Wednesday, Sept. 11, 1996
Last night the Second Sarajevo Film Festival opened here. It’s the Bosnian equivalent of Oscar night, I guess. The crème de la crème of Sarajevo, some 2,000 people, gathered at the open-air movie theater Obala. The U.S. servicemen who filled the back rows crunched popcorn; the local VIPs wrapped themselves in blankets; and journalists and U.N. personnel passed around a bottle of slivovitz (plum brandy). A visiting Los Angeleno would have found the whole scene distinctly unglamorous. But somehow, the presence of popcorn imbued it with an air of nobility. My friend Amira said that for Sarajevans, the real touch of class was the row of pristine portable johns at the entrance. Her brother tried one and said it smelled gorgeous.
At first the microphones didn’t work, and the audience got impatient. Then the mikes were fixed and the speeches began, and the audience got impatient again. One reason for that was that everything had to be translated from the local language into French and English. (You may think the term “local” is patronizing, but it isn’t. I got into the habit of calling the language “local”–or “our”–because otherwise I’d hurt the ethnic feelings of this or that group. Once I crossed a border, I’d have to stop calling the language “Bosnian” and start calling it “Serb,” or stop calling it “Serb” and start calling it “Croat,” or whatever. “Local” seems the only safe term.) Amira liked the film Twister because it has a happy ending, plus the screen was big, and the Dolby sound was impressive.
Earlier in the day, we could have used some Dolby sound. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe opened a press center for the elections, and there were no microphones for journalists to ask questions with, so they screamed them, which made the whole thing seem quite confrontational. I wanted to scream my question (which was going to be of the confrontational variety), but the head of the OSCE Bosnia mission, Mr. Frowick, took only five questions. I didn’t make the cut.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. The day before yesterday at the regular press conference run by the NATO Implementation Force, IFOR, I asked Carl Bildt what would happen if the elections here were not certified as free and fair. Bildt replied that that was for the U.N. Security Council to decide. But after the conference, a certain Maj. Moyer from the U.S. Army told me that he doesn’t want me asking any more questions. I told him that that was too bad, that I plan to ask plenty more questions, that I am an accredited journalist, and no shrinking violet at that. The major said that my press pass was not valid for IFOR. I showed him my press pass, which said, “Also valid for IFOR.” He was furious.
I suspect that the major got so upset because I work for the International Crisis Group. ICG is not just another nongovernmental organization in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We’re considered mavericks here, although Anthony Lewis called us a “respected monitoring body” last Monday. Back in mid-August, we published a report in which we called for a postponement of the elections, since there was no way they could be free and fair. Most observers (including Mr. Frowick himself) agreed with us on the “free and fair” part, but there is so much pressure from Washington to go ahead with the voting that the elections will definitely take place. As a political analyst with ICG I have written several articles calling these elections a fraud, so I’ve developed something of a reputation as a party pooper. But a party pooper with a cause.