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Hope Disappears in Sarajevo Winter

Column by Daniel C. Stevenson
Associate Night Editor

A week before Christmas, Kemal Kuspahic, editor in chief of the Sarajevo newspaper Oslobodjenje, spoke at MIT about his country's and his city's struggle against Serbian and Croatian forces. Kuspahic's paper, the name of which translates into Liberation, has been published continuously throughout the war, despite a destroyed office building, constant sniper attacks, and a strict embargo placed on the city.

Kuspahic did more than reiterate the numbing facts of continued violence and genocide in the former Yugoslavia; he spoke of the feeling the Bosnians have of apathetic or even antipathetic global abandonment, the anguish of empty promises, and the rising hopelessness of the citizens of Sarajevo.

Just a few days after Kuspahic's talk, a Christmas cease fire was brokered -- and then broken -- adding one more item to the list of failed truces and unfulfilled expectations.

And on Monday, on the eve of the first peace talks of the new year in Vienna, 15 people were killed in heavy shelling in Sarajevo, including six members of one family. Day after day for almost two years, truces are made and then violated, innocent civilians are killed, and the rest of the world feigns ignorance.

In my first column in The Tech last fall, I advocated strong, forceful global intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina to prevent another 20th-century genocide. While I am far from surprised that the fighting continues, I am disturbed that virtually nothing has been done at all to resolve the conflict; fruitless negotiations continue, proposed settlements still favor the Serbs, people are still being killed, and a second winter has passed -- a season usually filled with celebrations of peace, love, and hope in most of the world, but marked by war, hate, and broken promises in Sarajevo.

Despite widespread concern about the Bosnian situation, countless appeals for intervention, and continuing death and destruction, the predicament of the Bosnians has only worsened, and the apparent triumph of brutally violent nationalism has encouraged its spread beyond the former Yugoslavia -- witness the recent advances made by ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky in Russia.

Now, more than ever before, armed intervention is necessary in Bosnia. Kuspahic's talk made the urgency of the situation abundantly clear: Sarajevans have lost their homes, their offices, their food, their friends, and their relatives. They still retain their hope, but it is slowly waning in the face of continued worldwide apathy. Appeasement and ignorance, however attractive they might be in the short term, have horrific long term consequences. We must act now, swiftly and strongly, if not to save the Bosnians, then to save those who will fall victim to ultranationalist genocide in the future.

The most important purpose of intervention is to send a message -- that violent, genocidal aggression will no longer be tolerated by the global community. Kuspahic suggested in his talk that the message include surgical air strikes and artillery attacks; a lift of the arms embargo, at least on defensive weapons; an increase in sanctions against Serbia; and the creation of an effective war crimes tribunal. These actions have always been well within the reach of America and European countries -- faced with the greatest human rights crisis in decades, the "free world" must act now.

And armed intervention does not have to involve foreign troops -- if the arms embargo is lifted and Bosnia is finally allowed to defend itself, there are plenty of Bosnians willing to fight for their homeland, according to Kuspahic.

In the earlier column, I compared the situation in Bosnia to Nazi Germany in the last 1930s and early '40s, specifically the fact that both conflicts involve the extermination of people solely on the basis of their ethnicity. Kuspahic made the same comparison with the Nazis in his talk. He lamented that "this was the century when `Never again!' was proclaimed" -- yet the same actions supposedly stopped forever are being carried out again. Fortunately for the Bosnians, the Serbs are not as organized or thorough as the Nazis, and the news media has at least been sporadically bringing to light the atrocities of this rather one-sided "war."

A chilling conclusion to Kuspahic's talk was the assertion by one audience member that the Sarajevans were "doomed to die" and efforts should instead be focused on saving Kosovo and other parts of the form Yugoslavia endangered by quest for a Greater Serbia. Kuspahic countered that he and many others in Sarajevo did not believe their cause was lost, and hope that someday the conflict would be resolved peacefully and equitably. Amid shelling and bombing and without any intervention from other countries, this hope will not live forever.