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Crossing Continents Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Bosnia's war legacy
UN jeeps parked near to the War Memorial in Sarajevo
War Memorial in Sarajevo
Ten years ago, war in the Balkans spread to Bosnia. Croats, Bosnian Muslims and Serbs turned against each other, citing historical precedence while committing horrific and savage acts upon each other. Five years later, the Dayton Peace Agreement brought an end to the war and divided the country along ethnic lines - Republica Serbska and a Muslim-Croat Federation. George Arney travels to Sarajevo to examine the legacy of the Bosnian war.

 Listen to this programme in full

Sarajevo's "Sniper's Alley"

"I made a huge fashion mistake that day. I was wearing white socks. I'm so embarrassed." 27-year-old Faruk Sabanovic isn't remembering a bad job interview, he's commenting on an old CNN news bulletin we're watching. It shows a young man lying on the ground. Brave but wary men crouch near him trying to lift him out of the gutter.

Faruk Sabanovic being interviewed by George Arney on the main streets of Sarajevo
Faruk was a victim of Sarajevo's "Snipers Alley"

Faruk is watching his life as caught on camera one sunny morning in March 1995. On that day he became yet another victim of Sarajevo's infamous and deadly "Snipers Alley". Not a small dark street, but a six-lane highway that cuts the centre of Sarajevo in half. As the figures move on screen Faruk again says, "Look white socks, terrible."

His self-deprecating comments about the day that changed his life, give you a hint at how remarkable a young man Faruk Sabanovic really is. His plight on that CNN news bulletin caught the attention of an American doctor and Faruk was able to get expert medical help in the States. Unfortunately the bullet wound had irrevocably damaged his spine and means he's now a wheelchair user. But instead of giving in to despair and becoming confined by his disability, he came back to Sarajevo and started the Centre for Self Reliance.

Living with disability

In communist times disabled people were hidden away in Institutions, and the Bosnian war created another 25,000 disabled people.

Faruk Sabanovic

With help from the International Red Cross Faruk began campaigning for better access for wheelchair users in buildings and increased benefits for the disabled. Almost single handed he's changed people's lives and perceptions. Thanks to Faruk the streets of Sarajevo are now accessible for him and others like him. Ramps were built on every street corner and yellow lines on the pavements delineate wheelchair only areas. Disability doesn't mean dependency.

"In communist times disabled people were hidden away in Institutions, and the Bosnian war created another 25,000 disabled people. I spent eight months in the US. I learnt so many great things. I can show people that they have the opportunity to be part of a normal society." Today Faruk is studying graphic arts and works in both animation and film.

Workshops for the disabled

Another victim of the Bosnian war is medical student Belma Goralija. She was talking to a friend in her flat when a snipers' bullet came through the window and also damaged her spine. She joined Faruk at the Centre for Self Reliance. Now, as well as completing her studies to become a doctor, she helps run workshops for disabled people.

Again with the help of outside organisations, Queens University in Canada and the World Bank, the workshops run courses in computing, toy making and silk painting.

We're working with the government and making some progress with a strong network of people.

Belma Goralija

But the main purpose is to take disabled people out of their homes, teach them a new career and educate them about their rights. It's a slow process and the rights of the disabled is not high on the government's list of priorities.

But as Belma says, "We're working with the government and making some progress with a strong network of people. If you are alone, or only 10 people you can't achieve much. But if you have groups of a hundred or more who join forces, you can change things and take control of your life."

War of Words

While Faruk and Belma are giving hope to people with disabilities, the international community is keeping the country functioning on a life support system of aid and funding.

Everywhere you go you see jeeps emblazoned with the logos of UN peacekeepers, aid workers, and NGO members.

New mosques in Bosnia are funded by money from Saudi Arabia
King Fahd mosque

But one country is building more permanent reminders of its aid and influence. New mosques are sprouting on the Bosnian landscape, funded by money from Saudi Arabia, where the conservative Wahhabi school of Islam is based.

The biggest is the huge, white, marble-floored King Fahd mosque right next to the Olympic village at the eastern end of Sarajevo. Over the last decade, Saudi Arabia has ploughed more than 500m into Bosnia, building mosques, supporting Islamic charitable schools and looking after Muslim war orphans.

During the war "mujahadin" fighters were also sent to help Bosnian Muslims. Many of those fighters remained, settling in central Bosnia.

But now after the events of 11 September, the Saudi money and the charities are being viewed with suspicion by the west. A few months ago, six people working for Saudi charities were arrested on "suspicion of terrorist activities" and flown out to America's Camp X-ray in Gauntanamo Bay in Cuba.

Bosnian and Western officials are worried that "terrorists" linked to the al-Qaeda organisation may be hiding among friendly Bosnian Muslims.

But the majority of the 1.5 million Bosnian Muslims are secular and religious moderates. They see themselves as Europeans first and Muslim second. Drinking is part of a culture that for centuries has consumed home-made plum brandy.

Veering wildly away from Islamic teaching, giving up drink for Ramadan is about as far as a religious Bosnian Muslim will tolerate of "fundamentalism".

But with a country still crippled by the aftermath of an inter-ethnic war, the Saudi cash is being seen as a fight for the religious soul of the Bosnian Muslim; and to build an Islamic state, purer in form than the more traditional orthodox style that the majority of Bosnians follow.

Economic stagnation

In 1995, the Dayton Peace Accord stopped the Bosnian war and paved the way for a new civil society and re-integration of the three ethnic communities.

Many thousands are still displaced from their homes, but Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs are trying to live together, but they are not working together. Skill shortages are as high as the unemployment figures, almost 50%. So now the international community is turning its attention to reviving the economy.

With EU funding, new projects to create jobs for people returning to their homes is coming on stream. We visited a shoe factory just outside Teslic in Republika Srpska that is bucking the economic and social trend, with a little help from the aid agency Care International and it's "Quick Impact Facility" programme.

Mr Screbic employs returnees from all three ethnic minorities
Mr Screbic at his shoe factory

Mr Screbic is a Serb and an enlightened businessman who joined forces with the EU to expand his factory from 40 to 70 workers, with the one proviso, that he employed returnees from all three ethnic communities.

He found no problem with that proviso and on his factory floor he proudly showed his product and his employees. "As you can see", he says, "there is no tension when you have a job to go to. When we advertised the jobs, we looked for people with the ability to do the job not their ethnicity. We work together and live together."

Mr Screbic is as remarkable a man as Faruk Sabanovic. Both have broken new ground in a Bosnia that is still coming to terms with its past. Both are giving hope and stability to a country and its people traumatised by horrific experiences. With their help Bosnia may one day be able to come off the international community's life support system, and breathe again as a viable and thriving European country.

Bosnia's war legacy was aired on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday 04 April 2002 at 11:00GMT. Listen to this programme and more Crossing Continents at

Reporter: George Arney
Producer: Leonida Krushelnycky
Editor: Sue Ellis

Mirza Hajric on Bosnia's present needs
The former foreign advisor to President Alia Izetbegovic on Bosnia's present needs
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