After the war
Bosnia and Herzegovina, more commonly known as Bosnia, used to be a part of former Yugoslavia and went through one of the most horrific genocides in 1992. Since the war, Bosnia has had one of the highest poverty rates in the world and an unemployment rate of 15%.

This article examines the perspectives of three Bosnian women from different generations and how difficult it is or was for them to get a good education, proper healthcare or make a comfortable living after the war. Naska is a 64-year-old retired house cleaner who has lived in Bosnia all her life. Elma is 40-year-old working as a dialysis nurse in the Nakas General Hospital in Sarajevo. And finally, Adna is a 20-year-old currently attending The Academy of Fine Arts in Sarajevo.

Living in Bosnia Now

Naska was only 38 when the war started. She was born and raised in Sarajevo and still lives in her old childhood home in the middle of the city. She says living on a pension fund in Bosnia is very difficult. She receives only 300 marks, which is equal to $182 a month. “If I didn’t receive help from my sister back in the United States I would not have enough to pay for all my groceries. I’m really lucky because my friends do not have family away to help and it gets really hard, especially in the winter.” The retirement age in Bosnia is 60 years, but due to health issues Naska was forced to retire early. In our interview, Naska explained that there was a train she used to take on her way to school when she was young. The station she used was bombed during the war and has not been repaired or rebuilt since 1995. She says that times felt happier before the war; her and her neighbors are tired of seeing constant reminders of the worst time of their lives.

Elma was in elementary school during the Bosnian War. She attended class in a basement with her friends. In Bosnia, after secondary school students are required to pick a specialty in high school that they carry on through university. Elma has been studying medicine since she was 16 and works in one of only two state hospitals in Sarajevo. A registered nurse for close to 10 years now, Elma believes that the healthcare system is not the same as it was before. Bosnia has a shortage of good healthcare professionals, and the private sector for medical supplies has taken over hospitals causing treatment to become more expensive for residents. Not only has the healthcare system gotten worse after the war, the possibility of finding a decent job has also worsened. “I have been applying for a job at hospitals for five years now. I could not even get an interview. [My mom] called me a year ago to tell me that her friend has an open position in his hospital. I honestly believe that if it was not for him I would not have a job right now.” Elma thanks her mother for a lot of the good things in her life. She says before finding a long-term job, she worked part-time night shifts at a nursing home and her husband’s job wasn’t stable either. They both live in the apartment her parents had bought previously so they have the luxury of not worrying about paying rent, only utility and groceries. Elma feels her life right now is good, but she worries this could change at any moment.

Adna was born in Sarajevo in 2000. She doesn’t know much about life before the war, only what her parents have told her. She told me in the interview that students in Bosnia don’t learn about the war in schools and everything they know about it comes from stories that get passed down. Her parents tell her it’s because the country is still in mourning and it’s hard for people to talk about what happened. The education system is very different in Bosnia compared to the United States. Primary school lasts for nine years while high school lasts for four. University education can take up to three to five years depending on the college. When I called her to talk one of the first questions I asked was if going to college was worth it. She said, “It depends. It is hard to find a job here with a degree, but it is also hard to find one without. Everybody knows that you need connections to find long lasting jobs. I have plenty of friends who have graduated college and work waitressing job for three years now. My cousin graduated with a sports medicine degree and had a friend who worked at this clinic in the city, but after six months she was let go because it was too expensive to keep her.” Her cousin now works at a boutique in the city’s mall.

COVID-19 in Bosnia

Working in a hospital during COVID-19 hasn’t been the easiest for Elma, but she does applaud her hospital for taking the necessary precautions. At her job, it is mandatory for workers to enter a tent before they enter the building to have their temperatures checked and get sterilized. Then workers must put on a suit complete with additional masks and gloves before being allowed to begin their shift. The only time workers can take the suit off is while they’re eating and after their shift when they are required to take a mandatory shower, change clothes and exit the hospital from the opposite side. Every night she comes home she is exhausted and says that there is too much work to do, but just not enough people to help. However, Elma, Naska and Adna all agree on one thing: the government is too corrupt to do anything that will help the people. And there is evidence that backs them up.

A scandal hit the news about Bosnia’s Prime Minister Fadil Novalic and his involvement with fake ventilators. The government had given $5 million to the Civil Protection firm of Bosnia to buy a hundred ventilators from China. When the ventilators arrived, officials were quick to learn that they were useless and not equipped to handle the virus. The Prime Minister and Head of the Civil Protection firm were arrested on charges of fraud and money laundering on top of an embezzlement charge.

Life in Bosnia has not been easy after the war. The government is ranked 101 out of 180 countries on the Corruption Perception Index and citizens of Bosnia hold out hope that times will change, especially those who remember life before the war. It is very clear however, that life in Bosnia is a long way away from where it used to be.

Hena Pejdah
Photo: Flickr

Facts About the Bosnian War
Bosnia has a varied and long history full of interesting facts, such as how it used to be part of the Republic of Yugoslavia. A fascinating event of this country was the Bosnian War. These 15 facts about the Bosnian War highlight essential parts of one of the most intriguing periods in the country’s history.

15 Facts About the Bosnian War

  1. After declaring its independence, Bosnia was multiethnic. Its most prominent groups were Muslim Bosniaks (44 percent), Orthodox Serbs (31 percent) and Catholic Croats (17 percent). However, a four-year war followed the country’s independence, when the Bosnian Serbs attacked Sarajevo, targeting mainly the Muslims. They also carried out ethnic cleansing across the countryside.
  2. The United Nations helped both parties agree to a peace treaty in 1995 called the Dayton Peace Agreement. This agreement preserves Bosnia as a single state conformed by the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serb Republic. To date, the U.N. has also convicted more than 70 men of war crimes.
  3. Bosnian Croat soldiers became prisoners during the war after their surrender on Vlasic, a central Bosnian mountain. Approximately 700 of them, as well as 7,000 Croat civilians, fled to Serb-held territories after the massacre that occurred on this mountain.
  4. In 1993, Miss Besieged Sarajevo stood up against war by unfolding a banner that read, “Don’t let them kill us.” Her name is Inela Nogic, and she was 17 years old at the time. The song “Eve of Destruction” was playing when she and 12 other teenagers got on the pageant stage and unfolded the banner. This demonstration served as a representation for 380,000 people living in Sarajevo during that time and their wish to continue their normal lives despite the war and conflict.
  5. Goran Jelisic was a Serb police officer who the U.N. and International Criminal Tribunal of the former Yugoslavia convicted of murder, cruel treatment, plunder and inhumane acts. He even called himself the “Serb Adolf” in 1992. He systematically killed Muslims, hurt women and stole from prisoners, amongst other things. He finally received a sentence of 40 years in prison for his war crimes.
  6. Srebrenica Memorial Cemetery buried more than 6,500 bodies after the bodies received identification from mass graves in Eastern Bosnia. In 2012, the mass burial re-grouped 615 bodies in that year alone. Even though it is a memorial now, it began as a cemetery that former president Bill Clinton opened in 2003. The cemetery initially buried 600 sets of remains.
  7. Even 20 years after the start of the Bosnian War, there is still a deep division between ethnicities. Mostar is an excellent example, where Croats hold the west bank and Muslim Bosniaks hold the east. Co-existence is uncomfortable to the point where they resist international efforts of reintegration. They even have two different fire brigades for each side, and all divisions are obvious.
  8. An appeal court sentenced Radovan Karadzic, a former Bosnian Serb leader, to life in prison for his role in the Bosnian War. It charged him with genocide and the killing of over 7,000 Muslims. Even though they were originally only going to convict him for 40 years, the judges increased it to a life sentence. They claimed the tribunal chamber had initially “abused its discretion,” and the chief prosecutor said that finally, his victims saw a consequence for Karadzic’s actions.
  9. In April 2012, Sarajevo lined over 11,000 red chairs on its main avenue, Titova Street. These chairs symbolized the victims on the 20th anniversary of the War. There was also a choir and a classical orchestra that performed songs that were mostly from wartime.
  10. Even though this was the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II, the U.N. barely interfered. Its only interference was that occasionally the U.N. Protection Force sent troops.
  11. The War had devastating effects on people’s health, mostly because of a lack of food and supplies as well as displacement. Ethnic cleansing led to significant shifts and movements, which increased people’s vulnerability to illness and even death. By September 1993, the War resulted in the killing, wounding or displacement of over half a million people. Bosnia’s health system was not capable of attending to these issues or even basic needs.
  12. Bosnia’s demographic structure is in constant flux, including more and more vulnerable populations, such as those that are either too young, old or weak to escape. During the War, studies suggested that the proportion of children and the elderly increased, affecting public health since these individuals were more susceptible to external factors.
  13. As a result of ethnic cleansing among other things, the war forced 21 to 76 percent of the population to move. Many of these shifts were towards communities with significant refugee populations. In places such as Banjaluka and the Eastern Bosnian enclaves, displaced people amounted to over 50 percent of the population.
  14. In addition to food, there was also water scarcity. Before the war, Sarajevo’s water consumption was approximately 200 liters per person per day. The water pumping stations used an electrical system for power. However, during the war, electricity was only available intermittently, if at all. This occurrence, in turn, severely impacted water distribution. In July 1993, Sarajevo rationed water to between two and three liters per person per day.
  15. Before the War, Bosnia mostly relied on natural gas to heat buildings. However, during the War, the pipelines shut down. Fortunately, a project supported by foreign aid was able to reconnect 20,000 people in Sarajevo with the natural gas pipeline, restoring the minimum pressure of one bar by November 1993.

Even though the war is over, Bosnia still experiences deep ethnic divisions. These 15 facts about the Bosnian War highlight the main takeaways and lessons from the war to avoid a similar conflict in the future.

– Johanna Leo
Photo: Flickr