Television review – The Guardian, 16 December 1991

Love and war in Croatia

24 Hours in Tuzla (BBC1)

At the beginning it seemed almost fun. "We thought it would only last a few days, and we even did a joke video with me acting as a Croatian news announcer." There was a clip from this video, Jasmina giggling over her script in the cellar where her family shelter from the bombs and shells. "From war torn Osijek, Jasmina O. reporting. We're here with the hard drinkers in the Little Paradise. Bombs are falling and the drink is flowing. But the drunkards here won't give up."

Jasmina says it doesn't seem so funny now. Her boyfriend Nikola is a Serb, and Serbs and Croats used to be able to mix in Osijek. Before the war started and the town was girdled by the Serb-led army, he went to Belgrade to work. They have not seen each other for four months. Nikola spends hours trying to phone her.  David Ash's '24 Hours in Tuzla' (Everyman, BBC1) is the story of how Jasmina and Nikola got together for a brief time out of war. In its microcosmic way, it is the most coherent impression of this internecine madness I have yet seen.

It has archive film of the Ustashe, the 1940s fascists who seemed to offer a hope of independence for Croatia but collaborated with the Nazis; for Serbs, a fearful folk memory. It has footage of a hospital just bombed by a Federal MIG, and some vox pops from the streets of Belgrade. "We Serbs are not a hating people. All the hatred comes from the other side." "We have to fight to the last man. There is no other way."

It does not look like Beirut; not yet. It is more like watching old newsreels of Madrid or Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War. There is the same feeling that it is all improvised, an inadequately rehearsed tragedy. It's easy to call these lovers starcrossed and invoke Romeo and Juliet. Their families have warned them, Nikola's friends have told him "Find another girl". And there is one moment of romantic abandon as they meet at Tuzla bus station in neutral Bosnia. But this is not a family feud. This is the unravelling of history, as though while Brussels and Bonn and Paris knit furiously, a malign demon is clawing apart the other end of the fabric.

To BFI Film + TV databaseTo BBC OnlineDavid Ash, producer-director

Television documentaries by British programme maker David Ash

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