December 1993

Ziba Hadzihalilovic

‘I personally carried 30 liters of water at a time. Up the hill where I live. It was really a bare existence. And then, the water had to be used rationally. That was still the minimal amount needed for the household. As far as light was concerned, that was the most difficult, it seems to me. There was practically no light day and night. In the day the windows were closed with sheets of plastic, because all of the windows had been shattered. At night it was as dark as we had to spend a thousand and I-don’t-know-how-many nights in the dark. But we managed in a pretty intelligent way. We had no candles or lamps, so we took some of the oil that we had for food, and put it in little pots, and out of those we made little oil lamps by adding a wick made of a cork with some string pulled through it. And that’s how we lit the apartment. Not having light was one of the difficult things because on most days from ‘92 to ‘94 we often had to go into the shelter. Down there it was very dark and damp, and then you go back into your apartment, and there’s no light. Therefore, light was one of the important factors. Winter came. It was the first winter of the war. We had no heating fuel. We all had apartments with gas, electric heating, and so on. However, now we had to learn to live without those things. Where can you get wood when all the trees are gone? Then we started to chop them in the yard. I wouldn’t allow that. Since I am an agronomist by profession, I didn’t allow the trees to be chopped down. So at least they were saved. So then we pulled up saplings in the yard and waited for the wind to knock down dead branches. And we took whatever we had in the house: paper, old clothes and shoes, and burned them. At first we did it in the open, in the stairway or out in the yard. Until we got ourselves little tin stoves that warmed us up a little bit. So much for heating. We dressed ourselves in winter clothes in 1992, and didn’t take them off all winter long. That’s how we slept, because there was shooting at night. We had to get up in the middle of the night and go down into the cellar. And so we never even took off our sweaters, coats, and so on.’



• Peace negotiations in Geneva: negotiations on maps and percentages of territory. The BiH delegation requests: access to the sea, to the Sava and to a harbor.

• Yasushi Akashi appointed Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for the former Yugoslavia.

• UNICEF helps establish a radio-school. Classes are held over this medium.

• Rounds of humanitarian aid to the citizens of Sarajevo include: a liter of cooking oil, 300 grams of beans, 200 grams of sugar, 400 grams of mackarel, 200 grams of detergent, and 2 candles per household.

• “Opresa” opens a small store in the city with the slogan “Life is about the small things”.
• The Soros Foundation donates a piano to the organization “Nasa djeca”.

• Mate Boban, President of “Herzeg-Bosnia”, promises to close camps holding Muslims.

• Founding of counseling for psychological help: “Staying Sane in Bosnia”.

• The theft of electricity in the city goes on in different ways: setting up of illegal connections, underground cables, connecting to prioritized sources and transformers.
• The Soros Foundation finances the production of 10 tons of rat poison. The active toxin is “Sanofarm”, but because the poison is not registered by law it cannot be distributed.

• “Oslobodjenje” receives the “Sakharov” award. Zlatko Dizdarevic, journalist and editor, receives the award at the European Parliament.
• The fairytale “A Dragon in Love” is shown in one of the apartment blocks in Alipasino polje.

• The bobsled team trains for the Olympic Games in Lillehammer, but do not know how to leave Sarajevo. They train every day, lift weights and run, depending on the shelling. On average they lose 5 kg of weight. The team must borrow a bobsled because theirs is burnt.

• The Russians reveal their own peace plan. Foreign Minister Vitali Churkin travels extensively in major European cities.

• Croatian President, Franjo Tudjman, and Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, present a plan on the division of BiH. 33.33% would go to the Muslims and 17.5% to the Croats. Lord Owen must convey this plan to the President of the Presidency of BiH, Alija Izetbegovic.

• The Sarajevo Tobacco Factory wraps cigarettes in book pages. “Toward the History of BiH Literature” is next in line”.

• In Sarajevo Cathedral a ceremonial Christmas concert is held.
• On the occasion of Catholic Christmas, the Pope sends a message: “Let light shine on upon the suffering peoples.”

• The city lacks electricity, water and salt for bread.

• The Festival “Sarajevo Winter” organizes screening of cartoons for children.
• A kitchen opened for people working in the public and culture sectors. UNPROFOR gives them food.

Modern Sarajevan

He has to have, and on a visible spot, at least one accreditation, seemingly just a piece of paper with his photograph. But beware - accreditation is the law in the besieged city, a proof of belonging to someone which makes you important. Those with local ID. are not more than the second-rate citizens. So, the modern Sarajevan has the accreditation, weapons, a good car, and a complete uniform. The owner of a bullet-proof vest is regarded with honor. The one who doesn’t wear uniform, has an ax in his right hand for cutting down the trees, and a series of canisters on the left shoulder. His image would be complete with a mask against poison gas.
A modern woman from Sarajevo cuts the wood, carries humanitarian aid, smaller canisters filled with water, does not visit a hair-dresser nor a beautician. She is slim, and runs fast. Girls regularly visit the places where humanitarian aid is being distributed. They know the best aid-packages according to their numbers. They get up early to get the water, visit cemeteries to collect some wood, and greet new young refugees. Many are wearing golden and silver lilies as earrings, as pins, on the necklaces.
Sarajevo is a city of slender people. Its citizens could be authors of the most up-dated diets. No one is fat any longer. The only thing you need is to have your city under the siege - there lies the secret of a great shape. Everybody is wearing their youthful clothes of teenage size. Sarajevans lost about four thousand tons (400,000 citizens lost about 10 kilos each). They greet each other with - TAKE CARE!


Those who were lucky, still live in their apartments. Refugees and those whose apartments have been burned or destroyed by grenades are inhabiting the apartments of those who left Sarajevo before or during the war. Temporary leases and bills of sale are being issued. Some entered flats by breaking the doors and changing locks. You can change the apartment if one of your friends manages to leave the town. Some people have two or three apartments. Depending on what each of them can offer electricity, gas, water, or minimal security - they move from one apartment to another. Those who are looking for you, will find you on the address where you collect humanitarian aid. Some are living in communes. Old families have disintegrated - new ones are being formed. Windows are gone destroyed by perpetual detonations. It was kind of pleasant during the summer - plastic came only with first rains. People were fixing it to the window-frames with wide tape used in factories for packing. Glue gave up under the rain and winds. Then people used nails. Whoever had no plastic - more than a precious item on the black market - would close the windows with cardboard boxes left behind from the humanitarian aid. The best for the purpose proved to e those smaller sacks for the rice provided by UNPROFOR - the only thing you needed was good friend who happens to be handling humanitarian aid!
Some windows are protected by the lumber brought from the basements and roofs. Those homes are dark as graves. Witty people are taking down doors from closets or rooms in order to ‘fix’ the windows and damaged parts of apartments. Bricks which can be found around destroyed buildings are used by those who still have walls and holes to fill. For the sake of security - merely psychological security - one closes windows with heavy cupboards, mattresses, books, carpets. Windows are dark after daylight is gone. People accumulate all their precious belongings in some corner of the apartment which they consider safest. Bathrooms, which somehow often happen to be in the center, are storage for paintings. Photographs, documents, jewelry, money, passports are in the bag next to the exit. In the bag are a few more items: medicine, zwieback, thermos, canned pate, and blankets.


Water shortages may last for days, or weeks. The reasons are always the same - no electricity, or a act of terror. Then the search starts. First, one checks a basement. Then you may go to Konak (which serves only the privileged) then to Sedam brace on Bistrik, where big lines are formed, then in the neighborhood of Pionirska dolina, where one waits under the snipers Those who carry water do so, depending on their strength and the number of canisters, several times a day, traveling several kilometers, waiting in a line for at least three hours. The lucky ones are those with bicycles, which are pushed rather than driven. The same with the owners of baby-carriages and former market carriages. Anything that rolls will do, for everything is easier than carrying the water by hand.
In one of Sarajevo neighborhoods Alipasino polje, someone with a gun made holes in the water pipe running above a little stream. Water was pouring and for hours people were hanging on the rotten bridge trying to collect as much of a precious liquid as possible. The best thing that can happen is a discovery of water somewhere in the neighborhood where you live. It doesn’t matter that the pipe emerges from the disaster left after the big Olympic hall has burned to ground. There is a pipe, and there is water, and there are big lines with people who do not worry anymore whether the water is clean, or not.
One of the ways to find water is using dowsing rods. Life, and your ability to survive is very much about natural talents In this case - you put your electromagnetic waves against those of the water. Gifted magicians are searching for the water. Those more talented and skillful can even advise you how deep you should dig. It is known that even during the First World War, Austro-Hungarian troops had special divisions which consisted of dowsers whose duty was to search for new wells. At that time, the water on the Eastern Front (also known as the Serbian) was very polluted. Yet, with them and without them, it is the rain that brings consolation. Groove gutters are, unfortunately, damaged. People stand in lines, in the rain, waiting with buckets for their portion of rain-water. Day or night - it doesn’t really matter. People drink it and use it for doing laundry. It is very good for your hair, which becomes silky and shiny. Lack of water makes the people of Sarajevo very dose to medieval knights and to French monarchs. They ration water, as if they were Bedouins. Long hair can be washed in a liter and half, the whole body in two or three - all in little pots and pans, with water lukewarm or cold.
The washing machine is a household appliance from some long-gone times. It has no function. The women of Sarajevo are again first-class laundresses. The only thing lacking is a battledore, Iye soap and a clean river to wash what they have.
To run the toilet, waste water is collected, and water is brought from springs - if they are not too polluted - or from the street…