This Spring, Sarajevo Can Sniff Peace

Lilacs, perfume shops, and other delights blossom under a cease-fire

Where a few months ago Sarajevans stood in line to receive shipments of humanitarian aid, they are now lining up for something else - True Red, Jamaican Blue, and Absolute Rose.

Yves Rocher, a French cosmetics chain, has opened in Sarajevo and is doing a brisk business in avocado body lotions, citron-scented soaps, lavender foot deodorant, musky Aztec perfume, and a palette of lipsticks, eyeliners, nail polish, and rouge.

"I am really happy we have something like this in Sarajevo. It is a kind of a gift to Sarajevo," says Tatanya Ilic, a Bosnian shopper who works as an administrative assistant at the Canadian Embassy.

While many of the neighboring stores feature frumpy fronts, the French perfumery offers delicious packaging, strategic marketing, and a pleasant, open atmosphere. To Western eyes, it looks "normal" - to Sarajevan eyes, miraculous.

Yves Rocher is one of a new crop of businesses transforming Sarajevo's streets from sniper alleys to shopping avenues. Down the street, the overnight package delivery service DHL has hung out its sign on its new offices. To Sarajevans, the arrival of DHL spells the end of isolation from the world.

And a joint venture is working on plans to launch a small fleet of passenger and cargo planes into the skies in June. If it succeeds, Air Bosna will usher in the first commercial passenger service to Sarajevo since the war began in 1992.

Cellular phone service is also coming to the Bosnian capital perhaps as early as August.

With the arrival of new businesses, Sarajevo is undergoing a postwar facelift. On the highway running from the airport to downtown, which used to be the Sarajevo front line, workers interrupt traffic to paint lane markers and fill potholes.

Last month, when sniper barriers in the city were dismantled overnight, Sarajevans walked in a daze the next morning, wondering at first what had changed. Taxi drivers slowed down to look. Last week, the Hotel Bosnia was covered by scaffolding, part of a refurbishing project. A dreaded Bosnian Serb checkpoint near the airport has been transformed into an Esso gas station.

Sarajevo in May is an enchanted city, overgrown with new green foliage and lilac trees that do much to cover up the architectural scars of war. Sooty gray streets have been brought to life by outdoor cafes. In a city that has no money to spend on street lights, sunlight that spills past 8 p.m. expands the mental horizons of the town.

While the flaws in the Dayton peace accord continue to be exposed, the cease-fire that it has produced has brought genuine hope to Bosnians.

Bosnia has serious economic problems, including 70 percent unemployment and 300,000 former soldiers looking for work. Accompanying the lilac-filled, Mediterranean atmosphere of Sarajevo these days is a rise in street crime, not all of it "ethnically" motivated. Shots were fired and grenades exploded in the suburb of Dobrinja over the weekend.

Despite these troubles, Sarajevo this spring offers a taste of what the city could be like if peace lasts. "The city looks so beautiful. I forgot how beautiful Sarajevo is, especially at night," says Ms. Ilic, the young administrative assistant.

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