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New Europe

Day Seventeen: Sarajevo to Dubrovnik

Michael Palin - New EuropeThe school is in pretty bad shape. It's barely recovered from being hit by NATO planes, which after three years' vacillation finally began their attack on Serb positions in 1995. It was built for 600 children, but now only 120 attend. Many young families couldn't wait for the firing to stop before moving away from Trnovo, leaving behind a ghost town whose population is predominantly over sixty-five.

For Dijana and Genesis this is the sort of challenge they relish. They've bussed in thirty Bosniak children from a nearby school to swell the audience and to mix the communities. They all get on fine, the way children do.

And the show is terrific. It takes the form of a trial and the judge asks the children to be the jury. Up pops a landmine, a green puppet with mad-staring eyeballs, sharp teeth and a long yellow neck. This is followed by a grenade, which arrives with a very realistic whizz and explosion. A fat friendly Bumble Bee is especially popular with the children. He tells them that landmines can be moved by water, relevant in a country that has so many rivers and streams. Cat has brought Mouse before the court because he has a gun in his house. The children are encouraged to tell Mouse all the things that are wrong with playing with a pistol.

It's all done with noise and energy, and for a grim subject, a great deal of humour. The children sit entranced.

The good news from Dijana is that the rate of accidents from mines is falling each year. In 2005 there were nineteen victims throughout BiH, so far in 2006 eight people have been killed and four seriously wounded. The bad news is she reckons it will be seventy years before they can safely till every field and pick herbs in every forest again.

As we drive south and east we enter the increasingly wild and desolate landscape of the Trebisnjica valley. The rain pours down from a big, black threatening sky and the settlements become increasingly few and far between. At a roadside restaurant surrounded by low gnarled pine scrub our arrival stirs a big dog, as black as the sky, to a fury of barking and clanging as it twists and turns in its chains.

The weather and the scenery become even more apocalyptic as the mountains rise around us and the cloud and rain thicken. It's night by the time we reach the Republika Srpska border and a few hundred yards further on the red chequer flag announces our return to Croatia.
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  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Seventeen: Sarajevo to Dubrovnik
  • Country/sea: Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Place: Trnovo
  • Book page no: 46

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