bosnia report
New Series No. 15/16 March - June 2000
An afternoon in Zvornik
by Gordon Burck

The 8 May story in Network Bosnia's `Bosnia Daily' (Issue 2.87) regarding the BiH Presidency order to place state symbols at Bosnia's borders reminded me of one such crossing in need of that reminder.

On 24 March I drove into Zvornik from the north at about 1 p.m. and parked along the river. I immediately headed for the old pedestrian bridge across the Drina. The entry to the narrow bridge is constrained by buildings on both sides and blocked by a blue raisable barrier, such as one might find at a toll booth and reasonable to keep vehicles away from the stream of people crossing in both directions. But there was no sign of any kind, nor any uniformed customs or pass control officials. So I walked halfway across, to where a Romany family was begging, and took pictures in both directions (there was a guard at the Serbian end, but people just walked past him).

Returning, I for the first time noticed the old blue and white sign facing the river from just past the barrier and announcing, in Cyrillic, `Republika Srpska, Opshtina Zvornik'. I walked on around the barrier and to the first corner, where I changed to a wide-angle lens. Then I walked back around the barrier and took a picture of the central square with the sign in the corner, but not showing the barrier. Now an official took interest and detained me for 15 minutes. I admitted to knowing a little German (but not my Slovene and Russian) and was admonished about taking pictures of border crossings (not for having crossed it!), and my passport was taken away for others to examine as well. Finally, I was told not to take sensitive pictures, but to photograph anything else in town.

I turned north along a narrow street and photographed a bar with a Karadzic poster in the window, then walked on around the new market construction and stopped near a two-story bombed out commercial building behind a fence. But there was no potential picture, so I walked over to a kiosk to look at the racy magazine covers. Then two police stopped me. They wanted to know if I had a permit to take photographs, and was I writing anything. Later they accused me of `hiding' the camera (which I usually carry in one hand with the strap wrapped around my wrist for security). Again, German was not enough, although I again understood them pretty well and was sure there was no such law, so a young fellow was flagged to translate that they wanted to take me to the IPTF.

Fine, but instead we took a kilometer walk south to police headquarters where I was turned over to an inspector, again with a bit of German, and a younger assistant who spoke English. Now the camera was not mentioned, but rather that I had no `Republika Srpska' sÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ tamp in my passport, so how did they know I had entered legally. I responded that I had crossed the Inter-Entity Boundary Line seven times that week without seeing a single official (except for SFOR north of Tuzla). What they observed was that I had only a Brnik (Slovenia) stamp, and nothing from going in and out of Croatia on the way to Bihac; so I also suggested that we go back to the border official at the bridge, who could have stamped it when I passed the barrier but had paid no attention to that matter at all. The inspector filled a page with information on my father, the Slovenian rental car, where I had been, etc. The policemen came back after twenty minutes with a written report, but when the assistant asked if what they had written was true, I answered that I could not read it - and no attempt was made to translate it.

Finally, we went off to the IPTF office where we repeated our stories, the inspector repeating `Republika Srpska'. They observed that the border guards `know the local people' using the bridge [but of course, I was not one of those] and sent me on my way. The inspector offered a drink (`Kaj pijes?') that I declined.

The Zvornik police do not believe they are in Bosnia, as is shown by the free border and the absurd reference to an RS passport stamp. Little did they know that I would be sitting in the US ambassador's residence telling the story three days later. And now I am writing about it.

Gordon Burck is a consultant on chemical disarmament in Alexandria VA. He worked for the Slovene Red Cross in 1969-71, as a conscientious objector to the US draft.


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