Sarajevo: BBQ, Politics, and Yugo-nostalgia
Evergreen music hits from Bijelo Dugme, the smell of kebabs and burek, Austro-Hungarian architecture and oriental mystery… all of those things simultaneously immersed into a perfect blend, burdened by the memories of the wars in the 90s — this is the reality in which Bosnia and Herzegovina lives today.
Its capital, Sarajevo, today is a city in which the spirit of Yugo-nostalgia lives on, but there are two sides of that spirit — one is all the multicultural beauty of the former Yugoslav federation, while the other side represents the chaos that followed the collapse of Yugoslavia. Some of the bloodiest clashes during the Yugoslav wars happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina — which in a way was the heart of Yugoslavia.
Sarajevo is arguably the city that suffered the most during the 1992–1996 war. The capital was kept under siege for three and a half years, with a death count that amounted to over 11 thousand, from which more than 1,500 were children. The memories from the war are all over the city — from the infamous “Sarajevo Rose”, through the bullet holes that can be seen on almost every other building in Sarajevo, and the landmine warning signs that can be spotted when you walk through local parks.
The entity in which Sarajevo is located, the Federation of BiH, is a region that receives vast sums of foreign funding — mostly due to the consequences of the war. “A lot of money is invested here — from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States, the big EU countries… All of this primarily due to the war and the genocide that occurred in Srebrenica. But most of that money only end up in politicians’ pockets. Bosnia and Herzegovina could have been “Switzerland in the Balkans”, but unfortunately now we are in this position — as one of the poorest countries in Europe.” says one of the locals from Sarajevo.
As in most countries that emerged from the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the transition process in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a difficult one — complemented by the burden of ethnic and religious divisions between the three constituent nations — Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats. A simple example of describing this situation is that from one common language — now in the country there are three, almost identical, official languages.
Politicians who represent the three constituent nations today cannot agree on almost anything that’s in the interest of its citizens — except maybe just for one thing. “At tomorrow’s Parliament session, I can tell you exactly what will happen, without even being there. Our politicians can not agree on anything important, except, let’s say, if an IMF tranche needs to be approved — then every politician will agree on it. The other things are not important to them. Everyone only cares about their national interest and nothing else. Croatians care about their interests, the Serbs about theirs, and the same is with the Bosniaks.” 25-year-old Samir says.
The difficult life in the country can be seen as one of the few unifying factors for the people, Bosnian journalist Almir Seckanovic explains. “One of the indicators of BiH’s unity is the difficult life — regardless of which entity, municipality or city you come from — the biggest problems are the same. We are talking about the high unemployment, the criminal privatization, the ruling political elites who consider themselves to be the masters of life and death. And when you take this into consideration — really there is no difference when it comes to being a Bosniak, a Serb or a Croat,” Seckanovic says.
Among other unifying factors that have kept BiH population together are the census and the European perspective, Seckanovic adds. “Bosnia and Herzegovina have been demonstrating for more than 25 years now that it is possible to survive as a country. Although for many this conclusion might be strange, I will give some examples. The first census of the population in BiH revealed that in some of its parts, the country preserved its multi-ethnic character. Thus, the census showed that in Republika Srpska, on whose territory the genocide occurred, about 150 thousand people which were also victims of persecution, managed to return. It shows that their love for their homeland and family prevailed over the fears and difficulties,” the Bosnian journalist notes.
The mutual obstruction that the entities in the country do to one another is maybe the biggest reason that BiH cannot thrive economically, or in any other segment of the society. The main culprit for this is the clashes between the nationalistic policies that each side has, managing to portray them as “patriotic policies”.
“Under the BiH Constitution, the entities are the constituent parts of the country. Besides them, there is also the District of Brcko as an administrative unit. In layman’s terms, it can be explained like this: neither of the entities has its seat in the UN, but Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country, does, since April 1992. It’s not a conflict of entities, but a conflict of different nationalistic policies. No one knows how these politicians will reconcile, but they have to do it,” Seckanovic adds.
According to another Bosnian journalist — Mito Travar, originating from Republica Srpska, politicians in BiH have only one goal, and this isn’t to improve the life of ordinary people. “Politics in BiH can be seen as a weapon of mass destruction of the people living in it, and politicians are the loyal executioners. For a quarter of a century, they have been sucking the life out of us. Some of the people realized this and they fled a long time ago. The process of escaping from BiH never ceased, nor will it ever stop.” Travar concludes.
No matter how depressing the political reality in the country is, most of the Bosnians that we talked with, believe that they live in a sustainable country.
“The questions concerning the existence of the country and the aspiration of its citizens to live together are issues that do not have a stronghold. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, people have lived together for centuries — not just these three nations, but a whole lot more. That is why Sarajevo, but the entire BiH as well, is can be seen as some type of a European bridge between religions — a European Jerusalem, that is” Seckanovic notes.
“The key is that we have to live by compromising with each other, and I think that most of us have learned this. We cannot sit at a table that is full of food — and most of it to be only for me, and almost nothing for you,” 60-year-old Vedad from Sarajevo says. He adds that while living in the former Yugoslavia, he saw the best, but also the worst of it. Nevertheless, he chose to stay in his hometown and to keep fighting for the future of his offspring.