YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

'New Life Within' Stirs in City Left for Dead : Bosnia: Two pregnant Sarajevans bear testimony to their faith in the future.


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — In the bleak depths of November, when cold and hunger may be killing their neighbors, sisters-in-law Aida and Dijana Tokic will be bearing testimony to their faith in Bosnia's future by giving birth in a city much of the world has left for dead.

"I believe there is still life here, that there is still a chance for survival," said Aida, a physician, the wife of a dentist-turned-soldier and the mother of a 3-year-old son. "This new life within me gives me a sense of power, a feeling of control over the future."

The Tokic women, both 32, see their own survival and that of their children as a moral victory for defenders of integration, who they concede are on the verge of a military and diplomatic defeat. Even if the siege that has already taken the lives of thousands of their compatriots continues through a second winter, the women believe they will somehow manage to stay alive.

"It seems like the outside world would prefer that we were all dead, so that our suffering won't trouble their conscience any longer. But do they really expect us to go along with that?" Aida asked incredulously.

"I can't explain how we will survive. I just believe that we will. A big part of our battle is psychological. I am having this baby because I am convinced it will inspire us to pull through."

Seven members of the Tokic family have found refuge in a borrowed two-room apartment after being driven from three separate homes in Sarajevo suburbs now in the hands of nationalist Serbs. Brothers Smalj and Mirsad Tokic, their parents and wives, and 3-year-old Ivor have crammed into the tiny ground-floor dwelling that lacks electricity, water and heat--like most habitations in Sarajevo--not to mention privacy for the two young couples forced to sleep in a single room.

But the Tokices have defiantly refused to put their lives on hold any longer while the nationalists' shells and bullets tear this European capital to pieces.

"Of course we are terrified of this winter and what lies ahead, but I am more afraid of waiting too long to have children. I will not let them deprive me of anything else in my life," Dijana, a Croat and a university professor of English, said of the encircling rebels whose artillery has smashed scenic Sarajevo into an urban wasteland.

Sarajevo's birthrate has fallen to less than a third of its prewar level. Most of the capital's residents fear bringing children into a city that has been under bombardment for 17 months and into a country being forcibly segregated with the blessing of Western mediators intimidated by the nationalists' guns.

For the Tokic women, though, braving medieval conditions to bring forth new life is an expression of their determination to see this society survive.

"A lot of us are finding we are capable of things we never thought we could do," said Aida. "I saw a 71-year-old woman I know chopping and collecting wood the other day. When I asked her how she managed, she looked at me and smiled and said she simply refused to be a victim. I know exactly what she means. Complete strangers come up to me on the street and ask me if I'm crazy, having a child in this madness. But this is my way of telling them (the Serbs besieging the city) that they can try, but they will never kill us all."

The Tokices have no money and few belongings, as they fled their vanquished villas in Vraca and Grbavica in haste. But they say it is only the material things they've lost.

Like most survivors in Sarajevo, where the average person has already lost 30 pounds because of irregular food supplies, the Tokic couples fear that malnutrition and exposure could kill more people this winter than the rebel shelling and sniper fire. Their fears are well grounded, as vital shipments of diesel fuel to power the city's water pumps, bakeries and natural gas network remain blocked by both Serbian and Croatian armies seeking to starve the Muslim-led government into capitulating to an ethnic division of the country.

Even with an impending accord, prospects for a stable peace remain doubtful, and international aid agencies have been struggling to stave off the kind of humanitarian catastrophe that was avoided last year only by virtue of an unusually mild winter.

Of most concern to the relief officials is the mounting dependence of Bosnians on foreign food aid. Despite on-again-off-again peace talks, more civilians are displaced each day by continuing warfare and this conflict's signature atrocity of "ethnic cleansing."

Los Angeles Times Articles