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What it was like to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina after the war

March 17, 2014, 10:50 pm | This story has an Influence Score of 2144

By riazhussain

Have we ever noticed that our world has been constantly changing for the last three or four decades? Most of us will say that it is always so -- that it keeps on changing.  ‘What is new then?’ Yes, there is something new. This ‘something new’ which seems to take place in the world is actually too vast a phenomenon to be explained on this single web page. However, we can see a glimpse of that extraordinary phenomenon here in this story. Before we come to it, let us go back to when Communists came to power in the Eurasian Russia.  

The last century witnessed the rise and fall of the largest state of the world--  the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). It held its sway for 79 years. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and on a historic evening in the month of December 1991, the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin forever which announced the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the USSR. This wave of transition, unrest and economic collapse reached other parts of Europe connected with the Soviet Union and communism, including Yugoslavia.  The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia also broke up after a decade of political complications and economic crunches . 

 The Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, once a part of Yugoslavia, made a declaration of independence in 1992 which gained international recognition. However, the Serbian and Croatian leaders were not happy with this Bosnian memorandum of sovereignty. They tried to annex parts of Bosnia to their own independent states of Croatia and Serbia.  In order to prevent the Bosnian independence, the two ethnic entities mobilized their forces against the Bosnians. What ensued was the most devastating and the bloodiest armed conflict in Europe after the Second World War. People were exposed to intimidation, hunger, bitter cold and illnesses. The brutal war epitomized obnoxious episodes of genocide, mass massacre, ethnic cleansing, mass rapes and pillage. Millions of people were displaced, thousands of women were raped and hundreds and thousands of people lost their lives during the war. Peace negotiations started and this four-year war of aggression ended in 1995.  

The next month marks the 22nd anniversary of the Bosnian War. The media focuses on wars but it seems to pay little attention to what happens to a country after the bloodshed has ended. The interviewee of our current story throws light on the conditions in Bosnia after the war. 

Dino Jasarevic, our interviewee, was born in 1983 in Brcko in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was nine-year-old when the war broke out.  So, the schools closed down and his family had to leave the country. Giving voice to his memory, he said,  ‘I suffered during the war like many of my peers.  I ran away from the bloody war in the Balkans with my family, we settled in Italy’. He resumed his studies in the latter. 

He is now based in Turin, Italy,  and works to entertain children. He also loves to work with the camera. Our photographer explains, ‘I capture moments in my travels and I want to share my stories with people around me. Photography for me is an expression of my inner being on this earth. I like to photograph stories around the streets, documenting moments and making them special with one click. I want to make myself an interpreter of the emotional situation of the people on the road’.

He has visited Morocco, Turkey, Oman, India, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. He has special love for the country which welcomed him as a refugee--Italy.  He argues that  the whole country is a museum.  But, it does not mean that he has forgotten his own homeland—Bosnia.

Telling us more about his native country, he remarked, ‘Bosnia is a young country that wants to get up and give opportunities to its people who have suffered in the past. It is a country of landscapes; Sarajevo and Mostar are the most interesting cities of the country. You can find history in these two cities-- old history and modern history’.

Beautiful landscape and historical places are not the only things Bosnia has. Another important aspect of life there is its multiethnic population. He emphasizes, ‘Bosnia is a mix of cultures, history has brought this country to be multiethnic and this I think that it's one of the principal beauties of this country. I love the multiethnic face of Bosnia, the hospitality of the people. Around the cities you can find Catholic churches, Orthodox churches and mosques--everything in one country’.

This ethnic diversity of the country was hijacked by war-mongers. After the war, like other returnees, he went back to the blighted country. The post-war Bosnia looked different from what it had been before the hostilities during his childhood. He could see the scars of the conflict on the faces of the cities.

The debris of bombarded homes littered the cities.  The walls had bullet holes, bridges and roads had been damaged.  Refugee camps were still open. He went to one near Tuzla where children were working with their parents to rebuild their houses.

Tuzla, he reveals,  is an area fraught with problems. It  was one of the battlefields of the hostility.  In this city, he met a gypsy woman who was asking for help on the street.

In addition, he came across homeless children who were living on the streets without parents and without schooling.

Our amateur photographer was shocked to see the vestiges of concentration camps and mass graves. He went down his memory lane and said, ‘When I returned to my homeland, I found my country destroyed and devastated, grappling with the consequences of the war . Fear, stress and depression were common. The horrors of the bloodshed were writ large on the faces of the people in the country.'

People began to have suspicions about the land because it harbored death traps for them.

The retreating troops had scattered snares for the local population and returnees in the form of unexploded munitions. The beautiful landscape had become contaminated with landmines.  He points out  that today, ‘Bosnia is one of the countries with thousands of unexploded minefields still hidden in the country, so accidents take place. The most vulnerable groups (children, elderly, disabled) are still suffering the consequences of the bloody war.  Physical and psychological violence are still in the air and it's really hard to forget them’. While the country struggles to wipe its tears of wartime casualties, there are peacetime casualties that are caused by landmines. The government agencies are trying to demine the country but it may take years before the mountainous region becomes safe from these booby traps. Thousands of people have been killed or injured by these concealed bombs. This loss of lives is fueling enmity. He explains, ‘Some people still feel hatred towards the invaders because they have suffered a lot of violence'. He is afraid that this animosity, if it gets strength, may threaten peace in the region. Verbalizing his apprehensions, he added,  ‘Unfortunately, there are still some groups that try to create hatred between the races but fortunately  there are wise people who immediately block these things’.  

The war was one problem for the people. Now, they have to fight poverty. Even during the combat days, accessing humanitarian aid was a problem. He points out that during the conflict, big cities sieved out most of the humanitarian aid during the fighting. These days, he asserts, ‘The biggest problem of the people is unemployment’. This plight can be addressed by inviting foreign investors. But the problem is that such investment goes to big cities. This has created huge differences between life in urban centers versus the countryside life. Pointing to the harsh realities of life in the afflicted nation, he says, ‘In this country of beautiful landscape, life is hard for people. The conditions are very stringent for the poor people, because you can’t find the middle class. There are big differences between the big cities and the country side, especially Sarajevo; this town is like other European capitals. It is really a modern city. However,  If you go away from the town centers of the cities', he explains, 'you can see the poorest stuff and the conditions are worse in the countryside’.

He says, ‘I visit Bosnia every year, not just for my family but like a traveler'. He is working on a humanitarian project and with his entertaining skills, he tries to disseminate smiles among Bosnian children. He explains,’ Since there was a lot of pain in Bosnia, I decided to start with my friends a humanitarian project. So, we go every year in Bosnia with them to help the children and give smiles’.

Despite all these disappointing aspects, our interviewee is hopeful that the situation in Bosnia will take a better turn. He says, ‘The youth of today is trying to unite the people again. They are trying to make them realize that they can become stronger by standing together. Nobody wants to give up’.

The transition Bosnia is undergoing reflects a large-scale change which seems to go beyond Bosnia. Let us consider the internecine war in a wider perspective—a paradigm shift taking place.

The last century concluded by changing the political landscape of the world. The four-year complex and ugly war took place in the wake of the fall of communism, which could not provide solutions to people's problems. The fall of the Berlin wall, the USSR and Yugoslavia have caused a domino effect in changing the politics of the world. The ripple effect  is going and it has brought the downfall of several rulers and regimes which had been reigning over their lands for forty and fifty years.  The recent instances of this change came in the form of the Arab Spring which has dethroned the Arab rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. The wave of change has not died out yet. Syria is a case in point. Is a new world in the offing?  

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