Bosnia Reflections – Part 4 … Renewed unrest

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.

Scenes of protests against the government in Bosnia last week . They took a violent turn.

Scenes of protests against the government in Bosnia last week . They took a violent turn.

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.

On a Sarajevo street last week.

On a Sarajevo street last week.

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.

(and for an update from my trip to BiH in 2014, the story continues here. )

By the way, where was the photo below taken???

This shot was in the news from Toronto in July 2010.  No country is immune to political demonstrations getting out  if hand.

This shot was in the news from Toronto in July 2010. No country is immune to political demonstrations getting out if hand.

Bosnia Reflections – Part 3 … Lovers, a cat and the Mozart Café

I found these two journal entries I made in September 2002 and February 2003.  I have been writing about Bosnia this week.  This one has a Valentine’s day theme … sort of.  These are notes I made 11 years ago while I was visiting there.

Bosnia and Herzegovina    September 10, 2002.

I am in Tuzla this week.

If Sarajevo is the Montreal of Bosnia, then Tuzla is its Hamilton. Not much to do here in the evenings except wander the streets with many of the rest of the people who live here.  During the day I work teaching principles of Family Medicine to local doctors.  At night I am on my own.

Last night was a bit rainy and I thought I would wander downtown for some dinner.   While I was looking for some keys in my knapsack, I came across the Stuart McLean Vinyl Café book that friends had given to me for Christmas a couple of years ago. I had brought it along with me, knowing that it would be good for short reads on the plane or while waiting for my meal in a restaurant.  I tucked it under my arm and headed out.

I ate in a restaurant called Cite del Sale, a Bosnian version of an Italian restaurant and I was actually able to order Vegetarian Lasagne – not bad in a country that sometimes seems to worship meat.  The beer, a local Tuzla variety, smelled a bit sulphury but it tasted OK.  I started into a story about Dave and Morley and Harrison Ford’s toes and smiled to myself, all the while hearing Stuart McLean’s distinctive voice tell me the tale.

AUT_8445After the meal I decided to head down to a café called Mozart that is a short stroll along the main walking street in the city. I often go there for a cappuccino in the morning – a replacement for my Canadian Starbucks habit.  The café has a small outdoor section that  was not busy since it was misting rain, another large main room and then a wicker- furnished salon at the back that  is kind of separate from the rest.  I usually sit back there in the morning and read a bit while having my coffee and at 8 am, I am often the only one there.  In the evening, I discovered,  the music is louder – sort of Euro Disco.  I wondered as I ordered my tea if I would be able to concentrate on my book.

There were three couples spread around the room.  I pulled out the Vinyl Café  and started to read.  Soon I was distracted, not by the beat of the music but by the sound of kissing which seemed to be going on all around me.  I quickly realized that I had stumbled into a make-out area of the café.  So, here I was,  a middle aged foreigner, sitting at a little table in the middle of the room, reading Stuart McLean and trying not to look up  at the couples surrounding  me who were fiercely groping at one another.  This felt worse than the week before when I had accidentally found myself in the middle of a Nudist Colony on the Adriatic coast!  But that is another story.

The stereo sound of smacking and sucking seemed to rise above the music. I was having trouble concentrating.  I casually looked up. One couple, kind of fat were making most of the noise.  The guy had a sort of Henry VIII look to him. I imagined that he makes similar noises as he tears into his chicken legs for dinner.  Another couple had ordered both coffee and coke to drink. They must have wanted to stay awake. They smooched away between drags on their cigarettes.  The third couple were in the corner and at first I thought they were having a bit of a tiff.  I decided that if I had to look up, I would gaze in their direction. Soon, unfortunately for me, true love rose to the surface and they started kissing away, the woman also chewing gum between slurps.

I thought maybe I would leave but I had ordered a veliko caj (large  tea), which came in a cup the size of a sink.  So I was stuck, feeling a  lot like a High School Hall Monitor.

Just as I was starting to feel sorry for myself, a small kitten appeared at my feet.  It was a nice little grey striped thing that was sharpening its claws on the carpet.  It started to pounce around and jump like it was being poked by an imaginary stick.  I put my hand down to play with it but as it got closer,  I noticed that its right eye was oozing and crusted and swollen shut.  I withdrew my hand, thinking that I didn’t want to catch anything. But this didn’t deter the cat.  Soon it was pouncing on my feet and grabbing at the laces of my sneakers and climbing my pant legs.  I tried to look inconspicuous, periodically shaking my  leg to detach the tiny sharp little claws from my pants.  The kissers broke apart and looked over at me as I tried unsuccessfully  to discourage the cat. I ended up downing the rest of my tea as quickly as possible and headed back to the hotel.

February 20, 2003

I am back in Tuzla.

I find the breakfast at the hotel simply annoying. It usually consists of  dry buns, scrambled eggs that have turned greenish black from sitting in the warming pan too long and “orange juice” that is a cross between Tang and Fanta , a watery orange coloured sugar water that is sometimes even effervescent.  My preference is to start the day on a more positive note, by walking to a local Pekara or bakeshop to pick up a fresh bread roll filled with cherry jam. I then  head a bit further down the street to the Mozart café for some coffee.  They don’t serve food there so they don’t mind if you bring your bun in a bag and eat it while you have your drink.  And I usually go to the Wicker room at the back of the café that I have come to view as the nocturnal lair of lust.  In the morning, however, it remains bright and cheery and almost empty.  This morning was no exception.

I ordered my coffee, pulled out a journal to read, and got the cherry bun out of the paper bag.  I put the bag on the chair beside me rather than have it obviously displayed on the table.  I was trying to be discrete about bringing food into the café although I know that this is a common practice and the waiter really doesn’t mind.

Cat 1I hadn’t counted on the rustling sound of me getting my food out of the bag to attract…the cat.  Suddenly this little grey striped beast ran from the other side of the room and jumped up on my chair to quickly begin exploring the empty bag.  Within seconds he was halfway buried into the bag.  He pulled his head out of the bag and stared up at me. We hadn’t seen each other for five months.  He had grown but was still scrawny and where his right eye should be was now a hollow socket.

Cat 2We sat together, the cat and I, reacquainting.  Periodically he would  chase the shadow of a bird on the roof, bounding over the furniture as he ran around the room.  I crumpled up the bag and he batted it around on the floor. We played and visited while I drank my coffee.  When I got up to leave, he lay back on the chair pad and cocked his head to look up at me with his good eye.  I imagined him thinking, “Nice to see you again”

cat 3This little cat has it’s niche in a café here in Tuzla.   I   travel all over but I can  still come back to find this friendly kitten here several months later.   “Strangely comforting”, I thought, “how small this world really is.”

No Phubbing please…

In the last week I have learned three new words. All of them sound like they are close to an obscenity. In some respects they are. month we were bombarded on internet news sites with Miley Cyrus doing a sexually provocative dance that I later learned is called twerking. Not being into Hannah Montana,  I didn’t exactly know who Miley Cyrus was before all this twerk hit the fan. At least I am not admitting to knowing who she was.  In my day the twist was sexually provocative.  And Elvis Presley’s hip gyrations were deemed unsuitable for the Ed Sullivan show so they only screened him from the waist up.  elvis-pelvisIt seems that the dance form is prone to pelvic thrusts and rotations as some sort of warm up to something else.  The twerk is just the latest name for something that has been around for quite a while. And Miley appears only to lack subtlety and talent rather than be doing anything new.

Today in the news it was an anti-fracking protest in New Brunswick that gained attention.  I was caught pondering WTF (what the frack) was all about.  Turns out it is some process whereby pressurized liquid is injected into rock, fracturing it and opening up small veins in the rock along which hydrocarbons and gasses can be extracted.  At least that is what I think it is.

If life hands you lemons, make lemonade. If you get salt...why not a salt lake?

If life hands you lemons, make lemonade. If you get salt…why not a salt lake?

It kind of reminds me of what I learned happened mining salt in Tuzla, Bosnia. This region had a lot of salt under the ground (Tuz, I think, is an arabic word for salt) and they had been extracting it by putting water down underground, dissolving the salt and withdrawing it.  Buildings that  had sunk right into the ground, the dissolved salt forming a kind of crater.   Whoops. The town, ever resourceful, turned the area into a salt lake for swimming and as a tourist attraction.

I don't think George W is actually phubbing. He is trying to figure it out.

I don’t think George W is actually phubbing. He is trying to figure it out.

And then there was a CBC show this week on The Current on Phubbing.  I hope I never become a  phubber.  It refers to snubbing someone in a social circumstance by paying more attention to your phone.  You know the people – the ones who take their phones out and put them down on the table beside their plate when you go out for dinner with them.  The people who suddenly are talking to someone else when you are strolling beside them.  The people who interrupt your conversation to read and answer a text from someone obviously more important than you.  I didn’t know that this  ignorant behaviour had a name to it. But now I know. And so do you.

stop phubbing - wedding card - V1There is even an anti-phubbing website ( and Facebook page (Stop.Phubbing) dedicated to pointing out and decreasing this antisocial behaviour. It has downloads for posters for restaurants or table cards you can put  out at a wedding to discourage phubbing. Something that Sage Flowers could offer, perhaps, along with the beautiful bouquets.

If I EVER Phub you, please cut me to shreds over it.  And if you EVER do it to me, you can expect the same.  I will tolerate you Fracking me and even twerking me from time to time but thumbs down on Phubbing.