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Zetra returns to the future

by David Taylor
First published in SFOR Informer #57, March 17, 1999.

Sarajevo - In July 1992, Zetra Ice Stadium was reduced to a battered skeleton by fire and bombardments. Another symbol of Sarajevos proud links with the glory of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games had fallen to the guns of the siege. The deep cool basements and the proximity to the citys graveyards caused the building to be used as a morgue, and the days when spectators had applauded Torville and Deans medal winning figure skating seemed part of a very distant past.

In late 1995, with the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement approaching, Implementation Force (IFOR) planners identified Zetra Ice Stadium as a location which could be occupied rapidly by the ACE Rapid Reaction Corps when UNPROFOR transferred authority to IFOR.

The damage to the site necessitated the placing of many roof supports in December 1995, which then allowed various HQ units to move in. Eventually the site contained the HQ Transportation Company, POL, the Engineer Support Services, MP detachments and an indoor container city. Hundreds of personnel took up residence in what came to be known as Ice Station Zetra. I first saw it in mid 1996. Inside it looked like a backdrop for a Mad Max film: twisted girders, rubber sheeting hanging down from the spectator galleries, dozens of different types of vehicles, soldiers in uniforms from all over the world, petrol fumes and oil slicks.

Little did I know that I would be moving in myself that December. I do not think that any of the IFOR/SFOR personnel who lived there will ever forget Zetra. Amongst other peculiarities, it had its own micro-climate which ensured that weeks after the snow had melted outside, condensation of the dripping snow would keep it raining inside.

Unbeknown to those who called Zetra home, the people of Sarajevo and those members of Olympic committees in other countries with whom they had maintained links, had restoration plans for Zetra. During 1997 the local authorities and Sarajevan Olympic Committee asked SFOR for the site back on the grounds that they had obtained funding for a re-build. SFOR vacated the site in September 1997 and work began to restore the Stadium to its former glory.

This 32,000,000 DM process is now complete and Zetra Ice Stadium will officially re-open on March 30 with a programme of world famous figure skaters. The event will also mark the fifteenth anniversary of Sarajevos 1984 Olympics. The World Figure Skating Federation has guaranteed that the winners of the World Figure Skating Championships to be held in Helsinki just two days before Zetra re-opening will be there to perform.

Dignitaries from all over the world will be present for an event that will fill "Sarajevans with new self-assurance and set them on the path to conquer Olympus again to surpass everything, including themselves (Olympic Heritage Newsletter).