I've been spending the last couple of days trying to finish off bits and pieces of my research, which has meant driving all over the country and a lot of coffees with lots of different people, talking about all sorts of things. It has been illuminating for me, a wonderful way to finish my time in Bosnia.
Mostly we've been talking about the situation in Bosnia now. There are elections to be held in October. The politicians are getting ready for them, which means more and more nationalist rhetoric. The Dayton Peace Agreement which bought the war to an end in 1995 established the political structure which operates today. It ensures that each group, the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs are guaranteed a certain number of seats according to their 'nationality'. The unintended effect of this is that the politicians only need to appeal to their own in order to be elected and there is no incentive reach across the divides to appeal to others. In practice this means the politicians become more and more nationalistic as they fight to exaggerate the threat to their people and claim that they are the only ones capable of protecting their heritage and rights. It's fairly disgusting to watch, makes the nauseousness I feel watching the British politicans point scoring off each other seem insignificant.
The banging of chests started early. The Bosnian Serbs are leaping about saying that they are going to hold a referendum seeing whether the Republika Srpska (the Serb half of the country) should move away (possibly cede altogether?) from the rest of Bosnia. The Croats watch carefully, if the Serbs can then maybe they can too. The Bosniaks leap up and down claiming that their country is under threat. Everyone ignores that constitutionally it can't be done, where's the vote winner in being rational?
Talking to the local Bosnians, you realise that they don't pay that much attention to the politicians. Most of them won't vote anyway, believing it doesn't make any difference whatsoever and that all politicians are crooks. The Brits get expenses scandals, the Bosnians understand that to be a way of life.
There is one thing though that the Bosnians are incredibly bitter about. In December, Serbia was entered onto the White List, permitting Serbs to travel to Europe without a visa. Croatia has been allowed to do so for some time now. Bosnia, although only just slightly less prepared that Serbia was, was not allowed to join as they didn't quite meet all of the standards required. As most Bosnian Croats already hold Croatian passports and Bosnian Serbs can apply for Serbian ones, it is really only the Bosnian Muslims who can not travel freely.
People resent this. They really really resent it. Some people say it is unfair becauseSerbia and Croatia didn't suffer as much in the break up of Yugoslavia and chose to fight their differences on Bosnian soil, for which Bosnians are still paying the price. Others say that it is a conspiracy by Europe against the Muslims in Bosnia, that Europeans are discriminating against them because of their religion. People say that it is deeply unfair that the perpetrators of the genocide in Srebrenica (Serbs) should be allowed to travel freely but their victims (Bosnian Muslims) cannot.
Just sitting and chatting to people, it is this topic more than any other that causes people to get angry and upset. In the run up to the election, with the politicians starting to agitate a nationalistic agenda, Europe should look carefully at their decision not to allow Bosnia visa free travel. There are rumours that they may be granted it in the summer. It would be enormously helpful to the country if that were to happen.