River cools 2 Serbias: one at war, the other at peace

August 13, 1994|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Special to The Sun

ZVORNIK, Bosnia -- On the surface, it seemed like any other summer day in Zvornik. Thousands bathed in the Drina River that runs through it, cooling off from a sweltering August heat wave. Many cycled and walked over an iron footbridge to reach the best beach on the left bank.

But the atmosphere is tense and paranoid. Undercurrents of uncertainty are everywhere. In the eyes, the expressions. And every conversation.

Zvornik is a town divided. The left bank is in Bosnia and has been "cleansed" of its Muslim majority. The right bank in Serbia still has a functioning mosque.

It is here that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's decision to cut off supplies to the Bosnian Serbs will be most severely tested.

There is little doubt that -- so far -- the blockade is being implemented. People may still dip together in the water, but Zvornik's main bridge, once the busiest of five linking Serbia with Bosnia, is a lonely sight.

Only food, clothes, medicine and noncommercial travelers are allowed through. A line of trucks and angry drivers has melted away, together with the belief that this blockade will fizzle quickly like one 14 months ago.

On the Bosnian Serb side there has been a run on stores. There are fewer cars in the streets. But real hardship only threatens with the end of the sunny weather.

The main impact so far has been psychological. On the Bosnian Serb side there is a universal determination to continue fighting.

"Why should we give up territory we have shed blood for?" asked one middle-age man, Svetozar Rakic. "Too many people have died."

"I am young," said Gordana Rajic, a teen-aged girl. "I could probably accept [the Geneva peace plan]. But my parents and grandparents could never be with the Muslims again. They suffered in the last war. And now I've lost an uncle in the fighting."

There was a reluctance, however, to condemn Mr. Milosevic. Several held out the hope that the Serbian strongman was pulling off a sensational Balkan trick.

One soldier, Radovan Miljanic, said Bosnian Serb army commanders had told their men that the maneuver was a deal between Mr. Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic "to pull the wool over everyone's eyes."

Mr. Milosevic is a great politician, he added. "Don't pay attention to news reports," he said.

But on the Serbian side of the river the propaganda message of Mr. Milosevic's main mouthpiece -- Belgrade television -- is taken with utmost seriousness. People parroted the themes, if not the exact line, with which Mr. Milosevic has blitzed the official press in the past two weeks.

The propaganda campaign has been vitriolic, denouncing Dr. Karadzic and other Bosnian Serb leaders as war profiteers who have committed "crimes against humanity."

People obediently felt the Bosnian Serbs should sign the plan so that sanctions against Serbia would be eased. In one cafe, the Kraljevac, a drunken conversation focused on the many differences separating the Serbs in Serbia from the Bosnian Serbs. The attitude toward Bosnian cousins clearly has soured, even though people are cautious in expressing their views.

The international community must be convinced of Mr. Milosevic's seriousness. A failure to mount a genuine crackdown could result in tightened U.N. sanctions on Serbia.

A frisson of excitement rippled through official Serbia this week when U.S. Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher mentioned the possibility of sanctions being eased if the blockade is sustained and proven. Until now the United States has been the most hard-line in pressing for punishment of the Serbs.

However, an easing of sanctions would require U.N. monitors on Serbia's border crossings with Bosnia. Without them, Serbian resolve could easily crumble, whatever Mr. Milosevic may order.

Already checks at one border crossing -- at Loznica -- had been downgraded from strict to cursory.

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