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Semir Veskovic, Kemal Mehmedovic and Nardina Zubanovic, left to right, attend the High School of Applied Arts in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. "We don't think a lot about the war," Zubanovic said. "We're thinking of our future."
Semir Veskovic, Kemal Mehmedovic and Nardina Zubanovic, left to right, attend the High School of Applied Arts in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. "We don't think a lot about the war," Zubanovic said. "We're thinking of our future." (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina — The two prettiest girls in class sat near a window overlooking a Sarajevo street.

They laughed and whispered before the start of their English lesson, but fell attentive when their teacher raised her hands and asked them to be quiet. In time, talk of the 1992-95 Bosnian civil war ensued, and recollections followed.

A boy, then a preschooler, remembers spending a lot of time in the basement, and only occasionally getting to ride his bike. Another student, a girl, recalled slipping into a pair of red trousers the night the war started.

One of the girls seated by the window, a strawberry blonde in a black sweater, spoke of the Sarajevo she returned to after the war.

“It was horrible,” said 15-year- old Melisa Hadzic. “The buildings were damaged. It was all dark. … When I came back here, I cried for a year.”

Melisa said that, during the war, her father stayed behind while she, her brother and mother left to live with an aunt in Chicago. She and her mother returned from the United States in 1996, but her brother remains to this day. There was more to the story, in particular, about the father, but Melisa couldn’t finish as she was overcome with emotion, her friend consoling her.

“It’s very easy to make us cry, no matter how old we are,” said Amila Ibrahimagic, the English teacher.

As well as Bosnia and Herzegovina is doing a decade after peacekeepers arrived, war wounds remain — and will for some time.

Some scars, such as bullet- torn walls or one-legged men, are readily visible. Others, like Melisa’s broken heart, lie just below the surface. Still other wounds seem of the festering sort.

“There’s nobody in the house anymore,” said Gordana Samardzija, referring to the old Yugoslav state. “In the Second World War, we were fighting each other, but after, we lived together.”

Samardzija, 45, who spoke through a translator, writes for a monthly periodical based in Pale, the Bosnian-Serbs’ wartime capital. While Samardzija spoke of the future, it was clear that she longed for the old days, when “the house” was full, and people had jobs.

Now, only two Yugoslav republics remain (Serbia and Montenegro), the capital of the Bosnian-Serbian republic is Banja Luka, not Pale, unemployment is at least 40 percent and the outside world takes a dim view of her city. One journalist described Pale as “a city in the clouds that history has left to die.”

“Most people in Pale are interested in jobs, not politics,” Samardzija said. Current economic conditions “make it very hard to find employment.”

The students at the High School of Applied Arts in Sarajevo still have a few years to sort out their employment prospects. For now, they just want to be teens.

“We don’t think a lot about the war,” Nardina Zubanovic said during another class, one made up of 17- and 18-year-olds. “We’re thinking of our future. The past is too painful.”

Ibrahimagic and a few of her students seem to find some credence in a train of thought swirling around Sarajevo that asserts the U.S. and Western Europe intentionally laid the groundwork for the Balkan wars.

“Let’s not talk about war,” Kemal Mehmedovic implores his classmates. “There’s too much talking about war.”

While there is gratitude for the international peacekeeping effort, Semir Veskovic said more could have been done to help Bosnia. He and others spoke well of former President Bill Clinton, but less so of his successor.

“We don’t think of him (President Bush) as someone who is doing something bad to us, but as somebody who doesn’t care,” Veskovic said.

Day 1 stories:

The mission that began following the 1995 Dayton agreement helped teach U.S. troops to bring peace where there was ethnic unrest.

Iraq, Bosnia missions are different, but similarities are worth discussing

Timeline: War and peace in the Balkans

Day 2 stories:

Forgotten force still keeping watch in Bosnia

Without Americans, future of small bases in Bosnia uncertain

Tribunal slowly catching up with Bosnia fugitives

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