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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

Poverty_in_Bosnia_Herzegovina
In 1992, a major conflict developed within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbians and Croatians living in Bosnia hoped to make the country a part of their own. Led by Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbians and Bosnians raged a violent war, resulting in over 100,000 lives lost. Years later, the remnants of the war are still inflicting damage on the citizens of Bosnia.

In total, 100 billion United States dollars worth of damage was inflicted on the country during the three-year war. Nearly half of the Bosnia-Herzegovina population fled the country following the war. This impact has been significant, making BH one of the poorest countries in Europe.

The majority of the poverty resides in rural areas, where the failures of the market economy have become evident. The damage from the war had a profound impact on the Bosnian farmers. Nearly ninety percent of their livestock were killed in the struggle and over half of their assets lost. These misfortunes have resulted in an extremely high unemployment rate. For farmers in an area where cultivation and agriculture is already difficult to make a living off of, these blows have been crippling.

Another reason for the high poverty rate in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the focus on post-war reconstruction. The majority of the areas that received support and rebuilding were the highly populated urban areas of the country. This left the citizens residing in rural areas, which make up the majority of the population, on their own.

The post-war poverty struggles have had the most significant impact on the women of Bosnia. Unable to form working skills and lacking the same civil rights as men, many women have become susceptible and vulnerable to prostitution and trafficking. The impact on women has severely affected Bosnian families. The amount of households headed by a woman has increased by one to four following the war. These women are often unable to obtain suitable incomes to support their children.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is a perfect example of the long-term impacts war can have on an economy and a society. They continue to try to lift themselves out of the devastation today.

– William Norris

Sources: Rural Poverty Portal, Mtholyoke.edu
Photo: A Woman’s War

World Briefing: Bosnia 101

The Bosnian war took place on the other side of the world, but was so profound in horror and destruction that we in the West still speak of it today.

The Bosnian war started in what was formerly Yugoslavia, when ethnic divisions came to a boil. There were 3 main ethnic groups uneasily coexisting: the Catholic Croats, the Muslim Bosniaks and the Orthodox Serbs. The war started after the Bosniaks and Croats attempted to secede and declare independence. They were subsequently attacked by the Bosnian Serbs, who were against their independence. The conflict was mainly territorial, with the groups warring over allocation of land and ethnicity.

Bosnia’s war was characterized by its brutality, particularly by the Serbian forces. While the entire war was marked by extreme violence and cruelty, the two most infamous events were the Siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre, and through their horror, they have come to symbolize the conflict.

The Siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege on a city in the history of modern warfare, lasting from 1992 to 1996. Survivors describe a return to the Stone Age, without access to food, medicine, water, electricity or gas. Citizens lived in constant fear of random shellings by the Serbs, or attacks from others within the city who were desperate for food or ammo. The Serbs deliberately attempted to exterminate Bosnian men and boys, and rape and sexual violence were common weapons of war, against girls as young as 12.

The massacre at Srebrenica (also known as the Srebrenica genocide) saw the organized killing of over 8,000 men and boys at the town of Srebrenica. Accounts of the massacre are reminiscent of the holocaust, with mass transport and murder of citizens. Though the UN attempted to establish a protected perimeter, it was unable to prevent Serbian soldiers from murdering and brutalizing citizens at will. The Serbian government issued an official apology for it in 2010.

The war was a bloody, complex and hideously drawn-out affair in which the Bosniaks and Croats were slowly but surely being defeated until a NATO intervention in 1994. In 1995, after nearly a month of negotiations, the Dayton Agreement was signed, creating the Bosnia and Herzegovina of today.  Still relatively recent, the leaders of the respective armies and those who were in political power are still undergoing trial for war crimes. Slobodan Milošević, who was president at the time, died while awaiting a verdict at The Hague.

Many make reference to the Bosnian war as a result of a lack of international intervention in times of crisis. Then US Assistant Secretary of State referred to it as “the greatest failing of the West since the 1930s.”

– Farahnaz Mohammed

Sources: The History Place
Photo: Serbrenica Genocide