Voices From Sarajevo

What is it like to be trapped under siege for more than three years, surrounded by heavily-armed extremists who launch artillery shells and grenades at your home, and shoot at you as you walk in the street? What is it like to live in a city where nationalists cut off your food, water, heat, electricity, and medical supplies while the world watches on TV?

Those of us "outside" will never know. Even foreigners who visit the city -- courageous people who voluntarily risk their lives to deliver aid or send news reports of the war--will never know. Because while outsiders may share the terror of Serb snipers and artillery attacks, they know they can leave again, and rejoin the outside world. They are not trapped in what one song calls the city's "eternal nightmare."

To mark the tragic three-year anniversary of Sarajevo's horror, we departed from the usual weekly news summary. Instead, we present a collection of comments from Sarajevans themselves, taken from various sources over the past three years. Some quote are not attributed because they come from private correspondence.

Thank you for your attention.

"Sometimes I just have the feeling the sniper is watching me from the hill and can shoot me whenever he likes. My forehead begins to itch at the place where I expect the bullet."

"We think we are normal. People outside would think we are mad. We shut our ears to the gunfire. We spend hours fetching water, looking for food. We live for today and can only hang on to dreams about the future.

"But I still love Sarajevo."
--Lejla Krilic, 20

"It's a miracle that we're still alive. It's amazing, really."
--Comment on the 3rd anniversary of the siege

"We knew the Americans would come one day [to Auschwitz], that they would win in the end. We didn't know how long it would be, but we knew liberation would come. Now, we don't know anything.

"This is the third year, and we don't see anyone with us, and we don't know what the world will do. Never in my life did I live like this.....

"I don't write to my son anymore. What would I tell him? That we have water today? That we are promised electricity tomorrow? These are the themes of our lives now. Once again, we have been diminished."

--Holocaust survivor Greta Ferusic, 70

"Many of my friends gave their lives for the beauty of this town. I can't simply ignore that fact because then they would have died for nothing. That is why can't leave this town. I only wish to see the seaside once again in my life."

--Haris Hadziavdagic, 20

"I don't care about politics because politics is a whore. I hate politics. If you ask me how I feel today, I feel like an animal."

--Mirsad Sukalo, 19

``Now I like the stumps more than the trees. I feel good having it so empty and bare. It matches something inside me.''

--20-year-old surgeon's assistant, in a park where all the trees were cut down for firewood

``I stop breathing for two stations. I'm used to being afraid. I'm used to running across every intersection in the city. What's the difference? It is quicker and more comfortable in a tram.''

--Kaira Kovac, 32, on why she rides the trams, a favorite sniper target

``If I have to face another winter without electricity, water and heating, I'm going to take a rope and hang myself. They won't have to kill me.''

--Dina Gacic, a 22-year-old hairdresser.

"I don't have a normal life and I don't see a future for me here. .... Every day I lose my friends and soon I'll be alone. You can't study, you can't work, you can't make money, you can't make love (condoms are very expensive). So, I want to go somewhere, but where? Sarajevo isn't the place for me, but where is the place for me?

--Redina Ljumanovic

"Every day when I wake up in the morning, I am so happy because I am alive. Many of my friends are dead and so you can see why I am so happy, because in Sarajevo to be alive is a luxury that many people cannot afford. Right now, I am not afraid but if the shellings start again, I would go out of my mind. Those things are the worst experiences in my whole life-- besides seeing my best friend's brain blown away."

--Alma Duran

"As far as my ham radio goes, I'm doing this to live through the times, and to show those cretins that I'm still alive and better than they are. I don't miss participating in any important (radio) contests, and from spite I put up good antennas with my friends so that ``T9'' [the prefix for Bosnia- Hercegovina] can be heard everywhere."

--Sarajevo amateur-radio operator

``We feel pride, a sense of victory that we are still standing after all those blows. We show it in going to the cafes, shopping, strolling. Those who survived are proud to be Sarajevans.''

--Nedzad Niksic, 50, jeweler in Sarajevo's Old Town

"Everyday life in Sarajevo is awful. We do not have enough electricity, gas, water or heating. Sometimes we do not have it at all. Right now it is snowing heavily and the gas and heating systems are out of order so when I go back home I will be freezing to death.....

"I should be traveling and having fun, making new friends, seeing other cities and countries. But instead of that I have to bring water to my flat and carry it in my hands for two or three miles. You see, during heavy shellings we did not have any water in our homes. We had to go to the few natural sources of water, fill the plastic gallons with water and carry it to home. That is very exhausting.....

"But although death is all around us, we girls still try to look good. Our way of fighting is to look beautiful and to show to those beasts that are killing us that youth and life will triumph over death."

--Alma Duran

"I don't know how to describe the life of people here, because there is no life. Here exists only something as animal natural impulse to survive."

--Letter, 1993

"It's as if my past was a sweet and peaceful dream, and I was roused at the best part of it. And as if I every evening try to continue my dream, desiring to find out what further happened, but I haven't found it yet..."

--University student

``Policy, negotiations. Again and again. When I hear that, I want to throw up.

``They want to persuade me there is still some chance for peace. But I see what is coming. It is enough to listen to the sounds of the night -- the crackle of machine guns and the thuds of explosions.''

--Adnan Muhamedovic

"There is not a single place in Sarajevo on which a grenade has not fallen in the past three years. So how can anyone feel safe in Sarajevo? We breathe unsafety with our air, we drink unsafety with our water, we eat unsafety with our bread. We are people who feel: not alive - but alive for now."

--Writer Marko Vesovic, 50

"Look at these children. Can you say which one of them is Muslim, which one of them is Croat, which one of them is Serb, and the other nationalities? Please, look at them. You don't know. I don't want to know, so please don't ask me that question."

--School principal Vjekoslav Brezar, to an American radio reporter

"We had about 10 direct hits. My head nurse was killed right here.

"I was sitting here, and she was in the next room. The shell came from a third room-through a window. ... At the same time, other shells were hitting nearby. One hit the next building.

"There was a huge explosion. There was a panic among the patients. We were forced to evacuate them. There was a large number of really excited patients, heavily psychotic patients. We couldn't even get to our head nurse."

--Dr. Jeljko Trograncic, a psychiatrist at Sarajevo's Kosevo Hospital

"I couldn't sleep at night. ... I always saw a man with his face destroyed.

"I'm afraid of everything. ... I remember: We were eating and the shell fell. It was dark in front of my eyes. Then I saw the blood. Some were dead. Some were taken away. There was blood, lots of blood....

"Everything is crazy. Only fools can do such things."

--Psychiatric patient at Kosevo Hospital, admitted because he was screaming so loudly during the night, he woke his neighbors

"The invisible burden which each and everyone of us is carrying on his or her back cannot be removed. We are tired of ourselves.

"The outside world doesn't mean anything to me. It is becoming for me as an uncertain rumor."

--Marko Vesovic

"It is so queer, this quiet in Sarajevo, floating like a tender soap bubble, so fragile and vulnerable. One gets easily accustomed to the good in life, so they say. But so far, I have time and again convinced myself that life, real life, is not what I thought it to be, but so much further beyond that. Far too much pain, anguish, tears and deceit, suffered through clenched teeth....

"This quiet surrounding and deluding us that we are safe from shellings is uneasy to bear. The Nazi artillery is still at the very positions from which they butchered us, but now more condensed and under a feeble UNPROFOR control."

--Letter dated Feb. 22, 1994, shortly after the NATO "ultimatum" which supposedly banned heavy weapons around the city

"Life here (before the NATO "ultimatum") was as in the Warsaw ghetto, except we didn't have guards and Nazis in the town to kill us, but in the surrounding hills, from where they laughed at our suffering every day."

--Letter written two months after the "ultimatum"

"I can't bear it anymore. It's driving me crazy. It would be easier if they said, `We will kill them all at once,' rather than like this, slowly."

--Gymnastics coach Aida Smailhodzic, 30, hospitalized after a shell hit in front of her apartment, January 1994

"No one knows how this war will end. It may go on forever if the civilized world doesn't stop it. The only thing I'm sure of is that I won't be alive when it's over."

--Hasan Ferhatbegovic, 70

"In a time when reason has committed suicide and madness has taken over, does anybody want war? That's why our agency is helping you to find a partner ... in this world of war and death it only makes sense to make love."

--Sarajevo dating-agency advertisement

"When the war began, we thought it was the end of the world, to live in these conditions. Now, unfortunately, we've gotten used to it, and what is worse, this has become a normal way to live."

--Enes Huleric, on the 900th day of the siege

"These 900 days of the siege have made us learn a lot about life and death, and how you have to do things you never thought of. I live my life like today is my last day on Earth."

--Zarko Karamusic, 27

"Do not think that in general people are strong. They were before but after three years of constant horror everybody is exhausted or they are out of their minds. A lot of people are really crazy. A lot of people left and only the strongest are staying, but they are also fed up with this poor imitation which we call our everyday life."

--Alma Duran

"How many people have been killed in Paris with sniper shots during one day?"

--Davor Milicevic

"Today after three years of horror I can say that I do not know any healthy person here....

"We walk the same streets. We wear the same clothes. We all eat rice and beans. A lot of my friends left Sarajevo. Some of my friends are dead and many of us have been wounded.

"If there was not for the war, today I would be already a doctor. As you know for studying everybody needs mental peace, motivation, good food, rest and peaceful dreams. My friends and I were preparing exams in situation of permanent life-danger, without electrical light, water or heating....

"I want to invite medical students from all around the world to make contact with us. I will be glad if someone brave or courageous enough is going to accept this and be my guest in Sarajevo. Send us all some magazines and let us know what is happening behind `The wall.'"

--Medical student Jasmin Ceranic

"I'll try to describe this classroom. It is so cold here. Outside it's snowing, but not even that snow and cold can stop these 16 students (most of them are girls) to keep studying. To stop them from listening to the professor with much attention.

"Running water drips from the roof, it falls in a can which is full already, so that water is also on the floor. There are no windows, actually, and wall is crashed and instead of them somebody placed wood plates and foil on which with big letter write UNHCR. There is no electricity but it isn't needed for light, practically we are outside.

"It is fascinating how much enthusiasm these students have inside."

--Letter, 1994

"It is a great luck that in 1939. there were no United Nations. Because if there were, Hitler would be ruling today."

--Marko Vesovic

"We think that Internet questions are difficult for us to answer. It is very sad that you do not know, after three years of war, how we live here. We live very hard and this is not a proper life for teenagers. We are supposed to go out, to travel, to have everything that teenagers need. Instead we have a war and your stupid questions. If we could leave Sarajevo we would. We would go for the rest of our lives because we are living in a big concentration camp. A modern concentration camp.

"All of this is not of any use to us. The best way to find out something about life here is to come. Then you can try and understand.

"If you can't come, invite us. We will live in your houses, and you will live in ours. Just for 15 days, then we will send you some questions about life here.

"GET US OUT OF HERE!!!!!!!!!!"

--Sanja, Lejla, Emir, Goran, Edin, Ismar, Lela, Nino, Soopy, ..... and others, seniors in high school, on the "Sarajevo Online" Internet project

"If we leave, no one will be here to visit it, tend the flowers or put up a gravestone. No one will be here to light the candles."

--Tarsa Petkovic at the grave of her son, a Serb killed in the Serb bombardment of Sarajevo, on why she wants to stay