Wednesday, Sept. 18, 1996
Yesterday Julian Borger from the Guardian (who was stationed in Warsaw when I was still a Polish hack) drove me to the press conference. On the way, we decided that OSCE should announce the results of the elections to the strains of Beethoven’s Ninth, the “Ode to Joy.” Julian even whistled the tune before the show began, but the rest of the audience didn’t recognize it. A musically illiterate flock, I’m afraid.
Now that the results are almost final and we know that the current president of Bosnia, Alija Izetbegovic (known as “Izzy”), got the most votes, the “Ode to Joy” actually echoes the mood in Sarajevo. There’s a “but,” though: Bosniaks are happy that Izzy got more votes than the Bosnian Serb candidate Momcilo Krajisnik, the speaker of the Republika Srpska Parliament, since people feared that he could win the presidency of the united Bosnia and Herzegovina. (He is a sworn enemy of a united Bosnia, and voting him to power would have been like making the fox president of a chicken farm.) But Bosniaks who question whether the SDA (Izetbegovic’s “Party for Democratic Action”) is truly devoted to multiethnicity, and fear that Islamization is just around the corner, are sad about the fact that Izetbegovic got six times more votes than Haris Silajdzic, the former prime minister and leader of the main opposition party.
The international community has basically decided that, well, even though the elections were not free and fair, let’s declare them valid and move on. Today at lunch in the old town, Bascarsija, I overheard two conversations, one between an American and a Frenchman, the other between two Dutchmen. All four were planning their departures: “Did you buy the T-shirts with the library?” (meaning the pictures of the burnt-out library of Sarajevo) asked one; “Let’s take Fred the spent munitions cases with engraved battle-name,” said another. That last is the most popular gift item. Even the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, got one on her last trip. I plan to buy one for my friend Jim’s parents, but then again, that might not be such a good idea, because then they’ll think the war is still going on here and worry about us.
It makes me sad to listen to people getting ready to leave. But maybe now real tourists will arrive. Up to this point, the customers for souvenirs have mainly been IFOR soldiers and OSCE personnel, especially the Americans. But we did have one group of tourists in August, from Catalonia, Spain. They came to relive the war a bit, and were the laughingstock of the old Bosnia hands–the journalists and aid workers. But the Catalans didn’t care. They did their thing. They visited the tunnel under the airport and some bombed-out sites; they stayed with a local family (possibly in a room hit by a mortar) and dined on dandelion soup, ready-to-eat military meals, and Vietnam-era American biscuits.
After the Catalans left, the British punks came. They arrived in trucks, camped just across the river from the ICG office, and washed at an open tap that was popular during the war. I asked them who they were, but their answer made no sense to me–it sounded like a name of a military unit or a crideguerre. Later, one punk was patient enough to explain that this was the name of a punk-rock group, but being an ignoramus about punk, I still couldn’t figure out whether they were the band themselves or merely fans of some other band. I couldn’t explain it to my Bosniak friend Salih, either. Salih, by the way, is a very sweet social worker who deals with Sarajevans suffering from all sorts of post-traumatic stress syndromes, so maybe he knows how to deal with camping punks.