Lamenting lost splendors of Sarajevo

The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
June 21, 1999, Monday

Lamenting lost splendors of Sarajevo

Mark Petix, The Press-Enterprise

A SECTION; Pg. A05

MILICI, Bosnia

Branislav Spasojevic speaks slowly and seriously, as befits the sector director of information, sports and culture in the Bosnian Serb city of Milici.

The 44-year-old chain-smokes Yugoslavian cigarettes and sips Bosnian coffee in a second-floor office of the city’s radio station, where he is meeting with two U.S. Army reservists.  They have come to catch up on local events.

Yes, Spasojevic says, business is good, all things considered.

There will be layoffs at the bauxite mine.  The recent NATO bombings seven miles east in Yugoslavia have cut the mine’s main source of business.

But the station in Milici (mill-E-chee) now carries the BBC as well as Serbian national radio.  The people have a choice.

Someone mentions Sarajevo.  The lines disappear from Spasojevic’s face and his dark eyes grow bright.  He is a world and a lifetime away.

“Before the war, Sarajevo was a romantic way of life,” he says through an interpreter.  “Serb, Croat and Muslim, everybody together.”

Sweet.

“I worked for 13 years in television production, and I was pretty good.  It was a drama series.  I was director.”

The cast and crew came from all republics of the former Yugoslavia, he says.  The producer was from Belgrade.  The male lead was from Slovenia.  His girlfriend was Croatian.

“There wasn’t a nationality that wasn’t there,” he says.  “And when we were done with the job we went out to a cafe bar.” One night, he says, 50 people were in the cafe bar late, drinking and laughing, when the Slovenian actor’s girlfriend arrived.

“We told him to marry her,” Spasojevic says, “and we got to work.

We had no documents, no judge and the municipality was closed.  We decided to wake everybody up.”

First they called the judge.

“You do that anywhere else and they would say ‘go to hell,’ ” he says.  “The license came to the cafe about 2 a.m. We called the jeweler and he brought the rings.

“About 4 in the morning we went to the courthouse.  It opened, and the two were married. ”

But things are different now, he says.  His eyes grow dim, and he lights another cigarette.

“It was a creative life,” he says.  “We would laugh at the political parties and the extremists.  And then the nationalist movement started.”

Spasojevic left Sarajevo when the war started.  The city, he says, was already dead.

“The last time I was there it was hard to find music in Sarajevo,” he says.  “New languages emerged, separate.  Prior to the war, everybody, Muslim, Serb, Croat, spoke one language.  All of a sudden it was pure Croatian.  Pure Serb.  Pure Bosniak (Muslim).

“In this moment, the city is not the city it was because the Bosnian Serbs and Croats have left.  I personally think it was a big mistake to single out the city of Sarajevo and bomb it. ”

Spasojevic says it would take much, perhaps too much, to bring Sarajevo back to those old days.  “We would need a national emancipation, it would have to involve culture, jobs, sports.  Almost a renaissance. ”

He sits silent for a long moment, then lights another cigarette.

“The people here, at the heart of it, are good,” he says.  “I believe I still have my Slovenian friend’s phone number.  I must call him.”

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