Emotional scars, too, disfigure Sarajevo After 3 1/2 years of war, Bosnian capital's people have changed

January 07, 1996|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SARAJEVO -- Now that Lejla Gotovusa's hometown has finally awakened from its long night of siege, she finds that she can no longer recognize its face.

Sarajevo's disfigurement goes deeper than the scars left by 3 1/2 years of shelling, or the blind stares of its many windowless, empty buildings.

The problem is the people. While the city suffered, its population underwent a drastic make-over.

Of the 527,000 who once lived here, 12,000 died and 300,000 departed. Their places were taken by 120,000 refugees, mostly Muslims driven by the Serbs from outlying villages and towns. They brought with them their village ways and attitudes. Now, Ms. Gotovusa says, the city belongs to them.

"I do have compassion for them, because they are refugees, they lost everything," says Ms. Gotovusa, 24. "But we sometimes feel like foreigners in our own city."

Especially when even longtime Sarajevans don't seem the same anymore.

"I cannot laugh like I used to before, and nothing can touch me or make me happy or sad, not in the normal way that it used to," she says. "We are handicapped emotionally, really."

Such are the laments of peace now that there is finally enough time to contemplate the losses of war. Although most signs of normal life are returning, and hopes are rising for a lasting calm, happiness remains tempered by the realization that neither Sarajevans nor their city will ever be the same.

You can see the evidence of the changes in the large crowds packing the mosques every Friday. After nearly four years of ethnic war in which religious differences were the most pronounced distinctions between the sides, any sign of increased devotion, no matter how pure in motive, now registers as a warning sign.

It is an aspect that should not be overstated. Even in more polarized rural areas, Bosnia is still a place where a typical "Muslim" tends more toward the Balkan vices of plum brandy and chain smoking than to the rituals of dawn prayer and head scarves.

In Sarajevo, most women still display the same fashionable panache of lipstick and elegant clothing that always seemed so incongruous in the wartime TV footage of crowds ducking sniper fire.

But for people who grew up here, there is no mistaking the change in the city's mentality.

"I had many friends before the war, and all of them left," says Dejan Kajevic, 24, a singer and musician. "Now there are a lot of new people in town, but I have no contact with them. They're like strangers to me. They come into your apartment building from towns and villages, and they have their own rules for living."

Like Ms. Gotovusa, he is compassionate toward the refugees because of what they have been through, especially after riding through the Bosnian countryside over Christmas week. He went by bus with other members of a Sarajevo choir, to and from Rome, Italy, during a five-day tour of holiday concerts.

It was his first trip out of Sarajevo in four years, and he was shocked, not by the destruction -- there is plenty of that here -- but by its often selective nature, such as in Croatian villages where all Muslim homes had been destroyed, or vice versa.

"It was very sad, very strange," he says. "And when I saw those villages on the road, I asked myself, 'Is Sarajevo some kind of protected area? Some kind of motherland where we just didn't have this?' "

It was these sorts of narrow rural hatreds that helped make Sarajevo such a focus of artillery for Bosnian Serb nationalists, who perceived a threat not only in the city's Muslim majority but in its mix of cultures. With 25 percent of its families ethnically mixed, the city's very existence was an affront to the brutal disciples of ethnic singularity.

"Sarajevo was always a more cosmopolitan place," says Mr. Kajevic, a Serb who chose to defy "my people" and stay in the city, reveling in its differences.

But it is the narrower views and outlooks that now seem to be squeezing the city from within.

"If I want to survive here, I must change my own rules," he says. "[The newcomers] live by old traditions."

Ms. Gotovusa adds, "Now it is their city, with their way of life. I don't want to sound like a snob, but it is a peasant culture."

Some of the complaints about the refugee incursion can seem trivial, such as when Ms. Gotovusa bemoans the way the refugees cut down trees in the city parks for firewood, or the way in which they tend to stick together in finding jobs for each other to the exclusion of longtime residents.

But some cite a more sinister effect of the city's new atmosphere.

The Rev. Tomo Mlakic, assistant rector at Sarajevo's Catholic cathedral, with its ethnic base of Croats, found the city to be an open, tolerant place when he studied here before the war. "People then didn't pay much attention to who was a Catholic, who was a Muslim, who was a Serb," he says.

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