A long wait for Godot

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'THE PLAY could have been written for Sarajevo,' said the American author Susan Sontag of Waiting for Godot, which she is directing in the besieged city. 'A bunch of people think an arbitrary power is going to save them. Godot could be Clinton or the UN. It is deeply touching.'

'Godot is the situation in Sarajevo,' said Velibor, a young actor. 'We are waiting for someone to help - it is a long time waiting two years. And still we hope he will come.'

After 16 months of Serbian blockade most Sarajevans have given up waiting. There is still the pathetic denial of the reality of war which first titillated the Western media. Children swim in the river under the noses of Serbian snipers. The string quartet plays, lovers kiss in the streets, the Winter Arts Festival went ahead daily.

Abandoned by the world, losing all hope of intervention, Sarajevo's mood of heroism has been submerged by the struggle to survive. Water, power and the cost of the water melons some canny people grew on their balconies are the only topics on the street.

Law and order has collapsed. Sarajevo's streets are plagued by Muslim gunmen as well as Serbian snipers. One part of Sarajevo belongs to 'Celo', another to 'Caco', who specialises in kidnapping passers-by and marching them off to the front line to dig trenches.

Some return to religion. 'Bosnia is under a curse because we abandoned Islam,' said Mirsada, a middle-class Sarajevan, whose husband was killed by a Serbian shell while queuing for water last October. 'People gave their children Serbian names and forgot their roots.'

The rehearsals in the Youth Theatre are a cameo of life under siege. There is no electric light. Actors pore over lines by the light of two candles and a lamp donated by the Soros Foundation. Last week the rehearsal stopped when the cast heard one of Sarajevo's best-known actors had been killed that day by a shell in the market. The actors are all hungry. 'They sit down when they are not acting because they are weak,' Ms Sontag said.

The play's message has touched a chord among Sarajevans beyond the tiny theatre-going public. 'I hear Ms Sontag is waiting for Godot - we are are waiting for the Europeans and the Americans,' commented Jovan Divjak, a Bosnian army chief. 'Did Godot ever show up?'

No one had the heart to say no.

Fear of new Croatian war, page 9