The young still fall in love in Sarajevo, and they still rebel. But they cannot escape the shadow of war.

February 13, 1994|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Sun Staff Correspondent

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- It was love at first sight, Sarajevo style. He saw her through his rifle scope as she stood in line for her family's water, then he walked over from his sentry post to chat.

Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love.

But in the besieged city of Sarajevo there are always further, messier chapters: Boy's apartment wrecked by shell fire. Girl's uncle killed by grenade. Boy's friends die face-down in the mud at the front. Girl's neighbor shot in the head by sniper. And so on.

Such is the melancholy climate of romance for Enko Hadzic, 18, and Dragana Sabo, 19. At a time when they should be gently easing free of parents and teachers, they're trapped by the danger and hardship of a 22-month bombardment. In one moment they laugh and blow smoke rings with their cigarettes. In the next they speak with resignation of fate, risk and death. Even if the siege were to lift tomorrow, they would have only the blankness of an empty future to confront.

Enko's and Dragana's experiences are typical among the tens of thousands of young people in Sarajevo, and to spend a few days with them and their friends is to glimpse a lost generation walking deeper into darkness.

Join them for a Saturday night on the town and you stroll through pitch-black alleys, sidestepping the puddles of shell holes and groping around smashed, bullet-riddled cars, which are literally stacked atop each other in side streets and parking lots.

Their evening begins at 5:30, as soon as it's too dark for the Serbian snipers who shoot from the hills. Dinner can always wait -- it's only the same old rice and beans anyway -- and there's a 10 p.m. curfew to beat.

Dragana and Enko walk with five friends, and everyone seems oblivious to the surroundings. Arms linked, they shout, sing and laugh loudly. Once they reach the open streets alongside the Miljacka River, which runs like a spine down the middle of the city, they risk prompting a flare from the opposite hillside, 400 yards away, where the snipers never seem to doze.

It is not an idle concern. Only a few nights earlier a flare soared above them, illuminating their group in an open plaza like deer in a meadow. They scattered and ran for the shadows. No shots came, but they got the message. Yet tonight they're as loud as ever, and now and then flick on the beam of a flashlight to show the way.

Walking at the head of the group are Vlado Jovanovic, 20, and Goran Klaric, 18. Like almost all the young men among the 300,000 people remaining in Sarajevo, they're conscripts of the Bosnian army in the battle to break the Serbs' hold on the city. Although Muslims are the standard bearers of the Bosnian cause, the army units here reflect the city's ethnic mix, which includes Croats and even Serbs. Many simply call themselves "Sarajevans," having come from families of mixed marriages.

Neither Vlado, who is a Croat, nor Goran, who is Muslim, has had a day of military training. Both returned a day earlier from the front lines on Zuc, a mountain north of the city where there has been fierce fighting.

Vlado seems a particularly unlikely man for soldiering. His long, wavy black hair is tied in a ponytail, and he despises even the thought of a gun in his hands.

Escape from war

Without enough guns to go around, the army rotates conscripts to and from the front. Vlado and Goran report to their barracks every morning, and on most days they're not needed. In a week or so they'll probably have to go back to Zuc, marching through the night with their small units, dressed in muddy blue jeans, flannel shirts, overcoats and hiking boots, with borrowed Army rifles slung across their backs. They have no helmets, no flak vests.

On those nights it takes them more than three hours to reach the Bosnian lines, in an uphill journey over exposed fields and through deserted neighborhoods of burned homes.

But tonight their destination is the BB Club, a basement-level dance bar of flashing lights and throbbing speakers. Like every oasis of entertainment in this city without power lines, its operation depends on a portable generator powered by black-market gasoline bought for $75 a gallon.

Serbian gunners have sometimes fired rocket-propelled grenades at the club entrance, but so far tonight the sounds from the hills have been limited to scattered machine gun bursts and huge rumbling blasts from the direction of Zuc.

It turns out that the BB Club is closed for the evening, the casualty of a broken generator. Just as well, perhaps. The cover charge is 60 cents, which in Sarajevo's smothered economy is more than two weeks of the average salary. A beer costs $2.50. A can of Coke, at $9 apiece, vanquishes a week's pay with every swallow.

Vlado leads the group to the next stop, darting down another dark alley, crossing a basketball court dimpled by mortar shells, then slipping through a gash in a concrete wall to a building that houses a small movie theater and a coffee bar.

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