Sarajevo: A ride of Hope and Disappointment

German Press Agency December 24, 1995
By: Rhea Wessel

Sarajevo (dpa) – Jasminka-Jasna Coric nervously puffed a cigarette on the overnight bus from Frankfurt to Sarajevo. “I’m so excited. I’ve been waiting for this moment for four years,” she said, almost in tears.

Another passenger, a man called Kasim, would not make it home to the Bosnian capital as Coric did.

Kasim was on the way to visit his wife and two young daughters he had not seen since war broke out in the former Yugoslavia. He whipped out a picture and, with a partially toothless grin, proudly announced: “This is my family.”

He was travelling with a duffle bag that had been overstuffed with medicines, children’s clothes and shampoo and then taped to a close. His carry-ons were shopping bags from German discount supermarkets, filled with food, gifts and enough cigarettes to get him through the journey, which was originally expected to last 33 hours.

Some 50 hours after leaving Frankfurt, Coric felt the loving hugs of her parents and sister. Kasim was forced to disembark the bus after Slovenia border police found he did not have the proper papers to leave Germany, where he had official status as a non-working refugee.

Kasim waved goodbye to the bus load of Bosnians who had become a sort of family as they shared the stories of their struggles to survive. The bus left him standing in Villach, Austria, on a parking lot in the icy rain at 3:00 a.m. on a Wednesday morning in December.

Deutsche Touring, a German tour bus company in Frankfurt, just recently began offering bus trips to Sarajevo. The firm sponsors three trips a week from Germany for 250 marks (175 dollars) one-way.

The travellers were as loaded down as the bus was packed with people. Not an extra seat was to be found. Each passenger wanted to bring gifts that could not be purchased in Bosnia to their friends and family in the war-torn country.

One women, who was carrying money to give to family, did not relieve herself for two days. She feared losing the cash she was carrying in the money belt hidden in her underclothes.

The overnight bus from Frankfurt to Sarajevo is a trip of endless stops and surprises. But after two nights and two and a half days of sleeping in a chair, not one complaint could be heard, just words of anxious anticipation and excitement.

Beginning in Frankfurt with numerous pick-up points in other German cities, the bus crossed Austria and Slovenia and made its way down Croatia’s coast. Breakfast was available in Senj, a picturesque town reminiscent of those on the other side of the Adriatic in Italy.

A red metal bridge lay mangled on the two sides of the ravine it once spanned near the town of Pag. A Bosnian traveller mutters casually, “Bombed by the Serbs.”

At lunch shortly before reaching Split, Coric pulls out a package of pictures and begins to show family members and tell the story of how she ended up as a refugee in Germany, separated from two of her sisters who were sent to Denmark.

Coric left Sarajevo in May 1992 as part of a lengthy convoy of women and children. She was travelling with Melissa, the daughter of her oldest sister who works in the hospital in Sarajevo.

After being taken hostage for three days by Serb forces, Coric and Melissa reached Slovenia, where they stayed for two months, followed by four months in Croatia before being moved to Germany.

Coric cared for Melissa for a year and a half until she was, with the help of the Red Cross, able to arrange for her sister to pick up the girl in Germany. “Mother and child need to be together,” she says.

A women sitting in front of Coric overheard part of the conversation and realized she had been part of the same convoy in 1992.

She fled with her two daughters and wound up living with family in Caracas, Venezuela. Her girls received scholarships from the American School in Caracas and are now studying on scholarships in the United States. “We are very lucky,” Svjetlana Vukmirovc says.

Vukmirovc, a Bosnian married to a Serb, was travelling with two companions, who she described as equally representative of the country. “We’re all intertwined. The normal people don’t hate one another. This was really a war of good and bad characters, power-hungry men,” she says.

The three women had worked for the same company and lived together shortly as refugees in Croatia. Anita Stojvevic was Croatian and had lived in New York City for ten years. Ruzica Kulusic was Serbian and married to a Croat.

Kulusic was returning to Sarajevo for the first time in almost four years and she would see what had become of the apartment, which she had left full of her belongings in 1992.

“Can you tell I’m excited?” Coric asks. “I’m near home. I can feel it,” she says as the bus stops for a dinner break shortly outside of Mostar, the town with the world-famous bridge that was blown up during the war.

It was 8:00 p.m. and the travellers had expected to already be in Sarajevo. But they hadn’t passed the montainous dirt road leading there, the one that hundreds of lorries, buses, military vehicles and private cars hoped to transit.

The night sky was full of stars but they were not bright enough to light the pot-holed and slick dirt road that hugged a mountain. On one side of the bus, it seemed sure the earth would come tumbling down in an avalanche. On the other, there was darkness and the driver said there was a lake. All that was visible were the tops of some trees forming a downward slope.

The bus arrived at 3:00 a.m. in the village of Butmir, near Sarajevo airport. Travellers rested there until morning, when they joined the line of hundreds or lorries and cars waiting to drive one kilometre further on the Serb-held road that leads to Sarajevo.

At 10:30 a.m. on the third day, passengers cheered as they passed the snowy runway of Sarajevo’s airport. Although they may have doubted they would ever arrive in Sarajevo, the Bosnians had made it home – and they were over-joyed.
dpa rwz rg/kr