Excerpts from "Bosnia's Despair"

(a dispatch from Sarajevo originally printed in the June 30 Bimingham News)

For two weeks now I've been crisscrossing Bosnia, surveying damage and gathering site data for the Global Network for Rebuilding, a consortium of American academics allied to a group I founded two years ago, the Birmingham Bosnia Task Force. The Global Network for Rebuilding will attempt to provide land planning assistance to the reconstruction effort here, in the form of digitized overlay mapping like that used by urban designers and regional planners in the industrialized world.

This is my second trip to Bosnia, but my first chance to travel outside of Sarajevo. When I was here two years ago, having flown in on a U.N. cargo plane from Italy, the city was surrounded.

The journey has been arduous, not so much because of poor road conditions or unpredictable weather, or the piece of tainted fruit that turned me inside out for a couple of days. (Actually, the trip has gone rather smoothly, considering that I'm traveling on an outdated U.N. press pass, hopping rides as best I can, in order to take photographs in places like Brcko, a contested city where two Chetniks recently tried to relieve me of my camera.) It's the unrelenting despair of the victims that weighs on me. And the victims of this holocaust are everywhere, picking through the rubble as though they've just emerged from the cellar after a three-year cyclone. I encounter it wherever I go, the haunted look of inner devastation in the eyes of dispossessed, uprooted survivors.

The whirlwind spared no one. Every family in every town has suffered in some way. Besides the 200,000 dead, there is an economy and an infrastructure in shambles. The power grid is wrecked, communications is little better, potable water is scarce, and even if fields needed for cultivation weren't sown with land mines, many of the roads necessary to get produce to market are impassible...Looking back on my first visit to Sarajevo, that hellish summer of 1994, I see so much that has changed, and yet many things remain the same. At that time the situation seemed absurd: though the besieged city was living on humanitarian aid, the world had otherwise turned its back on Bosnia. Now, although the snipers and mortars are silent, I sense the country has less chance of survival.

The war that shattered Bosnia was started by politicians, not the Bosnian people. Champions of intolerance and the outlaws who carried out campaigns of terror became powerful by creating great suffering. Those same people are still around, plotting further division.

Tensions are growing as the September elections near...The country is being further riven from within, as politicians seeking to build constituencies based on ethnic grounds become more strident and dogmatic. The educated majority tries to resist these appeals, but so many Bosnians have been so badly hurt that now fear and anger rival reason and deliberation as key political determinants.

The stakes are high for everyone. This part of the world is where major religions and ancient cultures converge. As an intersection of fervent beliefs, Bosnia could prove to be the flash point (as it was in 1914) for a war reaching far beyond her borders--this time pitting NATO nations and superpowers against one another. Or it can be the place where reconciliation gains rebirth.

Bosnia will never again be what it was: one of the few truly multi-ethnic countries in Europe, with a centuries-old tradition of tolerance. But it can and must survive as the loose tri-partite federation Dayton decreed. War is the only alternative.

The great nations that brokered Dayton sought to indemnify Bosnian supporters of peace by promising the infusion of troops and arms sufficient to maintain a balance of power and funds sufficient to begin the massive process of reconstruction. So far, the commitment of troops and arms far outweighs any commitment to reconstruction--thus wasting precious time, as patience and goodwill evaporate in the summer heat.

Those who are here are doing their best. Last week I met with John Yarwood in Mostar, Director of Reconstruction for the European Union. Through aid coordinators like him, groups like our Global Network for Rebuilding are able to identify meaningful projects in which to participate...The people here really need the kind of urban planning database we can generate...Luckily, Sarajevo will be connected to the Internet next month, which will facilitate our ability to help.

In truth, Bosnia needs much of everything. Americans must do more to support peace and unity here, to give these people hope in the future and the means to employ their tremendous energy and powers of innovation toward productive ends.

Jay Craig
Sarajevo, June 24

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