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PHIL PONCE: Joining us is Elizabeth Neuffer, the European bureau chief for the Boston Globe. She’s been covering the Bosnia story since 1994. Welcome, Elizabeth. A few weeks ago we saw pictures of President Clinton walking through Sarajevo, and Sarajevo looked attractive. It looked normal. What is life like for the average person in Sarajevo?
ELIZABETH NEUFFER, Boston Globe: Well, it’s not what the President necessarily saw by strolling through the streets of Sarajevo. Certainly on the main street to Sarajevo we’ve seen a lot of reconstruction, a lot of new rebuilding. But it’s a little bit like a Potemkin Village, in a sense. What you see is not necessarily what you get. Behind the reality of a lot of new buildings is a lot of deep ethnic hatred and a lot of deep bitterness. People are very frightened to return home. War criminals make it impossible for most people to return to their homes, and, you know, peace is still a long way away.
PHIL PONCE: As far as life in the neighborhoods of Sarajevo, can you give us some insight into that?
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: Yes. There’s actually one very interesting neighborhood in Sarajevo called Dobrinja, which is along the former confrontation line. And one half of the neighborhood is Muslim and Croat, as you know. Bosnia is divided into two kind of ethnic entities–Muslim Croat and also the Republic of Serbska, or the Serb-dominated half. The other side of the neighborhood is the Serb side. And it’s basically as if you have an invisible line right down a boulevard. The two sides simply will not cross the street to talk to one another. And, in fact, people who do try to cross are heckled and thrown out. And one of the–the kind of sad realities is that we have yet to find a way to bring these two sides even of a neighborhood together to talk to one another.
PHIL PONCE: And you say people are heckled and thrown out. How does one know if somebody is from a different street, I mean, are there physical differences, or differences in dress?
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: No, there isn’t anything you could tell by seeing. You might happen at this point to know your neighbors like you would in any neighborhood. So, obviously, someone on the Serb side is going to recognize someone you know as not being from their immediate vicinity and guess that there might be a Muslim or a Croat. Most of them are just too scared to cross over. It’s very interesting. The last time was in Dobrinja I stopped to talk to a shop owner who runs a little kiosk, and he had a huge picture of Radovan Karadzic, and I said, well, are you going to vote for Mr. Karadzic, do you support Mr. Karadzic? He goes, well, not really, but as long as that sign’s up there, I know that I don’t have to worry about any Muslim coming over here to talk to me. And I said, well, there’s a really interesting question. What if a Muslim came over here and brought, you know, what you have to sell? And you made a profit, you know, out of it, wouldn’t that be a good idea, and he sort of sat and thought about it–he said, you know, you’re right, I never looked at it that way. And that’s one of the opportunities that we have in a sense lost so far in implementing Dayton. We have not yet found a way to bring people together economically so that they’re doing business, you know, making trade together. And that’s a key opportunity so far that we have lost.
PHIL PONCE: Have there been any opportunities like this where people are coming together because of trade or because of other self interests that might transcend their fear, or their hatred?
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: There is one. There’s a place that we sort of calmly call the Arizona market, which is a big field in Northern Bosnia that’s operated and overseen by the U.S. military, and it’s sort of a safe area for Muslims, Serbs, and Croats to go set up their stalls and trade goods. It’s one of the few opportunities in Bosnia where you will see people of all ethnicities basically in the same space openly talking to one another. It’s also become an informal forum for people to exchange information about missing people, loved ones. It acts like an informal post office. People change letters and notes, and it’s one way of kind of getting back in touch with your neighbors, which may have been via the different ethnicity and may now be on the other side of the country, but whom you miss, nonetheless.
PHIL PONCE: So if you’re at the Arizona market, there’s a distinct difference and the feel to it than say that neighborhood you were describing as Sarajevo.
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: Absolutely. And again part of the reason is, is we’ve created a place where people feel safe to come and do business. And they feel safe to come and talk and to exchange information and, more importantly, they have a reason to come. They’re there to sell their goods. And in Dobrinja we have yet to sort of create a reason for people to cross that line to do business with one another. I often think, you know, why don’t we have a McDonald’s, in a sense, on the former confrontation line as a way of bringing people back together, or a gap, or whatever the–you know, the equivalent would be because, in a sense, it comes down to the economy. It does bring people together.
PHIL PONCE: Have you seen any other examples where there might be pockets of people who are willing to–or are interested in some kind of reconciliation, in some kind of reunification?
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: Yes. I mean, the odd thing about Bosnia is that there are lots of bright spots of hope that you do see around the country. In Gornji Vakuf, which is an area that was hotly contested between the Muslims and the Croats, you will see women on either side of what used to be the confrontation line there now meet once or twice a week to talk about how to bring the community back together. They talk about how to support each other in times of grief. And I think, interestingly enough, you will see that happening in various neighborhoods, where women particularly, who in some ways had the most to lose–they’ve lost their sons; they’ve lost their husbands; they’ve lost their homes–reach out to one another. But many people don’t feel comfortable doing that as long as war criminals remain at large. They’re scared to cross lines, to go visit old neighborhoods, or to see old friends.
PHIL PONCE: How much of an impulse do you feel on the part of people to have those war criminals–alleged war criminals–apprehended?
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: I think it’s incredibly strong, and, interestingly enough, I think it was strong on all sides. Sometimes people say, well, the Bosnian Serbs don’t want to see war criminal apprehended, or alleged war criminals apprehended. That’s actually wrong. I mean, there are alleged war criminals on all sides of all ethnic make-ups. And I think it’s incredibly important. It’s important for a variety of reasons. One, people don’t feel safe as long as these guys are still loose. They really are sort of like heady, you know, thieves that run town markets and, you know, oversee housing stock and basically run communities. So as long as they’re in charge, people don’t feel that they can sort of express themselves freely.
PHIL PONCE: And your experience is they’re not particularly hard to find.
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: No, they’re not hard to find at all. I mean, I was on a number of occasions able to walk up to allege war criminals whose–you know–poster–whose picture is on the war crimes poster–and interview them openly. One, in fact, was still acting as mayor of a town. And, you know, when I said to him, gosh, why are you still in power, he said, gosh, I don’t know, I’m not uncatchable.
PHIL PONCE: What do people think would happen if the peacekeepers were to leave? Do they think that things would go badly again?
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that if the peacekeepers left, war would break out again. It has not been long enough for peace in a sense to be established. And, more importantly, you have to remember that Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia was the Communist Country. And one of the things we’re doing by having peacekeepers there. It’s worth helping bring democratic values into a place that had no democratic values. So we’re beginning to establish, or, you know, a free press. We’re beginning to try and teach people about democracy. And that’s a really important part of the civilian side and to a certain degree the military side, and just by the sheer presence, they’re in a sense a walking advertisement for a multi-ethnic side, you know, an American army, black and white.
PHIL PONCE: Do you think people are internalizing those kinds of democratic examples?
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: Slowly. I mean, there’s obviously a big effort on the civilian implementation side to make that happen. We’ve seen the appearance of the first independent media on the Bosnian-Serb side just in the last couple of months. And that’s been very important. There are now parts of the Republic of Serbska where people can watch competing television depictions of the same event, as opposed to listening to the propaganda that had been fed them from Pale and by former, you know, Bosnian-Serb Leader Radovan Karadzic.
PHIL PONCE: And speaking of media, how to people react to you as an American journalist?
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: I have always been pretty favorably received. I do feel that during the war the Bosnian Serbs did feel a certain degree of hostility towards the American press. Some of that, I think, was in a sense justified. We had–we did tend to tell one side of the story simply because we couldn’t get to the Serb side of the story. We were often, you know, arrested once we set foot on Bosnian Serb territory, followed, and, you know, our freedom of movement was severely limited. So then when you did get a chance to speak to a Bosnian Serb, they said, well, you know, you American reporters didn’t cover this and didn’t cover that. And we have to say you’re right. Unfortunately, your leadership made that impossible. Now, I find that you are very kindly accepted on all sides. People want to have you into your home; they want to make you a cup of coffee; they want to explain and talk about what they’d like to see happen in their country.
PHIL PONCE: And very quickly, last question, what is it about Bosnia that causes so many journalists just have passionate reaction to it?
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: That’s a good question. I think it’s because it’s very much like home. It’s not an alien place. For all that you see pictures sometimes on television of, you know, women wearing head scarves and men with their goats, it’s actually a very sophisticated European-style country, where the victims are lawyers and doctors and journalists and people very much like you. And it’s really easy to see how this could happen in a sense in a troubled multi-ethnic neighborhood of the United States.
PHIL PONCE: Elizabeth Neuffer, thank you very much.
ELIZABETH NEUFFER: Thank you.