Residents of this war-battered, economically struggling city conjure up fond memories of the 1984 Olympics, when Sarajevo was an international showpiece of prosperity, political comity and cultural accomplishment.
Recalling that glorious time gives residents a respite from the grim reality of life here, where most people are unemployed, city services remain unreliable and tens of thousands of citizens have yet to regain the houses they lived in before the 1991-1995 war.
Saturday, as Bosnia’s leaders formally bid good luck to the nine-member Olympic team cobbled together for the Games that begin next Saturday in Nagano, Japan, nostalgia was on display. A girls’ chorus sang the 1984 theme song, and the acting president of Bosnia’s Council of Ministers, Haris Silajdzic, said he wants the country to host the Games again one day.
It is an ambitious goal for an ethnically fractured nation that still has not selected the flag for its athletes to carry in the opening ceremony in Nagano. Parliament is slated to take up the issue next week and is expected to pick one of three designs proposed by a citizens committee appointed after political leaders failed to reach an accord.
Most of the office buildings and housing complexes constructed for the 1984 Games are in ruins, having been shelled by Serb gunners or bombed and burned when the 1995 Dayton peace accord forced Serb troops to hand over territory they had conquered to a political federation of Croats and Muslims.
The ski jumps atop Mount Igman are still intact but unused. At their feet are two blackened, concrete skeletons, all that is left of hotel rooms and restaurants for the athletes and fans. The elevators and chairlifts also don’t work. The Zedra sports hall downtown, where figure skating was performed and the closing ceremony was held, was heavily shelled, but is slated to be repaired later this year.
To put a team together for the first Winter Olympics since the war ended, Bosnia’s Olympic Committee relied heavily on a handful of foreign companies and the generosity of outsiders. Sports officials and independent groups in Austria, Italy and Germany provided housing and access to ski slopes for several alpine skiers, such as Arijana Boras, 21.
Ismar Biogradlic, a 23-year-old luge contestant who unpacked some new gear for the first time Saturday morning, said members of the U.S. Olympic team had donated his sleek yellow suit. Enes Becirbegovic, 21, said he skied for three weeks in Breckinridge, Colo., without charge in 1996 and for two months in Italy last year. But he had no coaching for most of that time, he said.
At least one athlete from the Serb Republic, a female alpine skier whose hometown, Pale, is also the headquarters for hard-line Serb nationalists, will participate on the team fielded by neighboring Serbia. But the Bosnian team will nonetheless be multiethnic, with five Muslims, two Serbs and two Croats. All but two are Olympic veterans.
Olympic committee president Bogic Bogicevic said “We are going to Nagano to show that we exist, that we survived … We do not expect those real Olympic medals … The only medal we can get is the medal of friendship.”