Bakery sustains Sarajevo

June 17, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Little in this bombed-out, besieged city functions, little, that is, but the Klas bakery.

This is not a time for cakes and pastry. A starving city needs bread, and the Klas bakery, the only industrial one still operating, yesterday turned out 70,000 loaves to feed 300,000 people cut off from the outside world for 10 weeks.

Sarajevo is without fresh meat, fruit or vegetables, so people are dependent on the Klas bread factory to survive.

"We will do whatever it takes to get bread to these people. It is all they have," said Husein Ahmovic, the 50-year-old bakery director.

It is not an easy job. There is no water, seldom electricity and a continual shortage of yeast.

But somehow, the 80 people who work at the factory, a typical Bosnian mixture of Croats, Muslims and Serbs, are making do. Neither bombs, nor snipers, nor a lack of water and a shortage of yeast have managed to stop them.

The bakery has been struck five times by artillery shells, ripping huge holes in the building and causing about $600,000 in damage. Two bread truck drivers have been wounded by snipers, and five trucks have been blown out of action.

Every night 30 to 40 of the 80 workers sleep at the bakery. Beds made of blankets and sheets are on the floor outside the director's office. About half the people go home every night, a trip complicated by no public transportation, little gasoline for cars, and the danger of Serbian snipers shooting from the surrounding hills.

"I will go home at 2 p.m., and I must think how to do that," said Stanimir Bokun, the bakery's 34-year-old production planner. "It is a job every day."

At the height of the fighting here, things were even worse for the bakers because few of them could get out to go home.

"It used to be something like a concentration camp," said Mr. Bokun. "We worked here, we ate here, we just lived here," he said. In addition, people are just plain frightened because of the war. "They can't understand this situation," he said.

In addition to the stress of the fighting outside the bakery, there are some stressful jobs within the bakery, particularly how to get enough yeast each day to make the bread.

Flour isn't a problem. The bakery has a 40- to 45-day supply. The bakery uses 35 to 40 tons of flour a day.

And water isn't such a problem either, even though the city's water system is broken down in most parts of town. The fire department trucks in 20 tons of water each day to make the dough.

But obtaining yeast is a constant challenge.

Before the war in Croatia, which began a year ago, the bakery got its yeast from the Croatian capital, Zagreb. More recently it has been getting yeast from another factory at Tuzla in northern Bosnia.

But with the city surrounded, even getting that yeast is a tricky matter. "We do it like this, through the mountains," said Mr. Ahmovic. On Monday, the bakery ran out of yeast so it was able to produce only 15,000 loaves of bread. It did that with old yeast it got when the director called around town. Private cars were sent out to pick it up.

But Monday night, a load of 3,000 pounds of yeast made it through the mountains. That's enough for 3 1/2 days of baking.

After that, the bakers will somehow have to figure out how to make more bread, perhaps turning to a sourdough process in which a small starter batch of dough is used to make the rest of the dough rise, a much slower way to do things. Or the Klas bakery can hope for another secret shipment through the mountains.

"We have big problems, but we live from day to day," said Mr. Ahmovic.

Yesterday, the bakery made 70,000 loaves of bread, its usual production these days. Before the war, it made only 40,000 loaves, as well as an assortment of 87 rolls, pastries and cakes. The non-bread products made more profit for the factory, which is owned by its workers.

"We are losing a lot of money, but we are doing it for humanitarian reasons," said Mr. Bokun, the bakery planner.

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