So tired of being part of history's great divide: Robert Fisk meets the only remaining surgeon in Mostar, who wonders if the fighting is a continuation of the Second World War that was merely postponed during the Tito years

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The Independent Online
I MET Dr Hafid Konjhodzic in the Mostar hospital when I asked to see two Bosnian Muslim surgeons I knew. One had left for Germany, he said, the other for Sarajevo en route to Malaysia. Well, said I, you can't blame them. 'Yes, I do blame them,' he snapped back. 'I am the only surgeon left in Mostar - and they fled. Don't you know how I feel?' Then he put his hand to his face and quietly apologised. 'I'm so tired.'

Everyone in Mostar is tired; the fighters preparing for their new peace with the Croats, tipsy with slivovitz amid the grey ruins, the old women wheeling their barrow-loads of water cartons down the broken streets and Dr Konjhodzic, whose conversation broke up into a sleepy, disconnected monologue - about the anger of Muslims, Turkish history, the Second World War and the destruction of the city's Stari Most bridge. 'Can I meet you later, when I can think properly?' he asked.

So we visited his home at midday, an old Turkish stone house, windows smashed by the Croatian gunfire that had swept across the Neretva river gorge straight into his eastern suburb of Mostar. On the other side of the Neretva, the houses had been pummelled into heaps, each cruelly retaining the outline of its original shape. Dr Konjhodzic's front door opened with a huge Turkish wooden latch and on a table in the small courtyard he laid out the brandy.

He sat for a few moments, in silence, staring at the brandy and then announced, very quietly: 'I know what you are going to ask me and I will give you the answer now. Yes, the ceasefire with the Croats will work. There will be peace. I don't think we shall fight with the Croats again. The truce is not popular here in Mostar because of what we have endured but it's functioning elsewhere - and I agree with this new ceasefire.'

Amid the wooden headboards in the city cemeteries it was not wise to ask about the ceasefire. Some graves were so new, and so militaristic in the literal sense of the word, that the very question seemed obscene. How could you ask this of the family of Mile Trcalo who was killed by Croatian shellfire in Mostar last year at the age of 21? He was a black-belt karate champion who wanted to be a policeman; but he liked being a soldier for the few remaining months of his life and on top of his grave his family have left his army helmet with a live bullet pushed into the strap. Behind it stands a picture - 'his favourite picture,' a schoolfriend told me - of an American soldier in Vietnam watching a flurry of Huey gunships flying over the jungles of South East Asia. But the US did not come to Mile Trcalo's rescue; nor did the west prove heroic. The Spanish UN troops wolf-whistling at the girls outside the cemetery and the roar of Nato's impotent jets in the skies above Mostar are heartless proof of this.

Perhaps because he is a medical man, Dr Konjhodzic did not want to talk about death. His wife and a baby he has never seen are marooned on the Dalmatian coast, and his father died of a heart attack during the fighting. He lives now in the wreckage of Mostar with his mother. 'Why should I be happy?' he asked. 'The Serbs have Serbia and the Croats have Croatia - the only people who wanted Yugoslavia were the Muslims because they didn't have a country. The greatest percentage of Bosnians were Muslims but power was with the Yugoslav National Army which was controlled by the Serbs. We had the numbers but not the power - that was our tragedy.'

Dr Konjhodzic lifted his glass with a small, refined hand - the hand of a surgeon who had operated on the dying for months in his underground surgery - and sipped greedily at the brandy. 'All that about our lack of power is history,' he said. 'I would like my country of Bosnia to be united again.' Because of his generosity - and his tiredness - we did not argue with the flaw in his analysis: Bosnia had never been united, except in the old Yugoslavia which the doctor himself admitted was 'an artificial country, held together by force'. Yet he had thought carefully about the implications of his new national status.

'Something very serious is happening now - the permanent separation of our country between the Serbs and us,' he said. 'I would like to be wrong but I fear I am right. It is like Yalta. The wartime Allies divided Eastern and Western Europe between them. Under their agreement, Yugoslavia was half-independent. Tito was Communist but Tito could say 'no' to Stalin because he was half under the protection of the West. What is happening to Bosnia now is what was meant for Yugoslavia. In future, Bosnia is going to be divided 50-50 between the West and the East. We and the Croats are with the West, the Serbs will be protected by the Russians. Was that not, in reality, what the Bosnia-Croat peace agreement in Washington was all about?'

The doctor produced some snapshots - of the baby daughter he had never held, sitting on the lap of his very young wife. For the first time he smiled. 'I am so tired that I am still wondering what happened to us,' he said. 'Maybe all this is a continuation of the Second World War which got postponed during the Tito years. One of my uncles disappeared in that war. Other members of my family were with the partisans, another was a judge. But this is history now.'

(Photograph omitted)

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