Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Besieged by Barbara Demick 

In 1993 Barbara Demick was assigned by her newspaper the Philadephia Inquirer to Berlin in order to cover the reshaping of Eastern Europe's post-Cold War economy. Insead for the duration of her posting she wrote more about the war in Bosnia than the region's economic plight.

Demick arrived in Sarajevo, Bosnia's capital in Janaury 1994. By this stage the city had been under siege since April 1992, a state of affairs which was to last until the ending of the war in November 1995. Ms. Demick finds her accommodation consisting of the city's Holiday Inn, a mustard coloured hotel which, being less than a mile away form the front line, made it in no way immune from attack.

Faced with the immense task of thrying to capture the scale of the human suffering endured by the residents of Sarajevo Demick was advised by her editor to focus on one particular street and describe their lives of the people. She choose Logavina Street, which was situated adjacent to Bascarsija the old Turkish centre of Sarajevo.

By her own admission Ms. Demick was captivated by the street and soon became vividly involved with the struggles of the residents as they struggled to survive in the face of hunger, deprivation and the all threatening fear of death. In her own words Demick says of the street,

"Logavina Street is a six block long history lesson. To know Logavina is to know Sarajevo and to understand what this city once was, and what it has become. To know logavina is to witness the strength and ingenuity that ordinary people can muster in order to survive."

A month after her arrival sixty-eight people are killed when a mortar fired by the Serbs lands in a market where people had been queuing for food and water. The market had been less than a mile away from Logavina Street and for one of the residents, nineteen year old Delila Lacevic, the attact brought back nightmares of the death, in similar circumstances, of her parents.

The story of Delila Lacevic is one of the many related by Barbara Demick as she firmly becomes embedded with the people of Logavina Street. The street is unique in the Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox neighbours continue to live side by side and help each other during the duration of the siege.

Through Barbara Demick we learn of the indivuals the lives they had before the war and how the conflict has robbed them of their freedom. We learn of Milutin Durdevac, a Serb, who before the war was an executive. Now he has lost everything, along with hie wife he has chosen to remain in Sarajevo.

Then theere's Ekram Kaljana a Muslim, a former electrician, now a policeman, who rigs up illicit electric cables for his neighbours in order to lessen the burden of their lives. Or Desa Stanic a Serb, whose husband a Catholic was killed while fighting for the Bosnian army.  Zijo and Jela Dzino, an elderly coule who live in a house on Logavina Street which has been in thier family for generations.

What Demnick does throughtout is convey the utter sense of helplessness, fear and anger which the people of Logavina Street feel toward both the Serbs attacking them and the UN with it's apparent lack of concern toward them.

Demick carries off a difficult balancing act, she empathises with the people of Logavia, tries to understand their anger and sympathises with them while at the same time remains remarkably professional throughout. She is non judgemental towards the people particularily those who choose to leave Sarajevo by fare means or foul. She is the perfect reporter, she does not convey her own prejudices but instead tells the story of the brave citizens of one street in Sarajevo during the siege.

First published in 1996, Besieged has been reissued to coincide with the twentith anniverary of the beginning of the conflict in Bosnia.

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