Bosnian Olympians tell children of horror of war

May 13, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

The videotape the Bosnian Olympic bobsled team brought to Clarksville Middle School yesterday opened with the glory of the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, then jumped to today's war-ravaged Balkan city, where the hillside bobsled run has been used as a sniper's nest.

Just before the 12:30 p.m. seventh-grade social studies class arrived, bobsled team brakeman Igor Boras screened the videotape for teacher Norma Rose because he was concerned that the bloodshed depicted might disturb the students. Ms. Rose decided to show it.

"This film is only eight minutes, one day. But this is 24 hours, two years," said bobsled team pilot Zoran Sokolovic after the students viewed the videotape describing the concentration camps, genocide, torture, rape, refugees and deplorable living conditions that now characterize Bosnia-Herzegovina. "It's so many, many, many hours, so many of those things happen every day."

Obtaining visitors visas through sponsorship by American University, five members of the bobsled team that competed in Lillehammer, Norway, in February were able to leave refugee camps in Germany, Austria and Croatia and come to Washington. They have been speaking at schools and universities and meeting with congressmen and relief groups to try to raise public consciousness of the atrocities in their homeland.

The team came to Clarksville Middle through its acquaintance with Ms. Rose's daughter, Andra Rose, and son-in-law, American University international relations professor Joshua Goldstein, both of whom are active in the Washington-based Bosnia Support Committee, a citizens group.

Team members emphasized that they work well together even though the three ethnic groups involved in the territorial battle -- Muslims, Serbians and Croatians -- and three religions are represented in their four-man bobsled crew.

"What I want you to do is learn good to help yourself, help your country, listen to your teacher, enjoy your life," Mr. Sokolovic told the students.

"You can see what can happen when you're not making friends."

VVTC Team members reminded the students that they have opportunities to learn and enjoy life that children in Bosnia have lost.

"A lot of small kids like you are in war," Mr. Boras said. "There are no kids left in Sarajevo. They are thinking of [electricity], food, water, should they survive the next day. They don't think about french fries, Coke. They can't go outside and play because it's too dangerous."

The Bosnians described the difficulties of training for the 1994 Olympics in the midst of a war -- 22 months of subsisting on a diet of mostly bread and tea, improving speed by running through a long hallway in a demolished building and dodging sniper fire and mortar shells to get to workouts.

Team member Nizar "Gigi" Zaciragic responded directly when a student asked what the U.S. government should do to help Bosnia.

"President Clinton can solve our suffering in five minutes" by getting tough with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and demanding that the Serbian nationalists' siege be stopped."

"If he says we will flatten your army, airports, bridges, logistic centers, believe me, the war will be over in five minutes," Mr. Zaciragic said. "When threatened seriously, the Serbs always pulled back."

The team members said they think often of safety and well-being their relatives, girlfriends and fiancees in Sarajevo. "I have a shower here, a meal here," Mr. Zaciragic said. "Maybe they don't have enough bread and no shower."

Several team members have had relatives killed.

Mr. Boras lived 100 meters from the Sarajevo central market, where 68 Bosnians were killed and 200 wounded in a mortar attack the day after he left on a United Nations plane for final Olympic Games preparations.

Team members said they are unable to return to Sarajevo while it is under siege. They said they hoped to continue their educations in the United States and then return to help rebuild their country.

Mr. Boras said he plans to work toward a civil engineering degree and Mr. Zaciragic toward a master's degree in marketing.

They are also working on a book with an American journalist about their experiences.

Seventh-grader Michelle Rapp said the Bosnians' blunt description of conditions in their country saddened her.

"It made me learn we shouldn't take stuff for granted," she said. "We have running water and clothes, and we expect to get more. They don't have that."

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