Sarajevo's 1,000 Days

NEW Year's Eve festivities will take place everywhere as usual, but a sadder anniversary will be marked tomorrow as well.

Dec. 31, 1994, will be the 1,000th day of the siege of Sarajevo, which began on April 4, 1992, when Serb snipers shot up a peace rally.

Sarajevo has ebbed and flowed in the consciousness and attention span of the West. Year in and year out, Sarajevo remains on the list of crises - as if the systematic imprisonment of some 320,000 people were a natural disaster, like a flood or crop failure. For 1,000 days - far longer than the siege of Stalingrad or Leningrad -

Sarajevo has shared the news with Japanese earthquakes, the Gingrich Congress, Rwanda, and O. J. Simpson. Its citizens have been trapped since the third year of the Bush presidency, since before the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.

Nor is it going too far to say that Sarajevans live inside a prison. They may not leave. Their gas, water, and electricity are shut off by their captors at will - even in freezing weather. Since 1992 some 10,000 Sarajevans have been killed by the bombs or bullets rained down on them from Serb forces in the hills above the city. Of those killed, 3,000 were children.

One can mention, especially in this season, the Christian duty to visit those in prison. Those in prison, however, have usually done something to get there, have broken the law or done harm. The people of Sarajevo have done no wrong. The ``crime'' of which they are guilty is being Bosnian and choosing a majority secular Muslim government. They are innocent.

Westerners like to have their ``problems'' fairly quickly ``solved.'' In this sense, Sarajevo remains a challenge to the West, to its view of itself as setting a standard of tolerance and law. The aggressors surrounding the city are counting on the impatience of the great powers, and their capacity to forget or to be irritated by the Bosnians' dilemma. A United Nations official last week blamed the government in Sarajevo, for example, for ``doing all it can to promote the image of a besieged city.'' The UN official was gently reminded that Sarajevo is a besieged city.

Two groups that have done heroic work in trying to keep Sarajevo sane are the staffs of the daily newspaper Oslobodenje, which has published nearly every day of the siege, and of the magazine BH Dani, which also continues to set examples of independent and courageous journalism under wartime conditions. Both have come out with special editions for the 1,000-day mark. Bravo, we say.

The Sarajevans cannot give up their city. The Bosnians cannot give up their country. Unlike Croats and Serbs, the Muslims have nowhere else to go. The West should resolve not just to sit by and watch for another 1,000 days.

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