again, the supermarkets are getting ready to open, boys play football along what was Sniper Alley.

This has been Sarajevo's Summer of Hope; but a terrible fear shadows the optimism of those who want the war to end. As winter approaches, so does a critical moment. The Bosnian Serbs are backed into a corner, being cajoled to accept a peace plan which requires the surrender of territory. They resolutely rejected the plan in their referendum at the end of August. Should they not agree to a pact by 15 October, the Americans say they will press for the arms embargo, imposed on all parties in the war, to be lifted in the case of the Bosnian Army. If that happens, these pictures of a people trying to rebuild their lives may become a bittersweet memory.

Sarajevo is still besieged. There is no freedom of movement, and its present stability is entirely dependent on the United Nations peacekeeping force. The contributing countries have said that they will withdraw their forces from Bosnia if the arms embargo is lifted. In that event it is widely believed that the war would escalate, entering a third phase, and the bombardment of the city would resume. (The six months' ceasefire has not been renegotiated.) Without the UN's moderating presence Sarajevo might be on the threshold of a winter far bleaker than anything experienced during the last 29 months of siege. It is a prospect that most Sarajevans do not want to confront.

Ask Moyo about it and he looks down at his feet and draws heavily on his cigarette. Like most people, he thinks the fighting will start again. That would mean a winter shivering in the dark basement, without fuel or electricity, and turns at the front line when he would have to leave his wife, Svetlana, alone with the baby. This time there would be none of the humanitarian aid that helped them through before. How they would survive is a question they won't even ask.

(Photograph omitted)

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