The Bosnia Crisis: Death departs, the agony lingers on: With the Nato deadline only hours away, war-weary Sarajevans expect little relief from the day-to-day misery: Life under siege

ON THE EVE of the Nato deadline yesterday, an old man shuffled past the spot, by a bridge across the Miljacka river, where Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Ferdinand and started the First World War. The old man was carrying a drawer full of cinders from his stove. Snow was falling heavily.

'Nobody knows whether peace is coming,' he said. 'It's in God's hands. We hope things will get better, but it's still very hard. We can walk freely now (since the truce) but nothing more.' He was wearing a threadbare coat, a thin scarf and a cap; he is 79 and survives on humanitarian aid. He has no family here; he lives alone. And he is afraid that if Nato does call in air strikes, the Serbs will punish Sarajevo with a renewed bout of shelling.

His fears were echoed by a couple of young Bosnian soldiers on R & R. 'If Nato did bomb, (the Serbs) would shell even more,' said Almir Smajkan, who is 20. 'But then it was just a gesture anyway. Even if the Serbs don't withdraw their weapons, Nato will not attack.'

His comrade, Nedim Feto, is only 17 but already battle-hardened. He says he joined the Green Berets, a Muslim paramilitary force, in September 1991, before the Bosnian war began, when he was only 14. 'I don't think peace will ever come,' he said. 'The problem is too big. Nato's threat will never end the war. They should lift the arms embargo - in that case the war would be over in two months. But they won't do that, because everybody is on the Serbs' side.'

People went about their business as usual: a woman doing her washing at a water pump, a girl loading plastic water containers on to a sledge, a man using a wheelbarrow for a similar task. It is Ramadan, but you would be hard-pressed to find evidence of it in this supposedly Muslim city.

There is little optimism on display either. Asked what they think will happen tonight and beyond, most reply, 'I don't know,' and pause to reflect. They say they hope for peace, but without much conviction.

Jasmina Dulic is in her mid-

fifties, smartly dressed in a mink coat, fur hat, wearing pink lipstick and using an umbrella to shield herself from the snow. 'I hope it means peace, but to me the deadline means nothing,' she said. 'I won't be watching the clock until then. I'll be going to bed early, because I have no electricity. Life is better now because there is no shelling, but nothing else has changed.'

That is another common theme: the truce has ended fears of a quick death, but people say that unless the siege is actually lifted, all they have to look forward to is a slow death.

'It's not enough just to stop shelling, they must lift the blockade,' said Muhamed Ajdinovic, a cheerful man selling books on the pavement in the city centre. He is a retired shoe salesman who makes ends meet by selling the books of friends and neighbours for a small commission. He will sell you Anna Karenina or Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (in Serbo-Croat) for two German marks apiece, but business is not thriving. 'People want to read, but many just can't afford it,' he said.

For those eager to read in English, a stall down the road is selling a copy of Cosmopolitan for January 1987, price 90p, for one mark. The stall offers Bosnian newspapers and women's turbans in green, blue or red. The stallholder doesn't want to talk about the war or Nato.

Neither does a young man at the Jewish centre, who, reluctant to give his real name, settles for Jovan (John). 'I don't want to think about politics or the military. I'm 20 and it's all just so stupid,' he said. 'I want to get out of here, anywhere, I don't care.'

The synagogue, a short walk from Princip Bridge (renamed Austria Bridge), is an imposing pink building that has survived the shelling pretty well. But it has been closed throughout the war because, Jovan said, 'the old people, who are the most religious, are frightened to come out'. There is no rabbi, but he says there never has been; that job is done by a prominent local Jew.

Jovan is now in charge of the Jewish post office - the community is extremely well organised, receiving letters, money and aid packages fairly regularly - but is hoping to return to his studies and become an engineer. His parents made him stop going to classes because they were afraid he would be wounded or killed.

He has few hopes for Sarajevo and is cynical about all sides. 'Nobody can help us because we are stupid - that's the problem. Our people want war. When we decide to stop the war, it will stop - but that has not happened yet.'

Should that time come, it is likely to produce a exodus from the city. In the past few weeks, flyposters have gone up around the city: Interlingua is offering intensive courses in English, French, German and Italian, in preparation, it seems for the day they open the road out.

Vojislav, the director of personnel at a factory that made railway tracks and other steel products before the war, and now makes stoves and military equipment, is among those who plans to leave. He and his son have Serbian names; his wife has a Muslim name. That was all right before, but now he worries.

'The hatred is so deep,' he says. 'They (the West) call us Balkan savages, and some of us are. Things have happened so terrible that I can't see any future here.' In Serbian areas his wife will be a second-class citizen, he says, and in Muslim areas he will be. 'I think mixed marriages can now survive only in another country.'

Throughout this war, the besieging forces of Sarajevo have sought to do more than maim and kill - they have tried to destroy an entire city, a civilised society, a spirit. And from what Vojislav says, they have done a good job. 'When the first victim died it was a disaster for us. With the second and third, we started getting used to it. And now, when the shells come we are just happy, because it has not hurt us. It's very dangerous, because we are losing our sense of humanity.'

And that will not return for many years, whatever Nato or the United Nations does now.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee