Hope That War Is Over Brightens Life In a Surrounded City
Gorazde, in eastern Bosnia, endured a grueling siege but finally has good news to celebrate
INSIDE the Gorazde music school, a student sits at the piano during a recital, playing Beethoven's ''Moonlight Sonata.'' The small audience is rapt with attention, lost for a moment as if in a dream.
As the music gathers in strength, from one deep minor chord to the next, the ruins of war outside seem far away. The escape of the audience is complete.
After more than three years of siege by Bosnian Serb forces, Gorazde is the last remaining Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia. For those here who have survived the Serb stranglehold, the means of escape, of forgetting the war, are few.
''We hope you will discover some of our pain and our love in our compositions,'' announces one music student before the school chorus sings a Bosnian song.
The people of Gorazde also hope that the new Balkan peace plan, initialed in Dayton, Ohio, last month, will hold. Their optimism about peace, especially after Gorazde's tough siege, is in marked contrast to the pessimism expressed elsewhere in Bosnia.
The music school overlooks the Drina River, where the primitive implements of survival under siege are clearly evident. With the enclave's supply of electricity cut off, creative residents have fashioned scores of paddle-wheel generators that float in the river at the end of long cables, spun by the current enough to give off electricity for a light bulb or a television set.
The surrounding hills, except where Bosnian Serb forces maintain their positions, are barren of trees, the forests long ago cut down for firewood. The town, wreathed in smoke, is preparing for a long winter, but also for peace.
Gorazde had been declared a ''safe area'' by the United Nations. But the safety of up to 60,000 Muslims here was put in doubt in July, when the two other ''safe areas'' in eastern Bosnia, Zepa and Srebrenica, were overrun by Bosnian Serb forces. After NATO, led by the United States, promised to protect Gorazde with airstrikes, the Bosnian Serbs did not push to take it.
Now hope is high in Gorazde that months of isolation and war are over. The American-brokered peace plan stipulates that Gorazde will remain under Bosnian government control, linked to the capital, Sarajevo, by a two-lane road that has yet to be built through the heart of Bosnian Serb territory.
The people of Gorazde say that this is not their preferred solution. They want Bosnia to be united and multiethnic, as it was before war divided Yugoslavia. But it may be good enough for now.
Grade-school student Aida Musanovic sings in the music-school choir, her large brown eyes dancing while she performs. Her mother wants her to grow up knowing something more than the ethnic hatred.
''We hope it is over with this peace agreement,'' Mrs. Musanovic says. ''We want to go to Europe with Chopin and Mozart, not with guns and bombs.''
She praises the American effort that brought Balkan presidents to the Dayton peace table and resulted in an agreement. ''Tell [President Clinton] that the people of Gorazde love him most,'' she says.
The head of the Gorazde district government, Rijad Rascic, was a member of parliament in the Bosnian government before the war. He remembers the worst days of the siege, and the dangerous 45-mile walks civilians made through hostile Bosnian Serb territory to get flour for bread or to escape. ''You must understand: on a dark night, with no light and maybe a small compass; up and down through the hills, with many stones on the route; nothing you can see, with heavy bags, in enemy territory...,'' he says.
''We know we want peace,'' he adds. ''We've been fighting for peace, and now we'll establish peace.''
He admits that the Gorazde corridor to Sarajevo, a minimum of 2-1/2-miles wide, may be difficult to hold when NATO withdraws after its one-year mandate expires. ''I'm not happy, but this is an agreement,'' he says. ''It's the worst solution, but it is a solution.''
Bosnian civilians are currently unable to leave Gorazde except with a UN escort, though the two existing roads through Serb territory are officially ''open,'' according to UN officials.
The Bosnian government should have little difficulty defending the new corridor, according to one UN officer. ''I have ... faith in the mapmakers of Dayton, and I assume they gave the government the heights,'' he says. ''If you control the heights, you control the valleys.''
Alija Begovic, the director of the city's hospital, points to an unexploded mortar shell that landed near the front entrance and is stuck in the ground.
The hospital is encircled by a wall of sandbags; it was targeted often. Gorazde appears to have been subjected to countless barrages, with few buildings free of gouges from shrapnel and bullets. Most are scarred on all four sides. The death toll here approached 5,000, Dr. Begovic says.
''I know it won't go smoothly,'' he says. ''All of us have been optimistic, and we've been optimistic all these years; otherwise, we would just throw up our hands.
''Real Bosnians - Bosnian Muslims, Croats, and Serbs - want to live together again,'' he adds. Nearly 200 Serbs lived in Gorazde throughout the siege, and some reportedly died defending the enclave.
But in recent days the UN and relief agencies have reported sporadic burning of non-Serb houses south of Gorazde in territory held by Bosnian Serbs. Fewer than 10 houses have been burned in territory that is to be transferred to government control.
Mauro Moruzzi, a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gorazde, says despite some troubling reports that optimism is strong.
''This is the most relaxed time since April 1992, but it depends on the road [corridor],'' he says.
The people of Gorazde ''have been disappointed many times, but they are confident. There is a great expectation.
''Yesterday, I was on the Serb side, and they also seem confident that this time it will be different,'' he says.