Amid these signs of earlier empire, though, was the imprint of warís destruction. Like Sarajevo, Tuzla had been besieged. Curfew came at 11 p.m. Electricity and water were scarce and unpredictable. Most buildings had faces fiercely pocked from shelling. And vacant lots saw new tenancy-the unlikely duo of vegetable gardens and burial plots. The headstones in these impromptu graveyards bore names that reflected Tuzla's multiethnic citizenry. On some headstones were Orthodox or Catholic crosses, while others were inscribed with the Koranís opening verses, but all conformed to a generic Bosnian style that came into use during the war: a plain rectangular marker, hewn of wood or stone.
Fleischer lodged with a Croatian family, and his driver-interpreter, Sasha, was a Bosnian Serb whose mother was Muslim. Intermarriage is not uncommon among Bosnians of different religious backgrounds, Fleischer notes, estimating that one in four Bosnians are products of such mixed marriages. But the war has forced citizens to stop simply calling themselves Bosnians. Instead, they must choose a label of Serb, Croat, or Muslim. As Fleischer observes: "The way a lot of people say it is, 'The war eliminated space for normal people.'"
Election day-Saturday, September 14, 1996-dawned chilly and damp. Voting began at 7 a.m. The election process called for cooperation between national and international organizations. Bosnian election chairs, appointed by their local election commissions, actually ran the polling stations. Fleischer and the other internationally appointed supervisors were there to assist the local chairs, serving as experts on election rules.
Fleischer found that the Bosnians-both in running the polling stations and in casting their votes-showed determination and goodwill. Large numbers of people turned out to vote, but making the elections process work required dedication: When they arrived at their polling locations, thousands found that, by a mistake not their own, their names did not appear on official voting lists.
By 11 a.m. on election day, about 150 people had voted at one of Fleischerís tiny polling stations, while an additional 20 or so had been turned away by election chairs.
"All were known to have been longtime residents," Fleischer says. But, he explains, the list of registered voters was based on 1991 voting rolls, and the populationís composition and distribution had changed dramatically since then. Many people had died, moved, or been evacuated during the war. Everyone was supposed to re-register for the 1996 elections, but the updates didnít always make it to the lists in time. So, following the advice of their election chairs, determined citizens stood in lines at city hall for hours, waiting for stamped approvals saying they could vote. Polls were to close at 7 p.m.; but Fleischer learned at 6 p.m. that his five downtown stations were to stay open until 11 that night to accommodate the newly approved voters.
Next there was a crisis at the counting center. When Fleischer arrived there at 8:30 p.m., after closing his one rural polling station, he found the Bosnian election chairs lined up outside in the cold, bearing large, plastic, color-coded bags of ballots that were sealed with tamper-proof, numbered plastic seals. Inside the counting station were only two people: an international election officer, standing aloof and apparently at a loss, and a Bosnian woman from city hall, who sat diligently recording the ballot bags, noting each seal number. No one had realized how long it would take to process the bags.
The Bosnian election chairs lined up outside were receiving only 50 German marks for their long day of work, and some had not eaten for 18 hours, yet they were not to leave the counting station until their ballot bags had been received and recorded. As time wore on and more polls closed for the evening, the election chairs continued to queue outdoors, growing increasingly cold and restless. Finally, a couple of international election supervisors managed to organize six more counting tables. Even so, the initial processing of ballot bags took until 2:30 a.m. The actual counting of the ballots would take another four days.
The three officials in Bosniaís tripartite presidency have barely met since being elected in September 1996, notes Fleischer, who traveled to Prijedor in the Republica Srpska in fall 1997 to supervise the much better-organized municipal elections. In fact, Fleischer says in retrospect, the 1996 elections were premature, as key provisions of the Dayton accords had not been met. The elections themselves also were poorly organized. "The Bosnians," he says, "were keenly conscious that elections were being rammed down their throats prematurely, and their expectations were not very high."
Nevertheless, he says, the 1996 elections were valuable to the Bosnian people as a kind of ritual. "However bad things may get in the future, they have at least taken the first step away from the war and its horrors-and the limbo in which the aftermath of war placed them," he observes. "Most people feel, 'We might not be a viable country yet, but we have gone through the process of establishing the democratic institutions of a country that is no longer at war.'"
Fleischer remembers vividly how eager people in Bosnia were in 1996 to use the elections as an entry into a postwar reality. "As soon as I arrived in Tuzla, I was immediately impressed by peopleís determination to have a good time-that's one of the things that Tuzlans were famous for-and to get a life, a normal life, despite the horrors they had been through," he says. "The war and its history is very much a part of life; people donít avoid it. They say, 'It's over, and I survived, and I want to have fun.'"
Out for a walk on his first night in town, Fleischer noticed that the Hotel Tuzla boasted a rarity: a section of sidewalk not destroyed by the war. On it were four or five children using the intact section of concrete-to Rollerblade. Recalls Fleischer, ìI somehow found that very moving."