Since I have returned from my visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, my first in five years, I have been asked many times “What has changed since you were there last?” I have been surprised to have to say, “Not much.”
I worked in Bosnia on and off from 1998 to 2009. I came to be very familiar with much of the country but was usually based in Sarajevo, a second home for me for a few years. It was in the relatively immediate post-war period so there were a lot of international dollars being spent in recovery in one way or another. Every time I returned, there would be some obvious changes – new roofs on buildings that were damaged during the conflict, people moving back into neighborhoods that had been demolished by war. Many of the locals were being employed or supported in some way by the recovery efforts. Recovery was the industry but many of those programs had a ten year lifespan. Ours went for about 15 years, but like the others, the money to maintain it was doled out over a fixed term and once that was done, we withdrew and our local associates needed to find other sources of income.
So now, five years later, it seems like the country is once again stalled. The one area where there has been more development is in the tourism sector. Of course, during the post war period, tourists, except for very curious and courageous ones, were not coming to Bosnia. Now it seems that industry is stuck or even declined and tourism is the only sector that is in some way flourishing. This is true of the Croatian coast as well.
Hotels have been fixed up and are quite presentable, comfortable and not expensive. When I first went to Bosnia in 1998, there was no internet or banks or computers. Now the coffee shops and hotels all have WiFi, there are ATM’s on all city streets and credit cards are accepted widely.
The people are a bit frustrated. In fact, there have been some demonstrations throughout the country protesting lack of economic security.
To add to the economic woes, in the last week the region has received record rainfall – three months worth of rain in three days – with resulting catastrophic flooding and landslides causing havoc, destruction and loss of life. It has been estimated that 40% of the country has been affected by flooding and damage exceeds 2 billion dollars, money that Bosnia doesn’t have. The flooding has uncovered or exposed buried land mines left over from the war, adding to the disaster and many are without safe drinking water. Thousands have again been made homeless.
An election scheduled for the fall but there is skepticism that anything significant will (or can) change. In the next few months there will be a lot of mopping up to do. Bosnians are, once again, facing the challenges of coping with recovery – financial, infrastructure and political. They will need some help.