`Bow No' turns up at `great party' for new year of peace

 

THE Nato soldiers danced the congo with the young Sarajevans in Club BB as the year of war turned into a peaceful New Year's Day.

It was midnight in the basement disco and the music pumped out at ear splitting levels. Couples swayed to the Gypsy Kings, and danced in circles as the national song was played. The music used to be even louder, they said, to drown out the noise of shelling.

In Sarajevo they talk about the war in the past tense. On the steps of the city's National Theatre a few hours earlier the Bosnian Foreign Minister, Mr Muhammed Sacirby, summed up the hope saying "1995 is the end of the war and 1996 is the beginning of peace.

"You are an optimist?" the Italian journalist asked. "I have to be," he said, over the strains of the Sarajevo Philharmonic, playing its second encore.

The New Year's Eve concert was organised as a tribute to Sarajevo. The American conductor, Charles Ansbacher, conducted the orchestra, of around 60 musicians. Although the Beethoven and Chopin were loudspeakered the square outside few Sarajevans stopped to listen.

It was raining, and most of the city's inhabitants were in their homes. Earlier that day passersby showed similar indifference as a gang of cameramen waited on the steps of the Hotel Bosnia.

The war correspondents had become paparazzi for the day, waiting for the inimitable Bono to show up for his impromtu press conference. "I never thought I'd be door stepping in Sarajevo," one photographer said. "Yeah Sarajevo's a celebrity in its own right. It's had more covers than Bow No," his friend said.

Wearing a cloth cap and the trademark sunglasses Bono puffed perfect triangles of smoke from his cigarillo, as he pronounced himself very happy to be Sarajevo's first tourist. "Really we just came because we heard there was going to be a great party," he said.

Did he think the peace would last? The rock star said he wasn't the person to answer that. He suggested that the shell of the National Library should be preserved as a memory of what was lost. After the press conference three photographers took him there for a picture. At the press conference he sang only a few bars, and said it would probably be 1997 before U2 would play Sarajevo. Later in a basement billiards club nearby, he sang with a local band, Don Guido and the Missionaries. A bit of James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and U2's One to finish. Then he was gone, with 20 minutes left of 1995.

Elsewhere in the city Emir and Berina Basic were celebrating at a private party. Emir works at the education authority and his wife Berina, is an economist with the Ministry of Finance. At the party there were Serbs, Muslims, Croats, Emir said with a shrug. "We were with friends." The usual police curfew of 10 p.m. was scrapped for New Year's Eve. But the Nato soldiers left Club BB shortly after midnight. One of them, a Briton, had been in Sarajevo for a week and hated it.

The prospect of a year in Bosnia meant he had little to celebrate, he said. Outside the soft crump as the melting snow dropped from the roofs was peppered with gunfire bouncing off the hills. It was celebratory shooting, some people said, a tradition of New Year's Eve. But Berina said yesterday that shooting was not part of the celebrations before the war. "They do it now just to show that they have guns, both sides" she said.

The IFOR (Nato Implementation Force) press briefing yesterday morning took less than five minutes. No casualties, no fatalities, not even a traffic accident they knew of. "What will we report now?" a reporter wailed.

However Emir Basic had to vacuum some glass from the floor of his car. One of the many bullets fired in celebration hit his wind screen. He was disappointed, he said as he copied his letter to the civil police, for the insurance claim. He thought he had hidden the car out of harm's way.

The city was bleak yesterday. The last of the snow, that had blanketed some of the destruction, had melted. In a small graveyard, among houses on a hillside, the thaw revealed a new grave. The soil was still bare and a wooden marker bore the date 1995.