When I set out to write this, I thought it would be important to give some background on Bosnia and Herzegovina in this first blog. As I tried to think of intros to sum up the situation in Bosnia, no quote or cliché seemed to fit. And maybe I am not articulate enough (probably) or wise enough (definitely) to make sense of it. So instead of pretending to understand what I clearly don’t, I’ll just write what I’ve learned so far.
Most of the history I read to prepare for the trip focused on the ethnic cleansing the country endured in the 1990s. After the break up of Yugoslavia, Serbian President Slobodan Milošević instigated the war, using nationalist sentiments to mobilize his people to wipeout Bosnia’s Muslim population. In the end 200,000 Bosnians were killed and 2 million fled their homes. In concentration camps thousands of women were raped, and innocent civilians tortured. The terror & brutality of the genocide lasted 3 years.
With all industry and infrastructure in shambles, Bosnia literally had to start from scratch to rebuild, and still has a long way to go. The unemployment rate is estimated between 30-45%, poverty is severe especially in rural areas, and it holds one of the highest rates of income inequality in the world. Despite this Bosnia (along with most of Eastern Europe) is rarely considered a problem area anymore, and international aid to the country slowed down considerably by 1999. Bosnia has been fending for itself ever since.
Yet the country today is a peaceful place, and Bosnians have certainly proved their resilience. Organizations like Zene za Zene International (where I am working this summer), have helped many regain their livelihoods over the last decade, and microfinance has been key in helping thousands achieve financial stability. If Bosnia continues to heal and move forward, it can provide hope of recovery to struggling war torn countries around the world.
Today Sarajevo is alive & buzzing, and Bosnians are notably friendly and hospitable. I feel inspired by their strength, and grateful for whatever makes that perseverance possible. But these feelings drain away as I wonder how much the past still haunts those who live here. Bosnians are proof that you can get over the absolute worst that can happen. But this still doesn’t justify or explain why the absolute worst happens, and why innocent people have to suffer the lasting consequences of something they didn’t create.
After I arrived I hoped to say something to reconcile the horrors of the past I read so much about. It’s difficult to do when for me Bosnia generates feelings of despair & hope almost simultaneously, as evidence of all that can go wrong in this world and all that can be overcome. I guess being confused & overwhelmed is to be expected especially in the first week, and I don’t need to explain it all right now. I still have many people to meet, places to go, and much to learn. With luck I will be able to one day explain some of the many things I don’t understand.