New Cafes, Crowded Trams Show Sarajevo on the Mend
SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — EVERY day brings reports of new reasons to see peace in Bosnia as fragile to the point of imminent breakdown. And yet equally unmistakable are the signs that the capital, Sarajevo, is beginning to rebuild.
The popular mood here is a mixture of cautious hope combined with an exasperated war-weariness.
"There will be peace during the IFOR mandate," the occupation of Bosnia by NATO troops, says Muhamed Huseinovic, a coppersmith in the old Turkish quarter. "I think all sides are fed up with fighting," he ventures, puffing out his cheeks and exhaling through pursed lips in a gesture of uncertainty.
A strong strain of skepticism remains, though. "No, I don't think the peace will hold," says Bida Basic. She has just finished a quick spaghetti lunch at a soup kitchen before returning to the nearby public market, where she hopes to earn a few German marks by reselling canned meat that soldiers have sold her from their rations. "In Sarajevo there is no family that didn't suffer.... Peace will stay here only as long as the foreigners."
Meanwhile, the civil reconstruction that the Dayton accord calls for is still just getting off the ground because of diffused responsibility, the reluctance of donor governments to give as much for civilian projects as for military ones, and the need for international authorities to focus more on maintaining the peace.
But both longtime residents and newcomers notice improvements and changes in Sarajevo virtually daily. Cafes are opening amid the rubble, each one of their newly installed plate-glass windows a vote of confidence in the future. Cafes are perhaps a natural leading indicator of recovery in a city that discovered coffee long before Seattle did. Restaurants are coming back, too.
So are fashionable shops, even if some of their windows are still covered with the heavy plastic.
Shiny new aluminum trash bins have been delivered all over Sarajevo. The trams, long the targets of snipers, rumble along so full of people that one can't see daylight through the windows.
The severely damaged water system has been restored so that most areas get water through their taps for periods twice daily. But gas delivery is not yet fully restored. The city is often thick with the haze from wood stoves. The electricity supply has been improved, in part by a power line run over Mt. Igman, which was built on a crash basis during the war by the Bosnians with German and Dutch help.
A Bosnia 'Marshall Plan'
"Everything is very slow," says one international official. "People keep saying they want a Marshall Plan for Bosnia, and I keep telling them it's not going to happen overnight," he adds, noting that the Marshall Plan for European reconstruction didn't get launched until 1948, three years after the end of World War II.
Although residents welcome the new cafes and the reopened shops, they are quick to point out that what's really important is getting factories up and running again so that people have jobs.
The market in Sarajevo's Old Town, on front pages around the world two years ago when an explosion left behind a massacre, is alive again with colorful fruit - and even silk roses. But also, poignantly, it is filled with people selling whatever they can put their hands on - used plumbing and electrical fixtures, clothing, shoes - literally emptying their homes to raise cash.
Just a few yards from the market, the Dalmacija soup kitchen, funded by the German Red Cross, is a similar story of good news and bad news. The government authority that owns the potentially attractive courtyard site is getting nibbles from entrepreneurs who want to buy it for use as a restaurant.
"But there is still a great need for this soup kitchen," which feeds 1,600 elderly and shut-in people daily, says Fahra Biber, in her fourth year of working there. The soup kitchen is virtually a full-time job for her. In the last three months has she begun receiving pay for her labors, 60 German marks ($42) a month to supplement the monthly box of food staples and soap powder she has been getting all along. The war claimed her husband, her brother, and her mother. "Life is difficult, but I know I have to carry on. I have devoted myself to working here. Things are getting better, but still we'll need time to rebuild."