Perils of telling the truth in a shattered land: In the wreckage of Sarajevo, Steve Crawshaw, East Europe Editor, finds a team of journalists braving the bombardment to produce a non-partisan paper

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The Independent Online
THE HUGE, tinted-glass tower - a Communist-era prestige building, intended to impress visitors to the 1984 Winter Olympics - is a bombed-out wreck. It is on the main road from the airport into Sarajevo, also known as Snipers' Alley because it is so exposed to the Serbian-held hills. Piles of broken glass and twisted metal lie at the foot of the building. And yet, inside the jagged heap, a newspaper is produced every day, almost as if there were no war.

There are many minor miracles in Sarajevo. But Oslobodjenie - literally, Liberation, one of Yugoslavia's most respected newspapers long before the Bosnian war began - is among the most remarkable. It is distributed by volunteers; the 10,000 copies often sell out by mid-morning. The journalists say that, if they had more newsprint, they could sell five times that number in besieged Sarajevo alone.

One typical recent eight-page edition included: a front-page report on Douglas Hurd's visit to Sarajevo, with reactions from the street; an analytical compare-and-contrast article on the problems of Bosnia and Macedonia; a page of foreign news; television listings; and - a distinctive Sarajevo touch, this - two pages of death notices.

To reduce the danger of unnecessary trips to and from the building, journalists work one week on, one week off. Everybody sleeps and eats (daily bread, soup and macaroni) inside the building. The city centre office faxes material to the more dangerous Snipers' Alley location on phone lines that usually still work. Printing facilities have been arranged in central Sarajevo, in case it becomes completely impossible to produce a paper in the main building.

Oslobodjenie's editor, Kemal Kurspahic, is in hospital, following a car crash at a notorious crossroads, where people are concentrating so hard on not being shot that they drive into each other, instead. (Posters in Sarajevo warn: 'Drive carefully', and point out that 300 people have been killed and injured in car accidents since the war on Sarajevo began, three months ago.)

The paper's acting editor, Gordana Knezevic, insists that Oslobodjenie must be a non-partisan paper, for Bosnian Serbs, Muslims and Croats alike. In Sarajevo, it is a popular mix.

Ms Knezevic is a Sarajevo-born ethnic Serb. But her view of Radovan Karadzic, self-proclaimed leader of Bosnian Serbs, is straightforward: 'Karadzic still feels that the goal - a greater Serbia, and 'all Serbs in one state' - is worth any price: 100,000 lives, if need be. As the war began, I asked him: how does he dare to say he represents all Serbs?' Ms Knezevic describes mutual respect between the different ethnic groups - far from dead, even now - as 'the culture of Sarajevo, the culture of our courtyards'.

From the back of the newspaper building, a litter of debris and broken glass, you can look (nervously) across the short stretch of no man's land to the low row of buildings from which the anti-Sarajevan forces still bombard the remains of Oslobodjenie. Just outside one of the shattered back windows, an unexploded tank grenade is still embedded in the ground. Last week, an Oslobodjenie photographer became the paper's latest victim, killed by a mortar explosion while taking pictures of Sarajevans queuing for water.

Ms Knezevic gives a revealing insight into the Communist-style reality that still exists in Belgrade. 'It's amazing what a large number of ordinary Serbs pretend not to know what's going on. A colleague from Radio Politika in Belgrade rang and interviewed me about the situation. I told him: 'The Serbian forces are shelling the city.' He said, 'Yes, but don't say it's the Serbian forces. Can you not mention who is shelling?' I said: 'Aren't you ashamed?' He said: 'Yes, I am ashamed. But please understand me.' I said to him: 'No, I don't understand'.' Ms Knezevic and her Bosnian colleagues try to tell the truth, even when it is uncomfortable. That in itself gives a small hope for what may be Bosnia - one day.

Knife over Bosnia, page 17