Tuesday, November 18, 1997
This is the first day of OSCE training of international supervisors for the November 22 and 23 elections to the National Assembly of the Republika Srpska, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
There was absolutely no assurance when I signed on that I could get myself returned to the site of my OSCE voter registration activities in May and June. During the processing in Zagreb on Sunday the 16th, I had asked to return to Bijeljina if at all possible. At first, the clerk said Bijeljina was filled up, but one of the supervisors, an American woman officer I had met in June in Sarajevo, suggested that he check his computer to make sure that there was not an extra slot. There was.
When the busload of us got here, however, we learned that only some would be assigned to Bijeljina proper and stay in Bijeljina; the others would be split up between Ugljevik and Lopare in the hinterlands of the Bijeljina region. That would have been worse than not getting the Bijeljina area at all. I had not figured in that possibility. I explained to Federico Borello, the supervisor, about why I wanted to stay and work in Bijeljina. My only real reason was to see Serb friends made last spring. When he handed out the assignments a little while later, I had made it.
All the Bijeljina supervisors were housed at the Hotel Drina, a four-story establishment built during Tito's days and showing the effects of minimal maintenance. The price was right, however -- $18 per person per night, including breakfast. There was no possibility of getting a room by myself. The offer to pay double was to no avail. A young Czech national named Roman Florian responded positively to my question of whether he would like to share a room with me. His father, also an OSCE supervisor, had been assigned to Ugljevik, so they split up, apparently without raising any objections. Roman and I both agreed right off that neither would be bothered by light or noise made by the other. He was exhausted from two long bus rides, the first all night from Prague to Zagreb and the second our six-hour bus ride from Zagreb to Bijeljina. He was in bed by four p.m. and hardly woke until seven o'clock this morning.
My first new impressions of Bijeljina are mixed. I suppose I should come right out and say that I was a bit disappointed by the grim atmosphere. I recall, however, that I first arrived just as spring was breaking out with summer not far behind. Spring and summer people are more joyous, as are the trees and fields. It has not stopped drizzling since we arrived, and today it began to snow. Perhaps the political tensions have an influence on the general mood. Maybe it is because my suitcase has still not arrived.
I was pleased to find Russell Lindquist, my apartment mate last spring, also assigned to Bijeljina again. Knowing of my plight without sufficient warm clothes, he immediately offered and I accepted his loan of a windbreaker. On Tuesday evening, the two of us had dinner together at the Lovatz Restaurant, an old hangout near our hotel. We could not believe that they had no srpska salata. The only offering as a salad was cabbage stuffed with sauerkraut, if one can imagine that. It was the worst dish I have tasted in Bosnia.
The Croatia Airlines employee in Zagreb had taken to her computer when I first reported the non-arrival of my luggage, and within seconds she reported that my bag was still in Atlanta. It would arrive in Zagreb Monday afternoon. The OSCE employee who had accompanied me to her office took the report and assured me the luggage would be delivered to me at whatever post I was assigned. That was, of course, before I knew that I would be stationed in Bijeljina. Federico and his assistant, Leendert Van Hijum, a young Dutch military officer assigned to OSCE, both show genuine concern for my plight.