Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Bosnia Daily Features 'Blue Helmets and Black Markets'

January 3, 2011

Sarajevo's leading daily newspaper, Oslobodjenje, last week began publishing a series of lengthy excerpts from Professor Peter Andreas’s Blue Helmets and Black Markets: The Business of Survival in the Siege of Sarajevo (Cornell University Press, 2008), in the run-up to the book’s publication in the Bosnian language later this year.
Here is an excerpt from the book’s introduction:
“Inside the UN-run airport in besieged Sarajevo hung a makeshift sign: Maybe Airlines. Along the edges of the sign, aid workers, journalists, and diplomats had posted stickers – CNN, ITN, CBS, RTL, MSF, VOX, UNICEF, the French flag, the Canadian flag, the Swedish flag, and so on. Above the sign was a piece of plywood with the word ‘destinations’ handwritten at the top, with a changeable placard below (the placard choices included New York, Geneva, Rome, Berlin, Zagreb, Paris, and Heaven).
‘Maybe Airlines’ was the nickname given to the unreliable UN flights in and out of wartime Sarajevo – the longest-lasting airlift ever attempted and the centerpiece of the international humanitarian response to the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Meanwhile, underneath the airport tarmac ran a narrow and damp 800-meter tunnel that bypassed both UN controls and the siege lines. Protected from Serb shelling and sniper fire, thousands of people and tons of food, arms, and other supplies moved through the underground passageway every day (which the UN pretended did not exist), providing both a vital lifeline for the city and an enormous opportunity for black market profiteering.
While the UN airlift was part of the highly visible front stage of the siege, the tunnel was part of the much less visible but equally important backstage action. Together, they helped Sarajevo survive for over three and a half years, setting a siege longevity record.
The 1992-95 battle for Sarajevo was not only the longest siege in modern history but also the most internationalized – an urban magnet for aid workers, diplomats, UN ‘Blue Helmet’ soldiers, journalists, artists, celebrities, peace activists, adventure seekers, embargo busters, and black market traders.
Sarajevo under siege became the most visible and recognizable face of post-Cold War ‘ethnic conflict’ and humanitarian intervention. At the same time, the less visible and less recognized face of the siege included aid diversion, clandestine commerce, and peacekeeper corruption... and for well-placed black market entrepreneurs on all sides the siege conditions assured a captive market with highly inflated profits. ...”