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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SAT, 11 JUN 1994 23:47:36 GMT

    I WOULD PREFER TO SPEAK JAPANESE

    AIM, BELGRADE, June 8, 1994

    There are a number of places in Belgrade where refugees gather. If anyone wishes to meet his former fellow townsmen, be it those from Sarajevo, Mostar, Banjaluka... all he has to do is come downtown and visit a few restaurants: "The Russian Czar", "The Blue Rider", the former "Kasina", "Cumicevo sokace"... However, there is another type of refugees in Belgrade. These you cannot meet, even if you pass them by you will not recognize them.They are relunctant to speak, they walk with their heads down, frightened, usually in a hurry, people who would rather remain unnoticed and have no one address them... They too are former citizens of Sarajevo, Mostar, Banjaluka, but without the status of refugees, they are in hiding in Belgrade and their number is increasing by the day. Usually they are young men, who according to some, in such times as ours, should be at the front with a rifle in their hands. They live in small rented flats, make daily tours of the embassies in the desire to have their stay in Belgrade last as short as possible, since they consider it an incidental stop which they did not voluntarily choose.

    This story is the tale of two such thirty-year olds, from Banjaluka, both in hiding, two friends who met after a few months. To one, Belgrade offered refuge on his way to Sweden, to the other, on his way to Germany. M.M. is a Muslim, S.S. a Serb.

    - When he called and we met, we fell into each others arms, I was really overwhelmed. We almost cried - says M.M., who has been in Belgrade for a few months, hiding in a rented flat.

    His friend repeats the same sentence, he also "almost" cried too.

    I didn't believe them, especially, the "almost".

    S.S. spent a year-and-a-half in uniform, on the battlefront.

    - I put on a uniform because I was forced to. If you don't answer the call, you lose your job, your flat, you have nothing to live on. I though it would all last a very short time. There were raids on the streets. If you didn't have a draft book, they would take you away to a small camp. You were pushed into a van and then beaten. And fron there, strait to the front. They send you to the very worst positions, the front-line at Ozren, Doboj, Brcko...

    From the outset of the war M.M. hid in Banjaluka. He did not answer the calls.

    - I was afraid of the army, I did not like uniforms. Also, I did not know who my enemy was. All of a sudden I began to feel like a stranger in my own city, in the city I lived in for 33 years. I was frightened, and then again I though, no one will hurt me, this is my town. Then I began feeling uncomfortable because all my friends were in the war. I was nowhere. A stranger, that's what I was.

    His friend interrupts him:

    - Now there are no more Muslims on the front in the army of the Republic of Srpska. And even when there were, I told my friend that, they did all sorts of things with them. They would send them to the open field between the Muslim and Serbian armies, unarmed, to dig trenches. They were shot at by their snipers from one side, and by our soldiers from the other. I saw that with my own eyes. I couldn't stand it any longer. They were all people from my city. If you protest, your own men may kill you. You have to keep silent all watch all that. It was really depressing.

    M.M. - At the end of last year they caught me in a roundup. They took me to a small camp and asked me why I wasn't in the army of the Republic of Srpska. You are a dirty Muslim, go clean toilets. I went to clean the WC, but two men came after me. They began to beat me. They told me to stand still, and put my hands in my pockets. They hit me on the chest and on the back with a truncheon. Then they left and told me to clean to toilets. I cleaned them. Two other men came. One hit me on the head, I fainted. Then they sent me me clean the hall. Whoever passed hit me and told me I was a filthy Muslim. Then they took me into an office.

    Six of them made fun of me. Look at the Muslim, he should stoop down to us Muslim style in worship. I asked them why they were doing that, and one of them hit me in the knees. I had to bow. After that they gave me a green notebook and told me to read. You speak Arabic, they said, read. I don't know Arabic, I said, and they began hitting me again. And told me to stoop in worship. At that moment. a man in a Serbian uniform and with a Serbian name came in and told them to let me go. They asked him if he was on my side. I am not, he answered, but you have been holding him for two hours now. Then one of them, like in those movies about the Nazis, offered me a cigarette. What could I do, I took one.He then jumped at me and screamed that a filthy Muslim was not going to smoke his cigarettes and started hitting my hands. See, I still have the scars. After that they took me to a cell. I had to promise that I would join the army, and they took me to the recruitment centre. There I told them that I would not put on a uniform, but that I did want to definitely leave the city. They changed their attitude at once. How much time do you need to leave the city. A month, I said. I signed a paper to that effect.

    S.S.- The Muslims who remained in Banjaluka lost their jobs, not one of them is still employed. They are cleaning street by street, even the city intellectuals are in on it. They are expulsing them from their flats. I told my friend before they caught him: go, there is no life for you here. You will clean the streets until some extremist kills you.

    M.M. - They threw my father, mother and me out of our flat. Even my mother who is Serbian. We were proclaimed enemies of the Republic of Srpska. My mother now lives in a cellar, my father with his mother. He had two heart attacks. He is in a hospital for the time being. I have nothing left in Banjaluka. No one. I left with my wife Bosa, who is Serbian, for Belgrade. I crossed the border illegaly, since they do not allow Muslims to leave. We are here now.

    S.S. - I, as a Serb, no longer feel well there. Too many things have changed. It is no longer something I can live with. I don't feel safe there anymore. They are pushing ordinary people into war, those who are not well educated, not smart enough, so to say. People from villages like to make war. We from the cities do not. The Serbs who do not wish to take part in the war also feel insecure. Now, its worse to be a Serb-traitor than a Croat or Muslim.

    Some new people have moved in, Banjaluka is full of them. They are the ones who are ethnically cleansing the city. I call that a peasants rebellion. We were forbidden to associate with Croats and Muslims. You could do it but only clandestinely. There were no more marriages between the Serbs and them. Because they introduced obligatory marriages both at the registry office and in church. That is no longer my city, it is a foreign city, a city I do not know.

    M.M. - After some time, when the war began, some of my friends began passing me by with their heads down. I thought to myself it was not because I was a Muslim, but because they were afraid. Yes, that was the reason.

    S.S. - A terrible situation, no one could have thought that something as awful as this would happen. We had a wonderful life together. Serbia does not mean a thing to me. While there still was a Bosnia, I felt a Bosnian. One has to feel Bosnia, its soul. For instance when spring comes, we in Bosnia have a special saying for trees in bloom... or else the word "teferic" its meaning can be understood only by a Bosnian... I am a Serb, although if someone would hear me now he would think that I was a Muslim. One has to feel what my Bosnia is. That is what I wanted to say.

    While we talk, a bottle of the cheapest brandy is in front of us. The two of them keep refilling their glasses. They say that they are never without brandy.

    M.M. tells us that when he left he took something over a thousand Deutsch marks with him. He has nothing now. He payed 230 marks rent for the flat, and the landlady is now asking for 350. He has no more money left. He lied to her and said he would sell the television set,so she didn't throw him out. He doesn't know what he is going to do.

    - A fear has remained. When I go out, I have a feeling someone is going to catch me and take me back. I spend most of the time at home. I have been feeling worse and worse in the last past month. I have a fear from persecution. I keep remembering the thaings that have happened. I felt very badly after the beatings. I spit blood. I went to see a doctor. I have epileptic attacks. I just lose consciousness for a few minutes. I suppose everything inside of me just broke. The pressure, the fear, the anxiety, it was all too much. I do not sleep well. I just cannot understand anything. Everything is so mixed up.

    The doctor sent him for a scanner examination, but he did not have the money for it. It costs 100 dinars.

    - Where would I get the money?

    He hopes to get a visa for Sweden, where he hopes to get a flat and a job as a refugee.

    _ If I go to Sweden, perhaps my life will change. All those that have left my home town are in Denmark or Sweden now...I hope to find a place for myself too.

    His friend's story is very similar. They experienced their exile in much the same way.

    - I'm staying with cousins, temporarily, I hope I won't be here more than 20 days. I have a sort of paranoia. When I see the police, I feel just like in Banjaluka, I'm frightened someone will ask me something, ask for my draft book. I'm sick of everything, of this entire country, not only of the Republic of Srpska but of Yugoslavia too. I can't bear to hear our language. I would prefer to speak Japanese.

    S.S. has cousins in Germany, and he is hoping to get a tourist visa. Once he gets there he hopes to regulate his status.

    There is no return to Banjaluka for either of them. Not while one is a deserter, the other ethnically unsuitable.

    Both hope that one day they will dring the mellow Bosnian plum brandy on the Vrbas River. They hope and make rounds of the embassies.

    - We can, perhaps, keep in touch over the phone. Most probably that's how it will be.

    BRANKA MIHAJLOVIC