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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sarajevo Defies Standard Views Of Balkan War

ZVORNIK, Bosnia -- On April 5, the siege of Sarajevo will enter its second year. It has already assumed mythical proportions, like the siege of Leningrad in World War II. Against what appear to be overwhelming odds, the defenders of the Bosnian capital have not just refused to capitulate but have succeeded in preserving standards of dignity and integrity that put to shame the wild men who bombard their homes, shops and public buildings.


Those standards are intact, even though the stench of rotting flesh fills the hospital and mortuary, even though a black market flourishes in ammunition and alcohol, even though snipers shoot children and gunners take aim at mourners in cemeteries. The standards are intact because Sarajevo, as long as it stands, defies all conventional interpretations of the Bosnian war.


Most see the war as a horrific fratricidal conflict: Serb against Moslem, Serb against Croat, Croat against Moslem. and so it is, in large parts of the republic. Traveling up and down this tortured republic I have repeatedly found that every psychotic nationalist there are five Bosnians -- whether Serbs, Croats or Moslems -- who are sickened by the killing. Nowhere is this more true than in Sarajevo, which was for many years perhaps the brightest beacon of ethnic tolerance in the old Yugoslavia.


When the first artillery shell crashed into Sarajevo, the city's 380, 000 people did not split into feuding national sectors. How could they? Here a Moslem is married to a Serb, and a Croat lives next door; here to be a Yugoslav of mixed national origins was a source of deep personal pride.


As a result Moslems, Serbs, Croats and people of mixed blood have joined together in the defense of their hometown. Sarajevo is under the nominal control of Bosnia's Moslem-led government, but its citizens are not fighting for a specifically Moslem cause. They are holding aloft the flag of civilization in general.


Who, then, are the killers who shell Sarajevo every day from the surrounding mountains? Mostly, they belong to Bosnian Serb units of the old Yugoslav Army, which commanded a formidable arsenal of heavy artillery, or to irregular Serbian militias composed largely of peasants from the countryside of central Bosnia. In theory, they are answerable to Radovan Karadzic, the self-styled leader of the Bosnian Serbs. Few Serbs in Sarajevo, however, regard him as even remotely representative of them.


The siege of Sarajevo pits civilians against murderers, the urban against the rural, generosity of spirit against primitive hatred, progress against barbarity. But it does not pit all members of one nationality against all members of another. That is why, one day, Sarajevo will rise again.