MMA Long Day with Ibrahim Spahić

MMnDecember 1993

IBRAHIM SPAHIĆ WAS SITTING, waiting, at Falconara Airport, just north of Ancona, Italy, waiting, waiting, and then waiting for a spot, which is not to say a seat, on a UN cargo plane to Sarajevo.

After a while we nodded hello, then conversed, off and on, through the remaining hours.

At some point, I brought from my bags a book I had found, rather miraculously, there in Ancona, while on a hectic shopping spree for new friends in Sarajevo, which I had departed the day before.

The book was used, but in nice condition, a hardback with the dust jacket still intact, of George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, about the Spanish Civil War — translated into Serbo-Croatian.

Unable to read it, but attracted to its meanings here and now, I had bought it thinking that surely someone in Sarajevo would find it valuable and perhaps even beautiful.

So I offered it to Mr Spahić. He seemed surprised, and taken aback. But after a few moments of confused-looking thought he nodded yes, thank you, and accepted the gift.

Then he brightened -- and pulled from his bags a packet of cartolini, postcards, recently published in Sarajevo, featuring watercolors and crayon drawings made by children during the siege.

It was a gift I very gladly accepted. These postcards, these paintings and drawings, never fail to stir my heart.


Mr Spahic was then a director (perhaps the director) of the International Peace Center in Sarajevo. I've guessed that he may also have been associated with the NGO (non-governmental organization) that published the postcards — Naša Djeca, Our Children.

Below, we stand at the end of the line, the end of the journey and our day together, on the walkway (armored with shipping containers against sniper fire) that delivers passengers from the Sarajevo airfield to a spot where UN armored cars could be flagged which would taxi one through the Serb nationalist cordon and checkpoints into the besieged city.

The photo always irritates me a bit, because I look so complacent, as if I had a clue what was going on. The flight that day was my second into Sarajevo, December 17 (almost certainly), in the middle of my first visit, which began on December 9 and ended the 22nd.


In January 2012, I was happy to hear that Mr Spahić is still in Sarajevo, and still working for a number of charitable public organizations — including the annual Winter Festival, which he had told me quite a bit about the day we met.

The news of his durability brought to mind Alexander Dubcek's modest but very moving memoir, Hope Dies Last — as well as another phrase, from the same time and place, which functioned as a watchword for the opposition, both during the Prague Spring and then on into the gloom of Normalization:m"Good men still exist."

The End