You Can't Just Buy Peace Here...If You Want It To Last

In Gornji Vakuf's Federation Bar, two youths are finishing up a game of chess. "Checkmate, you're dead!" the Muslim says, raking his Croat buddy with make-believe machine-gun fire. "Just as well we're only playing, eh?"

The dive's nickname is an ironic nod to the Croat-Muslim Federation, the U.N.-brokered statelet that now occupies nearly half of newly partitioned Bosnia and Hercegovina. Almost the only habitable building along the no-man's-land that divides this hill town, it's the one meeting place where both sides can feel easy with each other.

Of course, things weren't always this way. Even well into the Yugoslav conflict, folks here kept pretty snug in their low-rise communist-era housing units. Gornji Vakuf's factories enjoyed a reputation for precision engineering, good-quality furniture, and apparel. The last thing the 24,000 inhabitants apparently wanted was to start killing each other.

BIG STICK. Yet when the fighting finally reached Gornji Vakuf in January, 1993, the locals made up for lost time. People whose ancestors had intermingled for centuries quickly scattered to their "own" neighborhoods around the mosque and the Catholic church. For a year and a half, they blasted away at lifelong friends across the main street that served as the front line. By the time the dust lifted, nearly 1,000 lay dead. "The fighting here was different from Sarajevo," explains German U.N. social worker Ingebor Kraus. "The Sarajevans may have hated the people on the hills who were shelling them, but they never saw their faces. Here it was personal."

Too personal to forget overnight--yet the Western powers that stood by and watched for so long are asking Vakufians to do just that. The U.S. government alone has just approved $2 million to help repair the 84% of Gornji Vakuf's buildings that suffered war damage, but there are political strings attached. To help cement the new federation, funds will only be granted for "joint-use structures." In other words, if the former foes don't kiss and make up--right now--they won't get any money.

Confronting this devil's alternative, Vakufians prefer to do without the aid for now. For example, Muslim children learn their lessons in gutted shop fronts rather than cross the ceasefire line to Croat schools. Foreign relief workers, meanwhile, are urging their paymasters to compromise on funding conditions before winter really sets in. "People are making do with wood stoves and plastic sheeting across their windows," says Carol McLemore of the United Methodist Committee on Relief. "We're not allowed to put in proper heating and glass because for the next two or three years at least, only one ethnic group or another would be using the apartment blocks."

Still, back in the Federation Bar, there are signs that wounds are healing. Around one table, a group of women from both sides are holding their weekly knit-in. They started it last month as an excuse to renew old ties. By and large, the chatter flows freely, although certain subjects are avoided. "We want to be friends again," says one white-haired granny. "And we can be. But in our own time, and not just because Mr. Clinton says so."

Representatives from the U.S., the U.N., the European Union, and the Muslim world are scheduled to meet on Dec. 18-19 in Brussels to discuss exactly how the reconstruction budget for the whole of former Yugoslavia will be sliced up. Volunteers on the ground are hoping the delegates will also use the opportunity to discuss a long-term aid strategy. The carrot-and-stick model pursued in towns like Gornji Vakuf was pioneered in Mostar, where EU administrator Hans Koschnik has successfully bullied and cajoled Muslims and Croats into working together.

But no such authority exists as yet in Gornji Vakuf--and anyway, there is considerable doubt how long an imposed reconciliation would last. "Even Koschnik admits that kind of approach can only be enforced by a military presence," warns Gonzalo Vargas Llosa of the U.N. High Commission on Refugees. "We have to give Serb, Croat, and Muslim as much control over their own destinies as possible. Otherwise, when our troops leave, they'll just start shooting again."

By James Drake in Gornji Vakuf EDITED BY HARRY MAURER

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