Delightfully, I noticed, Croatian offensive coincided with the annually staged Days of Chaos (Kaottentage) in Hannover. A sweet happening in which punks and skins from all over the place come to Hannover to get very drunk on das Deutsches Bier, set vehicles ablaze, smash windows and really hurt a few dozen 'bullen' (pigs, policemen). Then it is hardly a surprise that German government quietly approved Croatian attack. Croatian soccer punks (Torcida and Bad Blue Boys) hardened by years of war would be quite a disaster for the nice city of Hannover. So, Kohl probably suggested that they rather have a parallel celebration of Kaottentage in Knin.
In strictly military terms it was a brilliant action: Croatian army in just 36 hours produced the largest single ethnic exodus in all four years of war in former Yugoslavia. Obviously, this was a well planned and highly successful military operation. Journalists were however not allowed in villages surrounding Knin. They could just watch smoke rising from burning Serb houses from afar. The humanitarian aspects are largely shrugged off by Western diplomats and Western media: it is prevailing opinion that Serbs needed to get punished.
Twenty four hours before Croatian military victoriously marched into Knin, my friend, who went to Sarajevo to report for Newsweek, called me. She was in Zagreb, sharing a room with a colleague who reported for Time magazine. Ah, is this why the articles in Newsweek and Time appear to be almost identical? Nevermind. The Time correspondent got permission to go to Knin, but my friend was cut short both by Croats and by Serbs. And she was of course desperate. Come on, it is a fierce competition down there. So, she called to see if I still have some of my well-placed connections alive. Well, I guess in time my friends in Croatian ministry of information helped her, she did not need Serb approval to enter Knin any more.
The other friend of mine was returning home (to the U.S.) from Tuzla, where she worked for Amnesty International with refugees from Zepa and Srebrenica. She went to Split, then waited for Knin to fall in Croatian hands, and probably became the first American tourist to have a chance to travel from Split to Zagreb through Knin since the declaration of independence of Republic of Croatia. Yet, she chose to fly over, anyway. Without the help of her countrymen (who trained Croatian officers, and provided full diplomatic and intelligence support) Knin would still be held by Serbs, so she figured she had certain rights.
Yet another friend of mine just called me from Belgrade. She works for Red Cross there. They are overwhelmed with number of refugees (up to 200,000 people are said to be on the move). Political and military leadership of Serbs in Krajina (Babic, Martic) escaped to Belgrade days before Croatian offensive was complete, abandoning its people in Knin, and parading through downtown Belgrade in full uniform; featuring the mainstay of Serbian history: celebrating the loss. Now they claim to be ready to join volunteer corps to go there to reconquer Knin. But most of their peers from Krajina, most of the media and Belgrade citizens in general regard them as traitors. Yet, apparently Milosevic is not interested in arresting them.
Lame German tourists (who indeed escaped their bleak prospects of being stabbed in Hannover) clogged Adriatic Highway - a winding coastal road reminiscent of California's highway 101 - leaving Croatia in panic. The offensive was however over before they managed to reach the Croatian-Slovenian border. I guess they are still stuck in traffic with their large cars toiling trailers.
More interesting than the predictable results of Croatian attack are the turmoil that have shaken the Bosnian government and the Bosnian Serb leadership following that attack. The supreme military commander of Bosnian Serbs, and the guy largely responsible for the smart strategic moves that brought 25% of Croatia (he was also commander of Croatian Serb forces in 1991) and 70% of Bosnia under Serbian rule for past three years, Ratko Mladic refused to engage Croats in Krajina. First, he decided it would be suicidal - because Croats already controlled resupply routes. Second, he obviously recognizes Milosevic and not Karadzic as the leader of all Serbs. And Milosevic seems to have cut a deal both with Tudjman and with the West about giving up Krajina for easing of sanctions or for whatever other reason (we'll see in the future). He sent tanks to protect his holdings in Eastern Slavonia (it is harvest time for those most fertile of all European soils and corn and wheat has to be taken from the fields there) and to protect stream of refugees from Krajina.
In response to Mladic's refusal to fight, Karadzic ousted Mladic and declared himself a supreme military commander - but at first 12, and then all 18 Serb generals in Bosnia signed a letter that they'd follow only Mladic - not Karadzic, the poet - as military leader. So, Karadzic virtually lost his army overnight. And according to American intelligence sources he might not be a leader any more. Looking forward to a political asylum in the U.S.
Meanwhile, Bosnian government in Sarajevo, scared that they may soon be liberated by advancing Croatian army, quickly passed a law that requires that the President of Bosnia in times of war must be a Muslim. This, yet another blow to the declared policy of multi-culturalism of Bosnian government, apparently lead Bosnian prime minister Haris Silajdzic to submit his resignation to Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic. This should be considered a loss to Bosnia, since Haris is mostly responsible for fierce and persistent (and ultimately successful) p.r. campaign in the U.S. towards lifting of the arms embargo.
So, it seems that Croats won over their enemies (Serbs) and allies (Bosnians) in the same time. Kind of like Americans with atom-bombing Hiroshima won over Japanese and Soviets, respectively. In that spirit, the Croatian offensive indeed happened on the anniversary of Hiroshima bombing.
Adnan came to the U.S. after he was wounded in the head. Healthy young males do not get permission to leave Bosnia (or Croatia or Serbia). They are necessary to serve as cannon-fodder. Once an audacious warrior of Yuka's Wolverines paramilitary unit for defense of Sarajevo, Adnan now works an unremarkable job in service industry at the bucolic golf course in Queens.
He told me some very important facts about Sarajevo: yes - there is no running water, no gas and the electricity comes every four days and it runs only for few hours and then it's gone, BUT - at no time was there any shortage of cigarettes, marijuana or beer in Sarajevo throughout the three years of war. And there was always pizza delivery available (as my astonished friend made known to the world in her article for Newsweek a few weeks ago). So, I guess he wanted to tell me that it was not at all as bad: basics of life are all there. Cigarettes are produced in factory in Sarajevo. Marijuana and tobacco are smuggled in from Croats in Hercegovina (who are sometimes friends sometimes enemies but *always* trading partners). Smuggling is mostly done by idle UNPROFOR soldiers who are making huge side income in Sarajevo.
But beer - how does one make beer without water? Sarajevo has a local brewery and that brewery has its own underground well - which never dries out. They could actually stop producing and drinking beer (an unclean and not at all politically correct habit for a Muslim) and use the well as a source of water. This however never even came up as a humble proposal. Serbs tried to shell brewery down several times - unsuccessfully.
Alcoholic beverages are too important cultural icon of the Balkans. Another friend of mine, Nenad was in Belgrade (Serbia) to visit his family, so he brought me Manastirka ('Monasterial') - an incredibly strong plum- brandy (Sljivovica) originally brewed by Serbian orthodox monks (and now it is produced in a factory, of course). Nenad came back just in time when Knin felt to Croats. In the spirit of good sportsmanship Nenad and me exchanged insignia of Beli Orlovi (White Eagles, a chetnick group) and Crna Legija (Black Legion, an ustashe group) like football fans here would exchange jerseys after the end of the game.
I took my Manastirka, also known as the "Serbian war fuel" (because you are as feeling-less as if you are high on heroin, with that stuff), to my job to see what my colleagues would think of it. Clint, a rocker-actor-body builder guy from North Carolina was mesmerized: he repeated like a mantra - "awgh, it is Moonshine" -and longed for more. He felt home. Apparently, American South is familiar with the similar brew like Serbian Sljivovica, and it is called 'Moonshine'. Clint will bring me some, when he goes to visit his family. So, I guess there has to be some intrinsic connection between the very strong plum brandy and the inclination to wage civil wars.
I suppose that everybody already knows that you can't get in or out from Sarajevo (if you are not willing to commit yourself to passing through notorious Serbian checkpoints) except for the tunnel that runs under the airport's runway. The specifications of the tunnel are less known. It is long approximately one kilometer (1 mile = 1.6 km) and it is about a yard wide. There is no ventilation. And since it was built in a hurry, the height was not considered important - so, after the first fifteen yards the height of the tunnel drops to like 4-5 feet. So, you have to walk bowed for more than half a mile. The irony of that humiliating walk through the tunnel (which in the middle features a knee deep bugs infested puddle) is that Serbs always made jokes about Muslims for their religious bow.
Of course, Alija and other dignitaries do not have to bow-walk. Tunnel is actually equipped with rails, and Alija has his own little wagon in which he sits when he needs to leave Sarajevo or come back home, and then his faithful followers push him through the tunnel.
Once you pass the tunnel you have to walk about three to four hours up the Igman mountain to reach the road where you can find the Sarajevo Transit Authority bus stop waiting for lucky ones. Adnan did not tell me if they piggy-back Alija to the bus, or he strolls along on his own.
At this point I decided to agree with the New York Times op-ed: those people (Bosnian Muslims) should also be allowed their little state. They fought bravely and suffered a lot, too. Their political leadership might not be as bright. But that does not mean that the U.S. should allow Tudjman's idea to divide Bosnia with Milosevic in a sort of yin-yang division (the border between Croatia and Serbia would run through Bosnia in the shape of letter S and Serbs would get the East of the S, and Croats would get the West of the S). The U.S. should exert its influence (and I bet they'd have some influence on Tudjman after training his military to win Krajina) to prevent that of happening. If we wish to achieve a just peace for everybody involved in this conflict, everybody should get something.
The only alternative to the tunnel is to run over the runway. But unless you can run at the speed of an airplane, your chances of survival are slim, since the runway is in range of Serbian snipers (who are equipped with night-vision, too). Furthermore, airport is controlled by the U.N., and they too are bent on not allowing anybody to leave or enter Sarajevo - supporting both the Bosnian government and the rebel Bosnian Serbs policy. So, if you are noticed on the runway, ever caring U.N. soldiers will turn on airport lights, so that Serbian gunners can easier gun you down. The U.N. soldiers when they spot you, they habitually return you to that side of the runway you were spotted to be running away from. Many Bosnians learned how to trick the U.N. When U.N. turns the lights on, escapees start running in the opposite direction of their intended destination. That way the U.N., contrary to its intentions, delivers them in armored carrier where they actually wanted to go.
For a bizarre reason I am not going to work tomorrow. My manager had to find a replacement, because the corporation (Milford Management - owned by the cheapest real estate developers in the world, Milsteins) we both work for pays him well to take care that they never have to pay anybody working overtime. And if I work tomorrow they'd have to pay me overtime, because I'd been working more than legal 40 hours in a week. There is no 'lifeguard union' to complain to, either. The time is ripe for socialist revolution.
My old laptop broke down. The hinges in its screen top became so tight so they started to tear apart the tiny plastic casing. Pretty unusual computer problem, isn't it? I had to open it and cut the hinges - but now nothing holds the screen top straight. So, I called Sharp corporation to get new hinges. Not that they don't have my 4 years old model in stock - they don't have it on record any more. But since probably the same type of hinges is used in the newer models too, they promised to get back to me with the part number and the place where I can order it from. They did not call me back.
Yesterday evening when I came home, there was usual film crew crawling around my neighborhood. They are filming some low budget story about brotherly love (one bro is a junkie, another is a law enforcement type with a huge heart for his fallen sibling). I bet they are both 'boricuas'. Appropriately the story happens in the East Harlem. A woman was sitting on the porch of my building. Not unusual for El Barrio. But I have never seen her before. She asked me what was the name of the movie - assuming that I am part of the film crew, since I am white and non-hispanic. I actually forgot the name (the film director told me, it is something about the "kiss"). Then she asked me where I am from, judging by my heavy accent that I am neither wasp nor boricua. I told her that I am from Croatia (which she obviously never heard of). She said that her name was Rosita, and that she was from 'around here', but that she was away for a long time. Where? "Oh, I was incarcerated" she said. Briefly at Rikers, but mostly upstate. I did not quite understand the reasons, but she pointed out to me that she had been a "bad girl" and that she was not a bad girl any more. So, I told her that it was a pleasure talking to her.
My building is in such a bad shape (I bet that there are buildings in Sarajevo in better condition than this one) that apparently my landlord became ashamed of asking me to pay rent. Good for him.
I am tired of life. So, I hope to go sky-diving soon.