Sunday, December 24, 2006

Gotta have a smoke

I mentioned the smoking Santas on the Ferhadija. Bosnians are big nicotine addicts. During the war the post office and library were burned, many schools, shops and businesses had to close down at least temporarily but one place that stayed up and running for the whole five years was the tobacco factory.

Cigarettes were the currency of the war. People who didn't smoke found they could cash in cigarettes for cans of fish, VCRs', anything. Soldiers were paid in food and a pack of cigarettes a day by the impoverished Bosnian army. A pack wasn't nearly enough for men plunked down in the middle of an urban war so trade was brisk.

As the war progressed the tobacco factory had to get creative. Drying leaves was not a problem. They used cellars throughout the city but there wasn't enough paper for packaging. So they began wrapping up cigarettes in newspapers. Oslobojenje (it means Liberation) was short of newsprint during the war as well and determined to come out every day printed on anything it could find. At one point, the paper came out on a sickly pink paper -- and the cigarettes wrapped in this took on a rosy tint. They used books too, apparently starting with the Marx, Lennin and socialist screeds in libraries around the city. You could buy cigarettes in little bundles tied with string or anything that would hold them together.

Sarajevans took defiant pride in how they kept going despite the siege and that meant, coffee, newspapers and cigarettes no matter what.

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