Some Bosnians hate everybody Ill will: The Dayton peace agreement has brought an end to the fighting in Bosnia, but it has also allowed to surface the strange juxtapositions forced by the civil war's shifting alliances.

Sun Journal

January 06, 1996|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Balkan ethnic loyalties die hard, even when uprooted and moved across a continent.

Consider the case of Fedor Keredzin, an ethnic Serb born and raised in Sweden and now a 2nd lieutenant in the Swedish army. On a recent day Lieutenant Keredzin was on duty for NATO peacekeeping forces at a checkpoint manned by Swedish troops.

A few hundred yards in one direction, Muslim soldiers of the Bosnian government huddled in cold, muddy bunkers. A few hundred yards in the opposite direction, a handful of Bosnian Serb soldiers patrolled their side of the line in a destroyed village of a dozen or so homes, with their front-yard trenches and mines scattered across thistled lawns.

The Serbs had just turned back a pair of journalists who sought to continue down the road to Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb soldiers allegedly massacred about 5,000 Muslim men and boys in July.

"We have orders from the high command that no journalists are to be allowed to pass," the Serbian sentry had said.

So now the reporters were appealing to the Swedes to help usher them through, by citing the open-road guarantees of the peace agreement negotiated in Dayton, Ohio.

And that's when Lieutenant Keredzin, the unit's interpreter, intervened.

"You can't just wave the Dayton agreement at them and expect them to move," he said, clearly irritated by the request.

But nearly every other road into Bosnian Serb territory in the region had been opened, he was reminded. Wasn't this one being blocked simply because of what happened at Srebrenica? And what about all the eyewitness accounts?

"Rumors," Lieutenant Keredzin said.

What about the satellite photos, the ones indicating the existence of mass graves?

"Satellite photos," he said. He gestured toward the large green tent that the Swedes had set up as a base camp.

"Look at this place. After we leave here this will be a gravel field. What would that look like on a satellite photo?"

The captain in charge seemed discomfited by the exchange, and a few minutes later he tried to smooth over the situation.

"He doesn't like journalists," the captain explained.

Shifting alliances

Inter-ethnic alliances seemed to shift and slide during the last four years with every turn of the wind, a phenomenon that has often baffled outsiders and may yet baffle U.S. troops.

British U.N. peacekeeping soldiers stationed in the central Bosnian town of Vitez used to make light of this with a map of Bosnia posted in their press center. Ethnic labels, such as "Muslims who hate Serbs," "Muslims who like Serbs but hate Croats," "Croats who hate Serbs and Muslims," and "Serbs who hate everybody," dotted the various regions. Not only was it darkly humorous it was roughly accurate.

Doubters, or those who think the war ended when the Croats and Muslims united against the Serbs, need only look to Mostar at the end of last month, when Muslims stoned and fired upon Croatian cars the night after a Croatian policeman shot a Muslim boy.

Phil Arnold, the departing press spokesman for U.N. forces in the former Yugoslavia, told a tale illustrating the same point. He said he heard the story from Lord David Owen, the British peace negotiator,"who swears that it's true."

Apocryphal or not, it sums up the tragicomic nature of the Bosnian carnage.

The tale, circa 1993, begins with a Muslim artillery commander running low on ammunition as his unit shells Croatian positions on the other side of town.

He decides to call up the local Serbian commander, who for the moment isn't firing at anyone, and offer to buy some shells. The two commanders negotiate a fair price, then shut off their radios.

Five minutes later, the absurdity of the deal occurs to the Muslim commander, and he calls the Serb back. "This is silly," he says. "Why don't I just pay you an extra 10 percent, give you the coordinates, and you do the shelling?"

"Fair enough," the Serb agrees.

'Sarajevo backlash'

Then there are the Bosnian Muslims who hate Bosnian Muslims, or at least resent them. Talk to enough Muslim people in enough different places and you find a small but significant number who've grown to loathe their brethren in Sarajevo. Call it "the Sarajevo backlash." At work is the usual small-town resentment for any big city, the way many Americans love to hate New York.

There also are leftover ill feelings from 1984, when Sarajevo was host to the Winter Olympics. Everyone in Yugoslavia helped foot the bill with higher taxes of one form or another, but Sarajevo, according to conventional wisdom, hogged the glory.

During the past four years of war, the resentment has increased by the international media's relentless focus on the plight of Sarajevo under siege.

"You would think they were the only people who had to live through the war," huffed one young woman in heavily shelled Tuzla.

Dunja Radonjic, a woman in Zenica, a town also shelled occasionally, said: "I am so tired of seeing people from Sarajevo on TV. They are always crying."

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