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