Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow's Bosnians: Displaced, Dispossessed

Vlastimir Mijovic begins his work at midnight, when the fax machine starts to hum and 10 pages of the latest news from Sarajevo roll into his Moscow apartment. How many dead, their names, which houses are no longer standing, the latest military maneuvers -- Mijovic condenses and compiles. At 6 A.M., distribution of his Bosna-Press begins, via fax, to Bosnians throughout Moscow who pore over the information like treasured scraps of gold.


"They speak a lot about Bosnia on CNN and BBC, but they don't cover the kind of details that Bosnians here want to know," said Mijovic, Moscow correspondent for Oslobodenje, the Sarajevo newspaper that has been publishing continuously throughout the 22-month-old war in former Yugoslavia.


Communications with the Bosnian capital are cut off and Mijovic receives his information from Zagreb in Croatia, where it is compiled by journalists listening to amateur radio broadcasters from Sarajevo.


With the Russian media relying almost exclusively on reports from the Belgrade news agency Tanjug, Mijovic's Bosna-Press is the primary source of news about the siege of Sarajevo for the roughly 1,000 Bosnians who live here.


Moscow's Bosnians, most of whom were construction workers here when the war began, are in a peculiar situation. Not only are they isolated from friends and relatives at home, but they live in a country that does not have diplomatic relations with Bosnia and is one of the few major powers to sympathize with Serbia in the conflict.


At the recently opened Caf? Sarajevo on Frolov Pereulok near the Turgenevskaya metro, there is usually only one topic of discussion: the war. "Even if someone brings up another topic, within five minutes we're back to talking about Bosnia again," said the caf?'s proprietor, Mira Memic, who serves Yugoslav cognac and hearty Bosnian dishes like pleskivitsa and pita to Bosnian Moslems, Croats and Serbs, who she says mix amicably.


"We work together and hang out together, just like it used to be in Yugoslavia," Memic says.


On a recent afternoon, Memic and three friends, Bosnian Moslem construction workers, were drinking coffee and discussing the threatened air strikes around Sarajevo."It's already two years and they're still standing on words," said Omer Dzafic, 34, a builder who has lived here for seven years and is married to a Russian. "We're still waiting for results."


Their primary concern, as usual, was for friends and relatives at home. There are few Bosnians who visit the caf? who have not lost someone to the war, which has killed some 200,000 people.


"It's a very difficult feeling when you can't do anything but sit here," said Memic.


Ibrahim Djikic, Bosnia's representative to Russia, is equally isolated. Shortly after Bosnia voted for independence in spring 1992, Djikic left the Yugoslav Embassy, where he had been the only Bosnian diplomat. A spokesman at the embassy, which now represents only Serbia and Montenegro, said that Djikic resigned; Djikic said he was kicked out.


An urbane and talkative man who has lived in Moscow since 1990, Djikic now works in a bare office on Leninsky Prospekt, where he has one secretary and one ordinary telephone line. For information, he relies on Bosna-Press and contact with Bosnian embassies in Europe. His main tasks are assisting Bosnians and maintaining contact with Russian government officials.


"When the Russians need to be informed about something our relations are perfectly normal," said Djikic, who is financially supported by the Bosnian business community. "But when I need something from them, it's more difficult."


Djikic, who has no contact with his former colleagues at the Yugoslav Embassy but continues to live in an apartment compound with many of them, described relations between Serbs and Bosnians in Moscow as "cold." Many Serbian firms fired their Bosnian employees and several contracts where Bosnian and Serbian firms were working together were terminated, Djikic said.


"But as far as I know there have been no incidents," he said.


George Krnita, spokesman for the Yugoslav Embassy, also said there are no serious problems between the Bosnians and the roughly 6,000 Serbs living in Moscow, although he said there are Bosnian firms that have fired their Serb workers.


According to Krnita, Russian opposition to air strikes -- a recent poll said 77 percent of Russians object to such action -- stems from Russia's "better understanding of what a national conflict and civil war means."


Among Russians, however, Bosnians say they encounter more ignorance than antipathy.


"They're just misinformed," said Mijovic, the Oslobodenje correspondent. "If our citizens relied only on the Russian press, they would be just as misinformed as the majority of Russians."


The Bosna-Press also helps Mijovic, who has not been paid since the war began, to support his wife and two children. He pointed to his own family to show the complexity of relations in Bosnia that he says few Russians understand. He is a Serb, and his wife, Amra Zimic-Mijovic, is a Moslem -- mixed marriages are common in Bosnia.


"If Bosnia were divided into three parts -- Serbian, Moslem and Croatian -- where would we live?" he asked over the sound of the television news which, as in most Bosnian homes in Moscow, is always on.