Our plane lands at night—a disconcertingly mild February night—and there's hardly any snow to be seen. And no sign of mountains. And the city, ancient Sarajevo, capital of the Yugoslavian republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, seems about as exotic as Fort Wayne. All around are high-rise apartments and lots of auto traffic. The murk of pollution, which contains more than a hint of garlic, obliterates the stars. This place will be the site of the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Outside the airport a smiling man separates himself from the unsmiling throng. He's wearing a black blazer and a fur cap. He is short, round as a rubber ball and almost as bouncy. He offers us hail-fellow handshakes that are as meaty as those of any Indiana Rotarian. This is Pavle Lukaƒá, 52, press chief of the Sarajevo Olympics and a longtime political journalist who has covered the U.N. for Yugoslav papers and lived for years in Canada. He's the epitome of Balkan boosterism, as he speaks in an exuberant shout: "Hallo! Oho! You are here! Welcome! How do you like my blazer? I have bought it in Los Angeles used for $12. It doesn't look that inexpensive, does it? I think not." Certainly not. Pavle wears the $12 blazer every day that we are in Sarajevo. It's a nice fit. Perhaps it was once owned by Peter Lorre.
Lukaƒá is relentless in his optimism. "All is on schedule, all is O.K.," he says. "There's plenty of snow in the mountains, beautiful cold snow. All of our facilities are well under way. They will be finished before 1982 is over. I guarantee it. You will see by daylight."
An Olympics in Sarajevo? Some feel there's reason for doubt. Just before we left for Yugoslavia, a Viennese journalist told us with an imperious curl of the lip, "They are Balkan. They will never put it together. They can organize nothing. Their greatest moment in history came about only through the acts of fops and fools."
Well, the history of Sarajevo runs back some 40 centuries, and its hustling old town is alive with vestiges of the diverse civilizations—from the ancient Illyrians to medieval Turks to the 19th century grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the jackbooted brutalities of Nazi Germany to the socialism of Josip Broz Tito. Yet, despite the comings and goings of all the above, Sarajevo's single most notable moment occurred on June 28, 1914—St. Vitus Day—when an assassin killed Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife and ignited World War I.
Sarajevo is quite happy to take credit where credit is due, mainly because the locals consider the assassinations to have been a patriotic act. On the street corner from which the gunman fired, one can place his feet in shoe prints embedded in the sidewalk concrete precisely where the killer stood—just as one might stand in the footprints of Tyrone Power or Myrna Loy at Mann's [formerly Grauman's] Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The bridge across the street from the spot where the gunman fired is named after the assassin, Gavrilo Princip, and there's a plaque nearby that describes the killer as an "initiator of liberty."
Initiator of liberty? Well, what about the fops and fools mentioned by the scornful Viennese? How one describes Princip and his comrades, it seems, depends on one's point of view. But one thing is sure: It's impossible to fully appreciate Sarajevo—then or now—without knowing at least the bare outline of that bizarre act.
Princip, a frail, neurotic, 19-year-old student, was one of seven conspirators, Serbian nationalists who were opposed to the Austro-Hungarian rule, scattered along the route to be followed by the archduke's 1910 Gr√§f und Stift, a huge, open touring car. They were muzzy youngsters, armed with bombs, revolvers and vials of cyanide with which to commit suicide if captured. The car rolled past the first and the second would-be assassin. Not a shot was fired, not a bomb thrown. The third heaved his bomb. It flew high and wide, missing the archduke by a large margin before it exploded, wounding a passenger in the car behind the archduke's. The sound of the bomb blast led Princip and three other conspirators farther down the street to believe that the archduke had had it. They relaxed and then gaped in disbelief as the Gr√§f und Stift sped past them with Franz Ferdinand sitting in back, alive and well and angry as hell about the bomb.
The motorcade proceeded to the town hall where the archduke made a speech and debated with the military governor of the province whether it was safe to continue his drive through the streets. Incredibly, Franz Ferdinand and his wife got back in the car, although the military governor decreed that, as a precaution, the motorcade would deviate from the announced route by going straight along the Miljacka river instead of making a turn opposite a certain bridge.
While these decisions were being made, Princip, baffled and unhappy, hung around a smoke-filled coffee house and then wandered back onto the street at precisely the moment that the archduke's car again approached the soon-to-be-fateful street corner across from the soon-to-be-renamed bridge. Princip still had his revolver and he pulled it out. He was a poor shot, and had the archduke's auto continued past Princip, his bullet would almost surely have missed. However, there was confusion in the motorcade. The driver of the car ahead of the archduke's hadn't been informed of the change in the route and he turned when he should have continued along the Appel Quay. Puzzled, the archducal chauffeur braked and brought the big touring car to a stop, directly before Princip.
Planting his feet as we see them today, the assassin took aim, fired and hit the archduke in the jugular and his wife in the abdomen.
"We have been known for Franz Ferdinand for many years," says Lukaƒá, "but now we'll be known for the Olympic Games. That's quite different, hey?" He then lowers his voice. "Of course, Franz Ferdinand won't be forgotten. You can see that 1984 is the 70th anniversary of the assassination. We will not let it pass without notice. It will be wrapped in with the Olympic festivities. We could never ignore it."
By daylight we embark on a tour of the Olympic sites. The sky is blue, and through the brownish smog that lies over the city, we can see the looming splendor of the Dinaric Alps, snow covered and cold as promised. We drive high above town to the dazzling steeps of Jahorina where some of the ski races will be held and to Trebevic where the bobsled and luge run are being built. It's biting cold and the bob-luge workmen swig deeply from bottles of crystal-clear slivovitz.
Sarajevo is a hard-driving, thriving industrial metropolis of 450,000 people, its outskirts filled with cranes and partly completed buildings. The newer sections are raw and unattractive, yet there's none of the bleak and oppressive mood of some other cities of socialist Eastern Europe. Sarajevo seems buoyant, almost jaunty, particularly in the narrow cobbled streets of the old town.
Sarajevo's 50,000-seat soccer stadium has already been renovated for the Olympics, the main ice skating arena is rising steadily from a sea of mud, and excavation for the speed skating venue has begun. The impression is of inexorable, unstoppable progress. Plainly, the cynical Slavophobe in Vienna was wrong.
We visit the brand-new Serbia Hotel in Ilidza, just outside Sarajevo, where 30 executives of ABC-TV (which bought the U.S. TV rights to the '84 Winter Games for $91.5 million) have gathered for seminars with Yugoslav and other European television folk. Marvin Bader, vice-president for Olympic Operations at ABC, is certifiably one of the planet's most knowledgeable experts on staging an Olympics. Sarajevo will be his seventh Games, and Bader's opinion of the Yugoslav operation is one of utter admiration. "This is as squared-away a group as I've ever dealt with," he says.
An ABC producer rushes up to ask if anyone knows which players the New York Mets have traded the day before to Cincinnati for George Foster. We say no, and he turns away disappointedly until a fellow ABC man pipes up loudly with the names—Alex Trevi√±o, Greg Harris and Jim Kern. Asked how he obtained this information in Bosnia-Herzegovina, he says with a casual shrug, "I called SportsPhone in New York."
There has been almost as little news about the '84 Olympics going out of Sarajevo as there have been reports about the Mets coming in. However, one story that got some play in the West dealt with—shades of Lake Placid!—a transportation foul-up. It occurred in December when a group of International Olympic Committee delegates, including IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, were due in Sarajevo to inspect the facilities. Samaranch & Co. were supposed to fly directly from Zurich to Sarajevo but were forced to land in Belgrade because of fierce winds. As Lukaƒá explains it, "We are on a valley floor between high mountains, so we are closed in like a kettle. Sometimes high winds whirl around the kettle, sometimes thick fog drops down. We do have problems at the airport, yes we do."
A couple of hours after arriving in Belgrade, roughly half of the IOC party, including Samaranch, was loaded aboard another plane that flew into Sarajevo with no trouble. The rest of the committee members were taken to a cold and rattly night train—no food, no sleeping compartments, no effective heating system. Eleven hours later, blue-lipped with cold, that group arrived in Sarajevo. Samaranch said crankily at a press conference, "We were in trouble getting to Sarajevo this week and we understand it frequently happens that way. We have to think of the problem that would arise if the airport were closed by bad weather during the Games."
Contingency plans for the Olympics have been made to use airports in Mostar, 80 miles away, and Belgrade, 220 miles away, and to connect those cities to Sarajevo with good, fast trains—"full of color TV and excellent food," says Lukaƒá—should the Sarajevo airport be closed. Lukaƒá points out that the day the IOC delegation had its unpleasant trip was a dire one for the Yugoslav airline. "We had just got word that a Yugoslav charter had crashed off Corsica with 178 aboard," he says. "Our system was in emergency. It was a terrible coincidence. Any other time, without that accident, we would've had no problem."
Ahmed Karabegoviƒá, 47, the secretary general of the Sarajevo Olympic Organizing Committee, is a far cry from the image of your average Eastern European sports official. Karabegoviƒá is slim and graceful and as sleekly barbered as Pete Rozelle. He's elegantly garbed in a brown velvet suit with flared trousers. We gather in his carpeted office and seat ourselves on modish overstuffed furniture covered in shades of beige and brown (very similar to Rozelle's office furniture), and we speak by means of the translations of a young woman from Sarajevo who graduated from high school in Chicago.
We ask if the citizens of Sarajevo are pleased with the Olympics. Karabegoviƒá issues a beaming I'm-very-glad-you-asked-that smile and says that last December a special referendum was held in which Sarajevans voted on whether to give a percentage of their salaries—"a self-contribution" of 2% over four years—to underwrite part of the cost of the Games. No less than 89% of eligible voters turned out, says Karabegoviƒá, and of them 96% voted yes. "It's one thing to talk in favor of something," he says, "but it is quite different to actually give money out of your pocket."
The overall cost of the Sarajevo Olympics will be close to $170 million. Roughly $60 million will come from Yugoslav government sources—about one-third from the city of Sarajevo, one-third from the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and one-third from the other republics that make up Yugoslavia. There have been rumors that politicians from the other republics had balked at putting up funds for Games that would mainly benefit Sarajevo and Bosnia. Karabegoviƒá replies easily that the leaders of other republics hadn't questioned if they should contribute funds to the Olympics, but which funds should be earmarked.
Karabegoviƒá says that the $110 million needed to fill out the Olympic budget will come from TV rights money (two-thirds of ABC's $91.5 million goes to the Sarajevo committee, one-third to the IOC) and from various marketing and merchandising deals made with corporations from Western Europe, Japan and the U.S. But how is it that a socialist nation is so ready to join hands with the forces of capitalism? "Where the Olympics is concerned," Karabegoviƒá says gently, "the most important element is business. As you know, sports are meant to be liberated from all political influence. So we have no problem with doing Olympic business with corporations. The symbol of the Games is important to corporations. They want the Olympic symbol on their products and they are happy to pay for that. And we are happy to accept those payments."
What, if any, obstacles does the Sarajevo group expect? Karabegoviƒá pauses and then smiles and says, "We learned much about problems in Lake Placid. I felt sorry for the people of Lake Placid. I learned from them, however. I was in a bus with many IOC dignitaries on the way to the opening ceremony. The bus couldn't go on its intended route. I and others left the bus and ran on foot to the stadium. It was a good lesson. Things are much more complex in a city like Sarajevo. There are rush hours and heavier traffic. But we are optimistic that Lake Placid won't be repeated here."
Unlike the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Sarajevo Olympics are by no means in the hands of amateurs. No, the 1984 Winter Games seem—for now, at least—to be under the direction of determined professionals.
Lukaƒá pulls himself up, and says, "Because the 1988 Olympics are to be in Korea and in Canada and the Summer Games of 1984 in Los Angeles, our Games will be the last in Europe for the next decade. We want to prove that Sarajevo is the best. We need tourism. We are a poor country. We take this very gravely, a matter almost of life and death, you might say."
In short, the kind of occasion Sarajevo thrives on.