Remembering Sarajevo: A Reunion of Journalists 20 Years Later


I have been bad about staying in touch with all the ABC local staff that stayed in their city while I came and went when it became too much to bear. Samira, Mirsad, Belmin, Faruk, and Maggie. Their bravery was astounding. I also want to see Bosa, the women who cleaned for us in our office in the battered television station. An ethnic Serb, she came to work even on the day her apartment took a direct hit into the living room, destroying everything. Amazingly no one in her family was seriously wounded, but she didn't want to risk losing her job, so she came to clean our coffee cups.

I drove past that television station on the way in from town and I made a mental note that I need to visit it. From the outside it remains a dreary, grey, hulking building. It too was pummeled by the big Serb guns. It took a direct hit one day while I was on the phone with New York about the daily offer for the evening news. The screech of the incoming projectile gave me just enough warning to dive under the desk I was working at before the loud explosion rattled the taped windows and brought parts of the ceiling down. Surprisingly the satellite phone line stayed connected the whole time, and my executive producer heard all of my expletives. It wasn't shrapnel but hot coffee that brought my shrieks. Other days we were not so lucky. The security man at the front door who greeted us each day took the full force of a blast.

Walking through the old town in the afternoon I had flashbacks of us on a rare trinket hunt when the only souvenir buyers were U.N. peacekeeping troops or journalists. Of course the city would have changed after 20 years of only oral fighting, but still the scars from those four years of constant shelling are ever present. We walked the whole way back from the Old Town to our hotel something that none of us ever dared do 20 years ago.

A famous local resident in an interview this week said that Bosnia has not gotten any better, that it was stuck in an ethnic tug of war. The country is split into two self governing parts, the Serbs on one side and the Croats and Bosniaks in an uncomfortable partnership in the other. A national government took over a year to form. Each of the country nine cantons has their own health and education systems. The economy is weak and the country has yet to fully recover from the brain drain of most of its best and brightest 20 years ago.

But those of us who saw Bosnia, and in particular Sarajevo, during its darkest days we are hopeful. I have traveled back here with my wife, Raffaella Menichini, who covered the war for an Italian paper and lived with a local family without the safety precautions we had, Hilary Brown and others with whom I met here. We will laugh and chat about old time through our "Cabbage and Caviar" dinner, where the dress code is black tie or combat gear.

We will argue that while maybe the Dayton Accords that Ambassador Richard Holbrook achieved by bullying the three sides into acceptance have not created a perfect, unified country, it has stopped the fighting.

And that we are here this weekend not to report on war and sadness, but to lift a glass to a job well done -- perhaps by us -- but for sure by the residents who have stayed through the siege and have helped to bring this beautiful city back.

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