Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Is everything falling apart?

Enough already. I've been reading some of what the commentators have to say about Bosnia following the Daily Telegraph's article saying that Bosnia 'on brink of new civil war'. It seems that everyone is saying that Bosnia is about to fall apart. As I type there are big high level talks going on in Sarajevo where very important people are trying to get the politicians to agree to some small constitutional reforms. These are apparently not going very well (Bosnia's crucial talks hit a snag) and the only thing that everyone agrees on is that they are not going to adopt the reforms that are being suggested. Good to know it is possible to have everyone agreeing on something. The Bosnian Muslim leaders are predicting a return to violence within the year if things continue as they are. The Foreign Affairs magazine agrees, with headlines that proclaiming The Death of Dayton (the peace agreement that ended the conflict in 1995).

None of this makes for good reading. But as I read it, I can't help but feel that I am reading about somewhere else. It just doesn't seem quite possible that this country that is on the brink of collapse is the same country as the one that I am living in. People are going about the day to day life without too much worry. They are used to the posturing of politicians and the international community and see it as being another episode of political bang drumming and chest beating, making themselves look strong and powerful, particularly against the bullying of the international community. There isn't any talk of people stock piling goods (which did happen when Kosovo declared independence as people genuinely were worried about what the effects would be here). In fact, no one seems to be paying that much attention to the politicians at all.

Day to day life is carrying on. People are still tending their gardens, going out for a drink in cafes, buying music and listening to concerts, watching the football, doing all that, well, normal stuff. Stuff that everyone in Europe does. They moan about the economy (which is a mess) and the bureaucracy (don't start me on it) and talk about how cold it is for the time of year. It just doesn't feel like a country on the verge of conflict. I agree with the one positive article that I have seen about Bosnia from the European Stability Initiative, who point out that whilst Bosnia is a long way from perfect it has made enormous strides over the last couple of months. It seems that this wave of pessimism about Bosnia is becoming self perpetuating.

I can't see how Bosnia will return to war. There is no appetite for it all amongst the general population, who fully know how damaging it can be. I can't see how Serbia or Croatia would have the inclination to back it. That is not to say that there won't be violence, I think a flare up somewhere is a possibility, but to spread to full on conflict, I really don't think it will happen.

But I am reminded of a coffee I had not so long ago with a man who had recently returned to his home close to the Serbian border. We were sitting by the Drina river, enjoying a long afternoons sunset, with people swimming and canoeing beside us and fisherman just a little further upstream. It was pleasant, warm and the atmosphere was happy. He was talking about the war in 1992. 'You have no idea.' he said 'One day we were sitting here with our neighbours, drinking coffee just like we are today. The next day we were at war. We had no idea it was coming.'

16 comments:

Dino said...

I agree with you about there not being a civil war anytime soon, but if things carry on this way I can definetely see the prospect of some major trouble/national strikes/riots.

I don't know what it's like in Tuzla, but in Mostar there has been no mayor for 13 months (!), meaning that the city has had no stable budget during that time, unemployment is at 40% (and rising) and if you are lucky enough to get any sort of job it will be very poorly paid (my friend's mother works as a nurse, and she gets just 250 KM a month for full time work). Even worse if you work in a cafe-there workers can get paid as low as 50 KM per month, and when you see how much a single loaf of bread costs in Mostar (10 KM) one get's the idea of how desperate the situation is.

So I think if this awful situation carries on, there will be some sort of serious trouble as things just cannot carry on this way. And people are getting increasingly anxious-when I was in Mostar this summer everyone who I spoke to, regardless of age, was worried sick about the situation and saying that things are very hard and getting harder.

Mwa said...

I hope you're right.

WeDoAdventure said...

I'd agree with your perspective here. My experience is that the atmosphere in Mostar is much the same, although we have had various strikes and demonstrations over the last few months.

Having just got in from food shopping, I would have to question where Dino bought bread from as I've never seen it that expensive anywhere!

Nina said...

That's the thing about war. Normal people don't want it but get caught up in it anyway, and everything changes.

Nina said...

That truncated comment was meant to say I hope the rumblings don't evolve into actual conflict. Politics in the Balkans always seems like bushfire - there's perpetually lit sparks flying around, you just hope none of them fall on dry wood with the wind blowing.

But hopefully everything is going to be all right.

Dino said...

I went to a private bakery when I was in Mostar and they did have bread priced at 10 KM (which made my jaw drop to the floor).

It wasn't a total surprise though-food prices have been going up ever since the war and the government hasn't done much about it. Obviously it's not that expensive in every bakery, but in the coming years there will probably be more that charge ridicilous prices like that if the current trend of rising food prices continues.

Nicola said...

Well I hope your intuition is right although I am sure situations can tailspin without warning if people in power want to create that sort of chaos and unrest desperately enough. I for one hope the whole of Bosnia continues to sip coffee in cafes. (oh and thanks for educating me on the situation. I feel so totally out of touch with world culture, which is entirely my fault. All knowledge is only gleaned from blogs these days - so it is good to know that I have an inkling of what is going on in the world through you)

Richard said...

I agree, there's little prospect of a return to the sort of war we saw in the 90s without the (highly unlikely) involvement of foreign powers such as Serbia and Croatia. But I can't see the Dayton Deal lasting in its current form.

The question is - are the politicians involved in the talks and the international leaders prepared to accept that the RS should secede from Bosnia and become part of a Greater Serbia (which was, after all, ostensibly the reason for the 1992-95 war in the first place)? Or would they decide that any kind of further partition of the Balkans would cause too much instability and run the risk of new violence?

Neither course of action looks particularly appealing, but avoiding any chance of a new war will no doubt be paramount to most people involved, so I'd imagine some kind of messy evolution of the Dayton arrangements is more likely than a new partition.

angelsandurchinsblog said...

Heck, now I know what they were going on about on the Today Program (turns out that school run and being able to listen to the radio not compatible). So know nuffing, but interesting to hear your take on it. Must admit, I went a little cold when I read the coffee anecdote. Stock up a few tins, cos you never know.

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised that daily life in Tuzla does not reflect a country supposedly on the brink of war. Bosnians of all stripes stopped taking the cynical, self-serving utterances of their politicians at face-value some time ago. They've left that to foreign journalists, who use them to write nonsensical pieces for the Telegraph. The article describes a "crisis" replete with international types who scold the country's politicians for failing to set aside their differences, and politicians who, in turn, threaten the worst in order to get the international types to do their bidding. This would be very grave indeed - but for the fact that such crises have been a staple of Bosnian politics since 1996.

The Telegraph would also do well to recall that the 1992-95 war was caused less by a political crisis akin to the current state of affairs than by the decision of Serbian war criminals (Karadzic, Milosevic, Plavsic, et al) to use their vastly superior military resources to wage a genocidal war against their under-armed and totally unprepared neighbors. While the Bosnian Serbs still have plenty of war criminals, they no longer have the military superiority to impose their will on the Bosnian Muslims. Certainly, war could erupt if the Bosnian Serbs declare independence. But given the considerable risk that they might lose not only a war but their entire fiefdom, I don't see how Dodik and his cronies would really be stupid enough to try.

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Dino - 10KM for a loaf of bread! Was it lined with gold? No, here in Tuzla the bread is 0.70 for a small loaf to 1KM for a large one, pretty much without fail. But Mostar is definitely different to Tuzla, and the situation is there is very difficult indeed.

Mwa - me too.

WDA - We've had quite a few strikes and demonstrations too. Glad to see the 10KM loaf of bread appears to have been an exception.

Nina - that is a nice way of putting it. It is exhausting to observe though.

Nicola - Bosnia is a classic example of politicians really getting in the way. Whatever happens though, I'm pretty sure Bosnians will always be sipping coffee. It is like the English and tea, just more so!

Richard - Dayton needs to change as it has reached the point where it is hindering rather than helping and everyone knows it. Just how will be interesting to see...

A&U - Was it on Today? Missed it! Grrrr.

Anon - thanks for your comment. I'd agree that if you just looked at what was happening at the highest levels in the country you would be very alarmed. I can't see Dodik doing anything like that either, it might jeaopordize his own personally comfortable position.

A Modern Mother said...

You're scaring me now. Are you going to stay for the long term?

Iota said...

That's a scary thought.

Hot Cross Mum said...

Wow, that all sounds fairly bizarre alright. I cann't imagine what it must be like to live somewhere where conflict is anticipated, and yet everyone goes about the daily business. Here's hoping things stay 'normal' for you all.

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

MM - we shall see...

Iota - it is, but I think it is being fizzed up by the journalists who are not used to what the situation is like here. Noone here seems to be that concerned at all.

HCM - I'd be very surprised if conflict happened again here in the near future. I think the journalists aren't used to the daily political shenanigans and are looking for a story.

Lorna Harris said...

Witnessing neighbours and friends suddenly turning against one another is so terrifying. I watched it first hand in the then Yugoslav Dept of the World Service. I've been reading the reports, it does seem hard to believe that Bosnia could reach a state of civil war. Let's hope not.