WED, 19 FEB 1997 21:43:19 GMT
Ministers and Mathematics
MR.MINISTER, HOW MUCH IS TWO AND TWO?
AIM Bihac, 10 February, 1997
When we visited B&H at the beginning of this sunny February, the temperature was around 11 Centigrades so that the ladies of Bihac, who mostly get their clothes in Zagreb, Frankfurt or Vienna, were out in the most frequented cafes "Bistro" and "Crazy Horse", showing off their "glad rags" which they have prepared for the spring. It seemed that no one paid any attention to the fact that it was the month of Ramadan, the month of fasting and praying. Although this is a town with the highest percentage of Bosniac population, it was only in the Canton Government building that we noticed strict observance of religious customs. For example, we were unable to find a single ashtray in the whole building. But, let's leave the Government for the time being.
"My friend, I needed you here couple of days ago, when they announced the disbanding of the 5th Corps", told me an acquaintance in one of the newly opened restaurants on the river. In contrast to other public places, you could well feel the Ramadan here, the fast and all the rest accompanying it. The owner is one of the former commanders of the 5th Corps, an elite demolition unit. You could order anything, but only after the evening meal - iftar. Our collocutor continued: "Here, take for example the owner of this restaurant. He had some shady dealings before the war, and even was in prison during the war because of some murder charge, when all of a sudden he sort of came to his senses, repented and went to fight in the first lines. He always was and still is one of those who would do everything for the Corps. I heard that some of the members of his demolition squad were prepared to go as far as Sarajevo to "do in" general Delic. I have heard this story from several people, so that it is probably true. Dudak (general Atif Dudakovic - note of the author) managed to calm them down, but if it had not been for Alija (referring to Alija Izetbegovic) who came here personally, God knows what would have happened".
Perhaps because of its geographic location or because of its isolated position during the war, the Una - Sana Canton always felt as a separate part of the B&H state. Even before the war, it inclined to Zagreb and now this influence has intensified for many reasons.
"To tell you the truth it is no wonder that the influence of Zagreb is so great", told us a colleague, a correspondent of the Zagreb "Evening Paper" (Vecernji list), a Serbian lady married to a local Croat. "Here people mostly watch the Croatian programme, and TV B&H is watched only during prime time News. As far as printed media is concerned, the Croatian papers have long ago exceeded the circulation of "Avaz", the "Vecernji" and the "Oslobodjenje" (Liberation). The Canton does not have a serious medium of its own. It has television, but that is...It would be better if there was none. As far as the freedom of the press is concerned, it is mostly forgotten and pushed into historic oblivion. If you write something unsuitable, you will instantly, without any hesitation, be denied access to any information. It is as if the war is still on here. You have to watch what, to whom and whom you are talking about..."
Correspondents of the federal media are still retelling the recent teachers' strike. The Cantonal Minister of Education, Science and Culture, Esad Jakupovic tried to quiet down the revolt, while the rumour was going around that Fikret Abdic and his followers have initiated the discontinuation of instruction. Incidentally, the Abdics are here the witches which are used in an attempt to maintain the state of war and psychosis. Everything reminds of the times of the Bosnian war during which "the Chetniks and the Ustashi" were blamed for all the problems. Today, the situation is the same here with Abdic. When the correspondent of the "Liberation" tried to get the first hand information, i.e. from the aforementioned Minister of Education, the latter replied: "I have nothing to say to the yellow press such as the "Evening Papers" and "Liberation".
We tried to learn directly from the Minister whether he considered independent papers, in other words, papers which are not controlled by Izetbegovic's SDA, the "yellow press".
"Young colleague, you have misunderstood it all. Everyone can get a statement from me, naturally you have to make an appointment first and come personally, not ask for information over the phone. How should I know who is on the line. And is if I cared how will anyone write. It is clear that everyone can pay a journalist and order a text to his liking," explained Minister Jakupovic the procedure for independent journalism.
When we are already talking about Minister of Education and other related activities, let us go back to the Government of the Una - Sana Canton. After we attended the Government's session for a short while, we came to the conclusion that everything was OK, as it simply could not be any worse. The poor Prime Minister sweated while Assistant Minister of Finance was reading the financial report for the first ten months last year:
- During the first ten months last year the realized revenue reached 63 billion BH dinars, which is equal to DM 63 thousand- read the Minister.
- Mr. Minister, please read that sentence again! - said the irritated Cantonal Prime Minister. The Minister read the sentence again and it sounded all right to him. - Come on, read it again, but to yourself, and then tell us the sum - insisted the Prime Minister.
- I suppose it is DM 630 million - insisted the chief governmental financier.
- No, my dear Sir, it is not. It is DM 63 million. Any market in town turns over these DM 63 thousand of yours - howled the Prime Minister forgetting where he was.
The next rapporteur was the Cantonal Minister for Refugees. And again problems with figures. According to calculations of this Minister the total of 6,300 people had returned to the Una-Sana Canton. The Prime Minister again interrupted the report:
- How is it possible, my dear friend, if over 20 thousand people returned to Sanski Most alone. How did you come up with these numbers? Correct that. Is this report approved? - ended the Prime Minister this comedy.
Naturally, all reports were approved. Even the report of the Minister of Information who is said to have been an elementary school teacher before the war, and during the war grew up into "an outstanding secondary school lecturer of history".
Although according to the report of the Minister of Finance this is a poor region, judging by what people are saying, it obviously is not. Sandra, a customs officer at the Izacic border crossing told us:
"There were periods when as much as 200 vehicles a day went through customs. I have information, which I did not check, according to which we sent to the Sarajevo SDK (Social Accounting Service) office DM 200 million for December alone. An increasing number of people is returning from abroad to Bosnia. We are doing our job, and nobody is worse for it. Neither the returnees, nor the state, and to tell you the truth, neither we in the customs service."
However, not everyone is well-off here. Unfortunately, there are many who lost everything in the war and who are making do now. Some trade, some are prepared to work for pittance, while some regularly wait in queues for humanitarian assistance. The owner of a shoe-shop in the city center, former volunteer fighter, interpreted humanitarian work as well as Bayram festivities in his own, probably right way: "I do not donate money to the mosque or some other organization. I fought and I know all the families of my fellow combatants who were killed. Now for Bayram I am preparing twenty pairs of shoes to give to their families as a present. That is what I want to do because I know that my dear friends would have done the same for me."
Otherwise, Bihac quite often remains in darkness, without electricity, while pavements are filled with heaps of unmelted snow and garbage. They say that Bihac is striving towards the west, but...