IF YOU GO TO MEDICAL CHECKUP, TAKE A WOOD // 02. 1993.
ASIDA PROHIC // THE HEALTH CARE CENTER OF NEW TOWN
ORAL HISTORY - INTERVIEW
ORAL HISTORY - TRANSCRIPT

February 1993

Asida Prohic
The Health Care Center of New Town
IF YOU GO TO MEDICAL CHECKUP, TAKE A WOOD

‘The next problem was how to organize the health service and provide for a 24-hour workday. Because we never stopped working, all through the war, we worked around the clock. This meant spending all day, all night, in unheated premises, in places with no electricity, no water, and no food, not to mention the basic hygienic minimum. We had one stove, you know, one of those coal stoves made of ordinary sheet metal. The problem was finding a chimney. Because the Medical Center was built without chimneys. There were ventilation shafts; we used them for chimneys. We also stuck chimney pipes out through the foil that covered the windows, on which there was no more glass, and that’s how we kept warm. We had a stove, but the problem was what to do for fuel. In the beginning we used cardboard and some paper we found in the Medical Center, paper we thought no one would need any more. Of course, we couldn’t keep warm on paper. The poplars that grew around the Center came in useful, they were cut down and we used the wet timber to heat the rooms. One stove could only heat one or two rooms, of course, so we found the place in the Center that was easiest to organize in this way, and at the same time we had to search for a place that was safe from the shelling. The building didn’t have a cellar or ground floor, it stood on pillars. It was a first floor with a doctor for pre-scholars, for schoolchildren, and even a dentist. So that we treated all the population in a very cramped space. Another problem was the very major problem of no medication or sanitary material. Because, you know how it was, the town was under siege in the early spring already and it was difficult for anything to come in. We mostly used our reserves, and I can tell you that these were not very great. They were very meager. The bandages and so on, you know, a lot was needed to dress wounds. You can’t dress a wound or stop the bleeding with a small wad of cotton wool or a bandage, and so on. We had to use as much as the injury needed. Medicines were also coming to an end and another problem, was that temperatures were certainly below freezing point in our rooms, and in the morning we used to find the water in the ampoules completely frozen. We had to thaw it, then dissolve the penicillin, and then give it to the child. So we worked under terribly hard conditions. This, you must remember, was December ‘92. The winter went on through December, January, February, and of course, one mustn’t forget that March was rather cold. I remember 8 March, I looked out of the window, and the park in front of the Center was quite white with frost. And I remembered some earlier 8 Marches when we went to celebrate Women’s Day dressed in suits and shoes. And this time we had to put on boots and gloves and caps. We even wore fur hats and gloves at work. It was impossible otherwise. Or else we would take hold of the pieces of wood we had put in ovens to dry a little, to warm our hands. We brought things when we came on duty, water had to be brought, you know, and wood, people brought whatever they had, and we used that for fuel. Although I must say that the police from New Town would sometimes come and bring us a sack of wood. Because they were in charge of cutting down and selling the wood. That’s what it was, a struggle for life in all sorts of ways. That’s how we got wood, and the person who got a sack of wood to warm himself while he was on duty was lucky. You know what the food was like. It was poor. We got a hot meal once a day from Kosevo Hospital, from their kitchen. Someone had to go and fetch that warm meal every day, and you know what it was like in the town. The shelling, all the intersections that had to be crossed to get to Kosevo Hospital, and then to return, while the shells were falling. We had to set petrol aside for that, too, although we kept everything we could to take patients to hospital.’

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FEBRUARY 1993


• The Geneva negotiations move to New York.
• Sarajevo is surrounded by five rings :
1. The Bosnian Serb Army 2.The UN 3. The HVO 4. The black market 5. The current government


• The Bosnian Serbs shell mourning processions, funerals and hospitals in Sarajevo.
• Vinko Puljic, head of the Catholic church in BiH, meets with the Pope. From Sarajevo he conveys the Pope’s message to the world: “Stop the savagery, let humanity prevail!”


• Lord Robert Owen comes out against the USA, who had rejected a plan that favored the Bosnian Serbs.
• SUBNOR, an association of soldiers from the Second World War, makes an appeal to its members to fight against facism, genocide and ethnic cleansing, and for communal life.
• Advice to patients: If you go to the clinic, bring a log, because the heating situation is critical.


• The city is struck by wartime hyperinflation .
• The International Center for Peace receives representatives from the Helsinki Citizens Forum from France who need to monitor the situation in Sarajevo, and then report to the European and world public whether civil society exists in Sarajevo.


• The UNHCR suspends flights.
• High schools begin to operate at neighborhood council centers, business premises, apartments.
• Radio “Studio 99” reports news on the division of the city. Panicked listeners contact the program. Vance-Owen mediators are in the city; this information originates from them.


• Killed and wounded lay on the airport runway. During the run across the tarmac UNPROFOR reflect lights on it, giving Bosnian Serbs the chance to aim at the moving target. Afterward UN procedures are followed – those caught are placed in UN vehicles and the blue-helmets take them back to wherever they came from.


• The best sportsmen are announced for BiH in '92: chess players Vesna Basagic and Ivan Sokolov.


• The City Assembly decides that Sarajevans, in a gesture of solidarity with the citizens of Eastern Bosnia, will not accept humanitarian aid until a humanitarian convoy reaches Eastern Bosnia.


• The first wartime cinema opens, “Obala”. Screenings are held in Sarajevo basements.
• Because of the city government’s refusal to accept humanitarian aid, supplies are left lying on the airport runway. Pilots refuse to land because of the piles of undelivered food.


• “Oslobodjenje” is visited by Bianca Jagger.
• The UNHCR decides in Geneva: Government officials cannot be transported on UN planes. The previous month, Geneva had approved local reporters’ use of UN planes from the besieged city.
• The Civil Defense requests two containers from the city authorities to protect Sarajevans from snipers at intersections. The Civil Defense is unable to tow them because they have no fuel.


• Sadako Ogata, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), halts humanitarian aid to BiH, while the executive council sticks to its decision to refuse humanitarian aid out of solidarity with the citizens of Eastern Bosnia. Once this decision is reversed the air bridge is reestablished.
• New York, February 20, 1993. The UN Security Council unanimously adopts a new resolution extending the mandate of the 13,000 blue-helmets in Croatia. This resolution provides for the temporary extension of the UN mandate through March 31st. Resolution 807 urges the UN Secretary General to provide additional arms in order to enhance defense capabilities and allows the use of arms in the event of an attack on the peacekeepers, under paragraph 7 of the UN Charter. In addition, the temporary extension of the mandate includes the same tasks as the previous two terms, meaning the neutralization of heavy arms and the corresponding withdrawal of warring sides.


• “Oslobodjenje” proclaimed the world’s newspaper of the year.
• The information blockade of TVBiH is broken – the programming includes Studio Zenica live during the TV news.


• At gatherings across the world, amid protests against the impotence of the EC and UN to halt the bloody aggression in Bosnia, posters appear: “In Bosnia, Europe dies”.
• New York, February 22, 1993. The UN Security Council adopts a new resolution on the formation of an international court for war crimes within the territory of the former Yugoslavia. According to the text of the resolution, all war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia from the first of January 1991 will be reviewed. All those charged with war crimes, mass killings and rapes, ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity will be brought before this court.
• The executive council of the city halts the boycott of humanitarian aid.
• The “Alsace shipment” arrives in Sarajevo. It is at the time the largest humanitarian convoy to arrive in Sarajevo.


Medical care

Medical care: its main characteristic is very friendly personnel, which was not the case before the war. It is very efficient. Aside from the hospital and emergency rooms, you will hear quickly about all the improvised ambulances. The maternity hospital has been shelled and is out of use, so babies are born in the regular hospital. When visiting the dentist, you should take your bottle with water, and gloves, which she can use while treating you.
Pharmacies are working, but medicine is mostly missing. Bring your own vitamins. In emergency - look for the locations of Benevolencija and Caritas.

Heating

Cold weather and the arrival of winter brought about new arrangements in the apartments. Chimney outlets were opened even in houses with central heating. From the basements and from the attics, from friends are acquaintances, old stoves were brought. Boiler-rooms are not working. In the absence of chimneys, people fix extra flues and stick them out of their windows. Flues are lurking on streets, smoking. Cooking still continues on the balconies, among empty flower-pots, housewives stirring the fire with newspapers. The basic stove is a tin one - furuna, made by craftsmen on Bascarsija or even by self-taught masters. Material and imagination define the form, size and the purpose (for coffee, cooking, or heating). Furuna are being sold on several markets, but only for DMs. But the major problem is fuel. You cannot buy wood or coal.
During the first summer, all dry benches, trees and wooden material were collected. This fall, parks, alleys, courtyard and cemetery trees started to fall birches, poplars, ash-trees, plane-trees, plum- trees, apple-trees, cherry-trees, pear-trees, all the way down to brushwood. Wooden backs of benches in parks were taken away, frames and doors of ruined apartments, handrails from the hallways, shelves from abandoned stores and kiosks, wooden stools and bars from restaurants, even the crosses and pyramids from the cemeteries. All bombed houses and barracks were dismantled with enviable speed. But fuel is still scarce. Those who were wise took scrap wood from their garages early in the summer. Now paper versions are being manufactured. Plastic bags, a part of US lunch packages - a leftover from the Persian Gulf War - can heat five liters of water... UNHCR supplied the city with a numerous but not sufficient thermal foils for windows. On every window, from the outside, one can read their name: UNHCR - they are the owners of our lives. November temperatures were very nice. Meteorologists have informed us they were very high, by comparison with times no one remembers any more: about 9 degrees C (Centigrade) in the apartment. It was warmer to take a walk then to sit inside. Fortunately, everyone can get warm while searching for water and wood.

HOSPITALS

In Spring 1992 the public-health service in the Old Town was shelled. In May 1992 the State Hospital was intensively shelled and it was hit by more than 200 shells during the siege. The victims were patients. The Kosevo clinic suffered the same fate. Its operating theaters and intensive care units were hit. The hospitals were usually shelled with plated shells which would pass through several rooms The patients were often evacuated and the surgeons frequently performed operations without electricity or water, using candles and five-liter canisters. Hundreds of citizens were admitted to hospitals each day.

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