Home Business Bosnians flee corruption and despair – DW – 12/18/2022

Bosnians flee corruption and despair – DW – 12/18/2022

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Suitcases are packed and tickets are booked. From Sarajevo, Tuzla or Banja Luka, they will head north, towards Ljubljana, Munich, Vienna or Malmö. But it will be a one-way ticket – there are no return tickets at the moment.

Young people in particular have emigrated from Bosnia and Herzegovina, among other Balkan states, for years. But the “brain drain” has long since intensified, transforming into a mass exodus. Even those with good jobs with employers such as international organizations still seek escape.

Take for example Hana Curak, a 28-year-old who has already been living far from her native Bosnia for several years and works as a research assistant at Humboldt University in Berlin. Bosnia lacks a certain understanding of progressive people and activities, she said, adding that power structures there are too entrenched.

The figures are alarming: in 1991, Bosnia and Herzegovina had 4.3 million inhabitants, but today it only has around 3 million inhabitants. Thousands of nurses, physiotherapists and craftsmen are leaving. And according to United Nations forecasts, this decline will continue, with an additional 500,000 people leaving their homes by 2050.

Crowd of thousands gathered to support the "popular rally in defense of Republika Srpska" demonstration in Banja Luka
Pro-Serb protests in Banja Luka followed October electionsImage: Armin Durgut/AP Photo/photo alliance

Region characterized by poverty, poor health care and corruption

From 1992 to 1995, hundreds of thousands of people fled the Western Balkan country to escape the atrocities of the Bosnian War. On the other hand, the reasons for the current wave of emigration are more complex: the dire economic situation, poor health care, corruption, legal uncertainty and toxic nationalist politics.

The country’s constitution specifically mentions three “constituent peoples” of Bosnia and Herzegovina: Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. Each nationalist party – the Bosnian Party of Democratic Action, the Serbian Alliance of Independent Social Democrats and the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina – shared control of the country and reserved the most lucrative jobs for themselves .

People without party credentials often have no chance in the personal poker game, and critics complain that politicians are only enriching themselves instead of working for the country’s citizens.

Democratic values ​​under fire in Bosnia

Even though the Dayton peace agreement put an end to three years war in 1995, nationalist domination was then cemented in the status quo. The category of citizen – people not belonging to any of the defined ethnic groups – was abolished, permanently blocking democratic normalization in the country.

“It is mainly people with civic and democratic beliefs who are leaving the country in droves,” said political scientist Tanja Topic, who works in Sarajevo for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a pro-democracy organization affiliated with Germany’s center social democrats. -LEFT. People do not find their place because they are marginalized by incendiary nationalism and criminal structures, she added.

​​Tanja Topic, political scientist at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bosnia
​​Tanja Topic is a political scientist and staff member of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bosnia.Image: Slobodan Rasic

Students in the education system have also been grouped into ethnic categories. “I love my country,” sighs a mother who plans to leave with her youngest daughter. But the political chaos and hatred they spread is not what she wants for herself or her children, she added.

Questionable political tactics scare people away

Representatives of the international community have made numerous appeals to Bosnian politicians to keep their population in the country, which was accepted as a candidate for the European Union on December 13. Yet the questionable political tactics of Western negotiators contribute to the very realities that drive people away.

In the election Thus, on October 2, Christian Schmidt, the international peace envoy appointed by the United Nations for Bosnia-Herzegovina, retroactively changed the electoral system. An “undemocratic” act, according to harsh criticism from European parliamentarians, who claimed that the electorate had been marginalized in favor of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a radical nationalist party.

Political scientist Topic said massive electoral fraud in the Serb-led part of the country, Republika Srpska, was even “legitimized by the international (community).”

EU candidate status gives Bosnia and Herzegovina another chance

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A massive loss of confidence in the West

By attempting to maintain a fragile status quo, Washington, Brussels and Berlin are inadvertently stabilizing corrupt and intolerant leaders. Such maneuvers have led to a massive loss of trust in the West among Bosnians, who feel abandoned and forced to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

The murder of student David Dragicevic in Banja Luka, which sparked months of protests in 2018, has become emblematic of the failures of the international community. Activists in Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska, vehemently demanded that this crime be solved under the slogan “Justice for David”. His parents suspect he was the victim of a drug cartel with ties to the highest political levels.

But the European Union delegation avoided supporting his demands out of respect for Serbian leader Milorad Dodik, according to one of the politician’s former aides. Powerful entities suspected of involvement in the killing harassed demonstrators until the protests subsided. The crime remains unsolved to this day.

The EU accused of not respecting its values

Another problem is that the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights on discrimination against Jews, Rome and other citizens have not been implemented. Instead of upholding general civil rights, UN representative Schmidt established a system of apartheid, civil rights activist Azra Zornic said, adding that the EU was failing when it came to defending its own values ​​in Bosnia.

“When Western actors are no longer seen as guarantors of democratic correction, it becomes critical,” said regional legal analyst Lejla Gačanica, adding that many feel abandoned in the fight against criminal elites.

Protests in Sarajevo against Christian Schmidt and the electoral law he amended
In July, protesters in Sarajevo demonstrated against Christian Schmidt and changes to the electoral lawImage: Klix.ba

A region ripe for radicalization

The disappointment also extended to neighboring Balkan states. According to the Balkan Barometer, an annual survey of public opinion and business sentiment in six Western Balkan economies, 67% of the younger generation is considering leaving the region.

As they rapidly lose human capital and economic power, cities from Belgrade to Sarajevo are already experiencing a shortage of artisans. “They are in Berlin,” people say laconically. Their absence means that the already struggling population must pay higher prices for second-rate services.

Under such conditions, the region becomes more susceptible to further radicalization. “As the bearers of liberal and democratic values ​​disappear, the last resistance to nationalism and abuse of power also gradually fades,” warns political scientist Topic.

This article was originally published in German.

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