In sea of ethnic conflict, island of amity survives BAKANS CRISIS

August 29, 1992|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Staff Writer

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- In the Quadrant Apartments in the neighborhood called Cengic Vila, Serbs, Croats and Muslims still live together in harmony despite the bloody conflict among their compatriots around the ruined capital.

The thud of cannon fire and the rattle of machine guns around them seem indiscriminate. They think only "barbarians" can believe in the "ethnic cleansing" proclaimed by "crazy" leaders.

The intertwining of nationalities in Sarajevo is neatly symbolized in their six-story apartment house: Twelve families live here, four Serbian, four Croatian and four Muslim.

But the braiding together of ethnicity and religion goes deeper than that.

Zlatko Lucevich is Croatian; his wife, Indira, is Muslim. He sent her and their two children to safety on the Adriatic Coast, where his downstairs neighbor, who is Muslim, offered his vacation home as a refuge.

Rade Divac, a 26-year-old college professor who has the apartment above Mr. Lucevich, is Serbian. His girlfriend is Muslim.

"Before the war, I didn't know that I was Croatian," Mr. Lucevich says. "It didn't interest anybody. There were only good guys and bad guys."

Mr. Lucevich, Mr. Divac and Nido Begovic, the Muslim who lives downstairs, think they are the good guys.

"We have been friends for 15 years," says Mr. Divac, a mechanical engineer who plays basketball.

"Every night we played cards together, rummy, and we drank together," he says. "Famous Grouse scotch, you know it? Very good."

The "papci," the bad guys, are in the gun positions in the hills around the city. They're Serbs like Mr. Davic, but their shells are indiscriminate.

One landed recently on a line of people in front of a grocery store about a hundred yards from the Quadrant. Men, women and children were strewn about like meat from a burst bag.

Two women, three men and a 15-year-old boy were killed. Twenty-two were injured. You can see the blood-stained glass from Mr. Lucevich's window. Everybody in the Quadrant shopped there.

"My personal opinion is that this conflict is forced by rural people who haven't lived very long in Bosnia," says Mr. Divac, the Serb. "They are unsophisticated people whose nationalism is based on a twisted concept of history.

"I feel this is a war between civilization and barbarians," he says. "Serbs in Sarajevo don't support the war.

"We are just targets, the same as Croats, Muslims, Gypsies and Jews. Sarajevo is a melting pot, like America, like New York."

Mr. Lucevich, the Croat, echoes his Serb friend: "This is not an ethnic war. This is an aggression from a crazy Milosevic."

He doesn't even think most of the Serbs in Serbia support Slobodan Milosevic, their hard-line president.

"They don't know what's going on here," he says.

In the Quadrant Apartments, they share hardships.

Nido Begovic's wife, Amira, and their two sons are refugees in Geneva. He hasn't heard from them in 40 days. But he thinks they're better off in Switzerland than here.

He lives now with his father, Riza, a former bank director who is 67, and his mother, Sena, 61, who looks very worried.

"We didn't eat meat for two months," Sena Begovic says with a deep sigh.

Food is scarce in Sarajevo, and everyone lives mostly on humanitarian aid from other countries, when it can get here.

Mr. Begovic shows his supply: canned beef, canned mackerel, U.S. Army "Meals Ready to Eat" from Texas.

They get bread from the one bakery still working in town.

"Every day we must wait in line at least an hour," Mr. Begovic says. He's a 42-year-old chemical engineer who doesn't know if his factory still exists. "Some say it's burned down. Some say it's still there. I don't know," he says.

Like everyone in the Quadrant, he is exhausting his savings. His father gets a pension that amounts to about $2.80 a month. His mother gets a little over a dollar. One egg costs 60 cents on the black market; a kilo (2.2 pounds) of coffee costs about $15.

"We really don't know what will happen when winter comes," Mr. Lucevich says. The apartments are all heated with electricity, and there is no electricity.

Snow gets 4 to 5 feet deep in the mountains, which is why the Winter Olympics could be held here in 1984 -- an age ago when everyone marveled at Sarajevo's social harmony.

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