Olympic Legacy In Sarajevo Ruined by War
Like everything else in Bosnia, the 10th anniversary of the Sarajevo Olympics is embattled. Both Muslims and Serbs claim the right to celebrate.
| SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA
WHEN the people of Sarajevo look back from today's wartime nightmare to the winter Olympics of 10 years ago, it all seems like a distant dream.
The 1984 Games transformed the city into a place of light and activity, catching the whole population up in the excitement.
``You could smell the spirit months before,'' says Sanda Majstorovic, now a physician. As an 18-year-old schoolgirl, she was one of hundreds who took part in the opening and closing ceremonies at the Sarajevo Olympics.
``The streets were alive day and night,'' she recalls. ``The shops, coffee bars, and discos were open around the clock. Everybody was really excited inside, everything was clean. We thought the world's gates had opened for Sarajevo, we thought it would last forever. Now it looks as though we're forgotten.''
For Sanda, and everyone else in Sarajevo, the contrast with life today could hardly be harsher.
``Now I know what death is,'' says Elma Softic, a skating enthusiast who led the closing ceremony dressed up as ``Vucko,'' the Little Wolf, mascot of the 1984 Games.
``I am walking through blood on the streets,'' she adds. ``I must run because I don't want to be killed by a sniper. I don't have electricity, I don't have water, I don't have gas. Everything is different now.''
As well as putting Sarajevo on the international map for the first time since the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, the Olympics also transformed the city and its infrastructure, and left it with a rich legacy of winter sport facilities.
Now, like the dreams of 10 years ago, most of those facilities lie in charred ruins.
The Zetra stadium, where the figure- and speed-skating contests were held, went up in flames under Serb bombardment soon after the war broke out nearly two years ago. It is now occupied by French troops from the United Nations forces. So is the badly-damaged ice stadium at nearby Skanderija.
The Olympic Museum, established in a 1903 neo-Baroque villa, which once housed the US Consulate, was similarly gutted and now lies open to the sky.
Because soldiers, like skiers, go for the high ground, many of the ski centers on the heights around Sarajevo became hotly-contested battlegrounds. The relief map printed by the Olympic organizers to show the main sports sites is now being used as a battle guide by journalists covering the war.
The facilities at Trebevic (bobsled and luge) have been badly damaged in successive clashes over this tree-clad slope, held by the Bosnian Serbs, which looms over Sarajevo to the southeast.
On the heights of Mt. Igman and Mt. Bjelasnica, to the southwest, where cross-country, downhill, and ski-jumping events were held, hotels, chalets, and other installations were torched by the Serbs last autumn when they withdrew under UN and NATO pressure.
Only Jahorina - whose heights, tucked behind Trebevic, hosted the women's downhill events in 1984 - has escaped unscathed because it lies deep inside Serb-held territory.
One of the lifts on a practice slope has been activated for a few hours each morning for the handful of local skiers who turn up daily. Only one of the hotels, the Bistrica, is open, and its 100 or so guests are mainly made up of officials from Radovan Karadzic's breakaway Bosnian ``Serb Republic.''
``The war situation makes it very hard to run this hotel and the Olympic Center here,'' says hotel manager Drago Blagojevic.
``Thanks to the embargo [on Serbia], it's very hard to get spare parts for the wires and other technical equipment here, and all the other supplies we need are very expensive. But we are managing as best we can,'' he adds.
The Bosnian Serbs have set up their own Olympic Committee and are trying to attract outsiders to take part in a competition at Jahorina to commemorate the 1984 Games. But they are not recognized internationally and are finding few takers.
LIKE everything else in Bosnia, the anniversary is being fought over.
Down in Sarajevo itself, the Olympic Committee of the Muslim-led government - which is recognized by the International Olympic Committee - will also be sponsoring symbolic celebrations and says that the IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, has promised to attend.
``If there is snow in the streets, we may have a small race in town and perhaps a snowman-building competition in the park for the children,'' says Bosnian Olympic Committee chairman Izudin Filipovic.
``But for obvious reasons, we must be very careful, and most of the celebration will be in the form of exhibitions,'' he adds.
On Jan. 22, six children were killed in a Sarajevo street when Serb mortars landed among them as they played in the snow.
Despite all its problems, Bosnia will be entering about a half-dozen athletes in the Lillehammer Olympics - in the bobsled, luge, and downhill and cross-country skiing events.
Some of the competitors have been training outside the country for some time. But at least two are stuck in besieged Sarajevo.
They and Mr. Filipovic blame lack of cooperation from the UN and its agencies - whose airlift flights provide the only lifeline to the outside world - for their inability to compete.
Though the city lies in ruins, bobsled athlete Igor Boras - a Croat Catholic - dashes up and down the carpeted halls of the bombed-out Supreme Court building as part of a training routine that can include neither bobsled nor ice.
``We are physically ready, and are waiting, and still hoping to go,'' he says. ``If they are there in Lillehammer, and we are stuck here, and they talk of peace, how can we believe in the Olympic spirit? Every medal will have its dark side.''
Another young hopeful, speed skater Slavenko Likic, trains by running and cycling through the streets and ``dry-skating'' in front of a mirror at home.
``For the past two years, he has slept with his skates in his bed and always makes sure they are safe first when there is an alarm, and we have to go down to the shelter,'' says his mother Serife.
Last year, Mr. Boras risked his life dodging snipers and UN guards to escape the siege by running across the airport runway in order to take part in the world championships at Innsbruck, Austria. That route is no longer possible. ``If they made `running for your life' an Olympic event, we would be sure to do well,'' he says.