Leading Article: One saved, but many remain

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ANY ATTEMPT to save the life of a child is, by definition, good. The plight of Irma Hadzimuratovic, the badly wounded five-year-old girl who was flown out of Sarajevo yesterday, courtesy of John Major, was seized on as a symbol of that city's long ordeal. On 30 July, she and 14 other Sarajevans, most of them children, were hit by shrapnel in a market place. It was Irma's suffering that the doctor looking after her, Edo Jaganjac, chose to dramatise to the media.

Her photograph and story appeared on the front pages of many national British newspapers, and her case was discussed on Radio 4's Today programme. Dr Jaganjac piled on the emotional pressure relentlessly. 'This child does not have to die,' he said. 'In any normal hospital she would certainly live. It is a textbook case: she will die here, or she could live there.' It was almost as if he was saying: 'How can you in the West, with your justifiably troubled consciences, not do anything about this suffering girl?'

The Prime Minister's heart was touched - and no doubt his conscience with it - and he asked the Foreign Office to organise a rescue flight. Despite warnings from her doctor that she might die en route, Irma was airlifted out to Ancona with two members of her family, and thence for proper hospital treatment to Britain. Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, made it clear that it was because of the urgency of the case and the Prime Minister's wishes that normal procedures were cut through.

To judge by the somewhat embarrassed tone of his TV and radio interviews, Mr Hurd realised rather more clearly than the Prime Minister that this charitable deed could provoke some less than congratulatory responses. To many people, and not just to cynics, it was bound to look like an opportunistic public relations exercise. To others it would prompt such questions as: why pick on Irma? What about the other children wounded daily in Sarajevo, not to mention all those rotting in refugee camps with their parents after being driven from their homes by ethnic cleansing? Why should the Government not cut through its red tape for them, too?

If those questions are asked forcefully enough, Mr Major's humanitarian gesture will have wider repercussions than he perhaps anticipated. Its sheer arbitrariness helps to draw attention to the plight of all those for whom British red tape is not being bypassed - and to the future of Sarajevo as a whole, for whose rescue from strangulation by the Serbs no firm Western strategy has yet been devised.

Yesterday's partial withdrawal of Serbian forces from heights surrounding the city, undoubtedly in response to the threat of air strikes by Nato, represents modest progress. But it will not of itself bring Sarajevo's sufferings nearer to an end. The Serbs' record to date is of an endless series of broken promises and shrewd tactical moves to avert military intervention by the United Nations.

Within the vast panorama of pain created by the Bosnian conflict, the fate of a five-year-old girl can only be a tiny, impressionistic speck. Yet it is only by focusing on the fate of individuals that most people can grasp the nature of such generalised suffering and focus more closely on the issues involved. If Irma's rescue serves that purpose, it will transcend its inherent arbitrariness.