Not only were lives and buildings destroyed by the four-year Bosnian war, the economy was decimated. What international companies was going to invest in a country torn by ethnic violence, widespread corruption and uncertainty?
The move to privatization that happened in the years immediately after the war widened the gap between the rich and the poor. People with money had power and politicians in all sectors used their political influence to fill their pockets. A political appointment was a ticket to financial influence. Bribery was common and almost accepted by everyone. The tripartite government that was born after the war was/is cumbersome and inefficient.
While I was working in Bosnia from 1998 to 2009, it was not uncommon for nurses or teachers or doctors to go several weeks without receiving their pay. The government leaders claimed lack of resources as they drove around the country in black SUV’s with a police escort. Government workers were threatened with losing their jobs if they did not show up to work despite not being paid. It astounded me that there was not more backlash from the mistreated workers.
For a few years, this may have been chalked up to a post-war recovery process. But it appears that things have gotten worse in the past few years.
Depending on the source, it is claimed that there is 25 to 40 per cent unemployment now in Bosina. Young adults are particularly hard hit. Poverty and boredom and hopelessness are a bad combination that can lead to unrest. Last week in Bosnia the tension boiled over and protests in many cities turned violent with government buildings being burned, police using tear gas and several people injured.
I can’t say that I blame the protesters for being fed up with corrupt and ineffective governments. But I deplore the vandalism that is particularly sad when it takes place on the streets so recently destroyed by war and so painstakingly rebuilt. Sometimes it feels like this country is bent on self-destruction.
I have been been making plans to travel back go Bosnia this spring. I would really like to reconnect with all the friends that I met while worked there. I had visions of sunny afternoons in a street cafe in old Sarajevo or overlooking the Neretva river from the reconstructed bridge in Mostar.
The images of police cars burning on streets that were so familiar to me have stunned me. My immediate thoughts were to postpone my return to Bosnia this May. But 24 hours of reflection have calmed my thoughts. Will I go? Of course, I will!
When I look at the news photos that I have posted here, I realize that many were all taken within a few blocks of each other. (I used to enjoy my lunch at a restaurant that is about a block from these burning cars.) The images are dramatic for sure. Disturbing. But are they representative of how 99.9% of Bosnia looked at those moments?
I know lots of sensible and peace-loving Bosnians in all districts. Did people stop coming to Toronto when images of the 2010 riots in Toronto at the G-20 conference hit the news?
I remember bringing some Bosnian colleagues to Canada for a study visit in the midst of the SARS epidemic that was getting widespread global news coverage. Did they back out in fear? No.
I booked my ticket this week. I will avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations and If things are too unstable I will relocate to neighbouring Croatia. Look here in May to see how I make out and what I find when I revisit Bosnia and Herzegovina.
By the way, where was the photo below taken???