A Sunday stroll in besieged city awaiting peace

Emma Daly finds Sarajevans split equally between optimism and pessimism

A Sunday afternoon stroll through the warm autumn sunshine is a rare pleasure come only lately to the people of Sarajevo, accustomed for so long to venturing out, knowing, feeling that every excursion could be their last. Most of those walking the streets yesterday did so from need - buses are rare, the tramline is limited and petrol is expensive - but they were able to enjoy peace and quiet.

"It's lovely, everything is better. But look where we are standing: a sniper could shoot at any time," said Almira Kovacevic, a young blonde in huge dark glasses, pointing at the rusting, bullet-ridden wreck of an articulated lorry parked at a junction, protection of a kind from the gunmen 500 yards away across the front line.

"The situation is much better, but there is also an air of uncertainty that is killing people here. We can walk safely along the streets, but we are still imprisoned. I can walk from Bascarcija but only to the edge of Nedzarici," she said. The outer limits of her world stretch from the Old Town, some 10 miles west towards the Serb-held suburb beside the airport.

Her companion, Nedzad Musovic,is pessimistic about the ceasefire brokered by the US envoy, Richard Holbrooke, due to start at midnight. "It's a nice idea, but tough to make real," he said.

If all goes well, water, gas and electricity should flow in tonight, and the guns quieten. Citizens classify themselves as optimists or pessimists, a fairly even split, it seems but almost everyone sees the future as a glass half-empty. The good life does not exist, only that which gets less bad.

"There's no shooting now but we still don't have water, gas and electricity," said Minka, who lives with her husband and two daughters in a pock-marked flat overlooking Heroes' Square, one of the most dangerous places in Sarajevo. "The blue routes are open, so there is a lot of food but it doesn't mean anything to us because we still can't afford it."

Two months ago, the family moved out of their own flat - or rather, out of the tiny front room in which they ate, drank and slept for three years, and into a flat in the adjoining block. (Their other rooms had been barricaded against Serb shells and bullets fired from the line across the street.)

"It could so easily be like last year - a few months of cease-fire and then it all starts up again," Minka said.

"Freedom will come from the political negotiations," interjected her husband, Midhad. "And until then, so what?" said Minka crossly. "It will never be as bad as it was in '92 and '93, but I've lived the same way since the first day of war." From their balcony, the buildings looming over the square bear mute witness to the worst days of the war: three tower blocks gutted by fire - Minka's two teenage daughters, Alisa and Alma, heard the screams of the dying trapped inside - and every facade scarred by shrapnel marks and bullet-holes.That nightmare is over, it seems. But the advances of the past few weeks - and the Holbrooke plan, if it is fully implemented - will still bring only a half-life to the city. The flow of cars has increased, trams are running in the new town, but not along the road known as Sniper Alley. Shops that once sold only bare necessities now offer fax paper, UHT milk, jelly babies (or the German equivalent) and fruit.

It is not enough for Minka, but Alisa and her friend Maja, a Serb forced to flee the suburb of Grbavica, 20 miles away, are easier to please.. "It's time for the war to end. I can walk normally in the streets - but I'm still not safe. I still feel afraid," Alisa said. "Everything will be resolved over time."

"Everything will be solved over the water and electricity," Maja said. "But what happened between people ... " She paused. "Very bad things, that can't be forgotten quickly. It's not clear to me how that will work out." Midhad's army drinking buddy, Alem, broke in. "Water, gas, electricity - it doesn't matter. We've lived more or less without them for three and a half years. The point is to sort out the animals who did this." Crudely put, but Alem is right.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor