War trails Bosnians to Games

February 07, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- Verona Marjanovic wants desperately to go home. Even when she sees the television images of bodies piled on a truck bed in a Sarajevo marketplace, her heart tugs her back to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

She looks closely at the screen for a face, trying to make sure there is no one she knows among the dead.

"Every day, I am worried," she says. "Watching television brings you close. I am thinking about this war every single day."

Yesterday, the Bosnians arrived at the Winter Olympics, and they headed straight for the television sets.

They are nine in all. Three are Serb. Two are Croat. Four are Muslim.

They are dressed in identical dark blue uniforms, and they have matching dreams of overcoming strife and simply competing for Olympic medals.

But there are conflicting emotions, too, as they prepare to play while others die.

They are in a winter wonderland, but television brings them home, brings them news of Saturday's mortar attack that left 68 dead in Sarajevo's main market.

Ten years ago today, their city was at the center of the athletic world during the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Winter Olympics. Now, Sarajevo is in ruins, choked and bombed during a 22-month siege.

"I feel a guilt," says Marjanovic, a 20-year-old luger who learned her English from television and rock music. "I left people behind."

She fled Sarajevo last February for what was supposed to be a 100-day training trip in Germany and Italy.

One hundred days stretched to one year yesterday. She has spoken with her family once since then, calling her sister Friday for two minutes on a satellite telephone.

"They couldn't believe it was me," she says.

Her father is Serb. Her mother is Croat. Her family tree is dotted with Muslims.

Call Marjanovic anything but a Bosnian and she grows angry.

"I can't hate everybody," she says.

But sitting in the warmth of a lobby at the athletes village at the Olympics, she is furious.

L There is another scene from the Sarajevo marketplace on CNN.

"My family could be there," she says. "My friends could be there. If I'm not an athlete, I could be there."

Igor Boras, a bobsledder, knows every detail of the market. He lives in a Catholic seminary not more than 100 yards from where shoppers pick over black-market supplies.

Friday, he fled Sarajevo on a United Nations relief flight bound for Italy, and bound for the Olympics.

Saturday, he arrived in Oslo, and as he walked through the airport, he saw the first reports of the attack.

"I cried a lot," he says, safe and comfortable at the Olympics.

Though he hasn't raced in more than a year, he is part of a four-man bobsled team that is a symbol of an Olympic city that once was: Muslims, Croats and Serbs working together.

"Life is small things, and this small thing is very important to Sarajevo," he says. "To show people we're not savages, we're not primitive."

Nizar Zaciragic wants to ride down a sheet of ice in a bobsled to prove a point: that there is still life in the city he left behind.

"Gypsies," he says. "Everyone thinks we're Gypsies. We're people. We're human beings. We're educated."

ZTC He left Sarajevo Jan. 25, taking two armored personnel carriers, two flights and a train ride to freedom.

"I get very strange feelings sitting here," he says. "It is to me like I had an operation on my body and they gave me anesthesia."

After subsisting on bread and water for weeks, Zaciragic can now only tolerate one daily meal. He is growing stronger by the day but angrier by the minute.

He talks. He watches television.

"This is a crucifixion of a war," he says.

The athletes have few ideas of how to end the bloodshed.

Boras says "one serious phone call," from President Clinton could stop the siege.

Zaciragic talks of "sending in arms to the Muslims."

Marjanovic simply shakes her head in disgust.

"I think the world leaders are just playing with us," she says. "We are just puppets."

Saturday, she will march in the opening ceremonies. Next week, she will tumble down a mountain slope of ice like a cube falling into a glass.

"Until I am finished competing, I have to put this war out of my mind," she says.

Gone a year, she is homesick for a shell of a city.

"I am full of sorrow," she says. "I am full of tears."

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