Desperation pushes Sarajevans back into business: Though the big guns are silent, residents of the Bosnian capital are still facing tough times and are having to wheel and deal to get by, reports Emma Daly in Sarajevo

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The Independent Online
JOHNNY lit a Marlboro, made in Sarajevo from tobacco grown in Mostar before the war, sending 50 pfennigs (20p) up in smoke. As a Bosnian policeman, Johnny is better off than many citizens, but the real gold comes from his job as an electrician for the United Nations.

For that he receives dollars 200 ( pounds 135) a month, plus food and such luxuries as Quosh orange squash. Sitting in his parents' pine- panelled sitting room with Radio War playing blues and rock on his quadraphonic stereo, Johnny recites a list of the black- market prices he has to pay: petrol DM40 ( pounds 16) per litre, diesel DM25, Serbian brandy DM100, a bottle of Glenfiddich malt whisky DM120.

In Sarajevo's indoor market, crowds of people shop for tripe, walnuts, potatoes, tampons, shampoo, the odd tin of Heinz baby food, all for sums that seem astronomical in a city where a teacher earns DM1.50 a month, and a surgeon DM4. Yet people manage; it seems bizarre in a city under siege, but every day people gather round a board downtown to see if their name is on the list of those who can draw money deposited by friends and relatives abroad in a foreign bank.

Those who still have cars or who speak a foreign language offer their services to journalists, as translators or drivers; thus doctors moonlight as interpreters and lawyers as cabbies. Johnny's family has just received an aid package, sent almost a year ago from relatives in Germany. He will probably eat the food, but many others sell what they are sent on the black market, to make money to buy the basics.

Women pawn their jewellery. There is much ingenuity at work, as people fashion something from nothing. One woman embroiders Turkish slippers, using an old Singer sewing machine powered by a foot pedal. Igor Rehar made brass coffee pots and went to market to sell them, on 5 February.

Johnny has a video of the damage done that day when a single mortar shell killed 68 people and wounded as many as 200. The footage, shot for local television, is unbearable. Men carry shattered bodies and odd parts, unrecognisable as human, out on sheets of corrugated iron through thick trails of blood. One body, still fully dressed, seems untouched but for the fact it has ho head. A prosthetic leg, black boot still attached, lies in the rubble. 'I knew that guy,' said Johnny. 'He's dead now.' He watched intent, seemingly impassive, then said: 'Awful. Terrible.' Words fail him, though he has seen many hideous things in the past two years.

The resilience, the good humour and good looks of the Sarajevans, their generosity of spirit, and, of course, the blessed silence of the big guns make it easy to forget how much they have suffered; that until a few days ago to ignore the sign in a sniper zone reading 'Run or RIP' was likely to prove a fatal error. Lest they forget (most people here think we already have) Bosnian television yesterday showed footage from last year, of Dobrinja, a frontline suburb. A woman runs across the street but is hit by a sniper. Seconds later, she is scooped up by three men who carry her, running crouched low to safety and to hospital. Everyone hopes, and almost believes, that this is now consigned to history.

President Alija Izetbegovic called 5 February 'one black and terrible day for the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina'. Yet it may prove to have been the beginning of the end, the final outrage that forced the shelling to stop. Yesterday the government reopened the market place, off limits since the massacre, and people returned to buy and to sell what they need to keep on living. Aida Cengic was not among them. 'I don't know when I will be able to go there,' she said. 'It's like walking on sacred ground.'

By late afternoon, the market was empty again, save for an old man hawking local cigarettes and two women standing among the flowers that mark the spot where the shell landed. The younger one, tall and blonde, comes every day to the place where her boyfriend died. Two bouquets of flowers, made of cloth and crepe paper, sat on the stall, by a sign reading: 'Igor Rehar. 1972-1994.'

She stood for several minutes, young and trendy, in Timberland boots, black leggings, and a denim jacket, while water dripped from the stalls on to her shoulders. She did not cry, but looked dazed, as if, three weeks on, she still could not believe this had happened. As if looking for something to do, she righted a small plastic cup, and fiddled with the flowers. But mostly she just stood there, wondering why.

(Photograph omitted)

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