The elders stay behind. Around 80,000 people have left Bosnia and Herzegovina in the past two years. With 60 percent youth unemployment, they see no prospects in their home country. Third highest unemployment in the world and air pollution as in North Korea: Two examples of political failure in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since the end of the war in 1995, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats have been separated. Few fight against the “hostage-taking of ideologues”.
Nahid Mamic has dressed up. A wine-red Bosnian fes with a tip adorns his grey head. With a white frill shirt and gold embroidered black waistcoat, the 70-year-old cuts a fine figure. In the Ferhadija – the pedestrian zone in the centre of Sarajevo – he plays the accordion and sings Sevdah – the Bosnian blues. More insights into other countries can be heard regularly in the World Time Podcast – conflicts, progress, peculiarities apart from the local headlines.
Nahid Mamic has a whole working life behind him, first as a car mechanic, then as a driver. Nevertheless, in his old age he is dependent on the income from the donation box that he has placed next to him. It says: “Thanks to God and the doctors that I am still alive”:
“I am 90 percent severely handicapped. I get the equivalent of 41 euros a month. I live with my two sons and a daughter-in-law. None of us has a job. My two granddaughters each get 5.50 euros child benefit. And that’s all. I have to play here so that I can buy medicine and something to eat and pay the additional costs. So that I can live.”
Street musician with accordion in the centre of Sarejovo Nahid Mahmić plays the Bosnian blues Sevdah in the centre of Sarajevo. With his pension of the equivalent of 41 euros, the 70-year-old is otherwise unable to make ends meet.
Unemployment at 40 percent
Nahid Mamic has no great expectations that something could change in his situation. The unemployment rate in Bosnia and Herzegovina is 40 percent. This puts the country third last in the world, behind Djibouti and Congo. Even 23 years after the end of the war, there is still little progress. 80,000 people are said to have left Bosnia and Herzegovina in the past two years alone. And this in a country with the population of Berlin. Above all, it is young and well-educated people who leave. What remains are people like Nahid Mamic. Like many in the country, he seems to have surrendered to his fate:
“The rulers here in the Balkans – they don’t care about the poor. We have already seen it in the war. Nobody was interested in whether I had something to eat or my children. Not the religious leaders, not the politicians, not the authorities, not the law, not the state. If we already go to the level of animals – then we must eat, right? I have to eat and I have to die, only I really have to.”
Youtube videos against the power elites
The plateau of the sports and cultural centre “Skenderija” in the heart of Sarajevo. Damir Niksic is shooting his current Youtube video here:
“Look, this is how I do it: I have already written the text, then I drag it into an app that is also a teleprompter. Then I activate the app and the recording starts. See?”
Damir Niksic – serious look, dense mustache, glasses and visor cap – is angry. Angry at the power elites in his country. Actually, he is a studied painter. For years, the 48-year-old has been known to the Bosnian public above all through his Youtube videos. The videos are simply knitted, but have it all. Usually Damir Niksic just walks through the city and hands it out properly. So it is today:
“All citizens thought: The main thing is that we survive, the main thing is that the head is still on our shoulders, the main thing is that there is no more shooting. And at this moment you are dealing with completely frightened citizens, a frightened civil society, who don’t even know how to deal politically with the hegemony of the ruling clique. But these are rather small ideological groups – the Serbian or Croatian nationalists or the Muslims – and they have taken the people hostage – an entire society”.
Youtuber Thus Nikšić on the plateau of the sports and cultural center Skenderija. He is fighting against the political power elites who have “taken the whole of society hostage”.
It is no coincidence that Damir Niksic is shooting today on the plateau of the Skenderija. The sports and cultural centre, built at the end of the 1960s with a lot of concrete and socialist charm, plays an important role for the city. Medals were awarded here in 1984 during the Winter Olympics, all important pop stars from the region played in the event hall and the basketball club “Bosna” celebrated great success here. Skenderija still belongs to the state. But now it has become known that the complex is to be sold to an investor from Dubai who wants to build an office building and a shopping centre here. Damir Niksic assumes that some official will earn a lot of money with this deal.
“We are poor people. If we had coal, the rulers would also do something for us and say I do what the citizens want. And because we don’t have coal, they don’t care about us who are up to our necks in debt. They neither ask us nor negotiate with us – they negotiate only with the rich.”
Political failure in almost all areas
In fact, for decades Bosnia and Herzegovina has shown a remarkable lack of political will and ability to cope with the problems of its citizens. In addition to high unemployment and general social insecurity, the country also presents itself with shortcomings. From hospitals on the level of the Third World to a miserable infrastructure, even in a regional comparison, to air pollution, which only kills more people a year in North Korea – political failure is noticeable in almost all areas of life. Those who raise their voices against it are either ignored or defamed and in the worst case even attacked – Damir Niksic is one of them.
“There are already people who have certain animosities against me. On the other hand, fortunately there are also people who support me. This has happened to me before. I was just loaded with shopping bags and couldn’t defend myself against the attacker. But then two or three people immediately joined and chased the guy away.”
Classic with only one minaret, the Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka unfolds its famous beauty in the hazy light of the winter day. This is not self-evident, because the mosque is located in the capital of the Republic of Srpska, the Serbian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Ferhadija Mosque used to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but then it had to be rebuilt because it had been completely destroyed by Serbian nationalists in 1993. This is not something people like to talk about in Banja Luka today. But that’s not what blogger Srdjan Puhalo cares about:
“Nobody ever had to answer for that. And so Ferhadija is something that embellishes Banja Luka – but on the other hand it is also something that raises many questions that people here don’t like.”
Blogger Srdjan Puhalo from Banja Luka taken in half profile Srdjan Puhalo is engaged as a blogger against the ubiquitous nationalism in Bosnia and Herzegovina: “Artificial tensions are created.
A T-Shirt in Arabic
Srdjan Puhalo stands out in Banja Luka. So the 48-year-old likes to wear T-shirts that are offensive to his fellow citizens. For example, he has had one printed with the popular Serbian nationalist slogan “Only unity saves the Serbs” – in Arabic. Puhalo actually holds a doctorate in psychology and earns his living in a market research agency. But he is known as a blogger – in his spare time he writes and says outrageous things, at least from the point of view of many moving Serbs:
“Is it normal for our media to report on a mass grave discovered in Mexico, but not on a mass grave 100 kilometres from here for which we are responsible? It’s enough to just ask this question, and many will be angry about it. Because you mention mass graves that we have filled. You don’t have to be very brave or wise or clever. It is only a question of whether you want to accept the silence that the nationalists and the ruling politicians have given or not. But that has its price, of course.”
Thus, Srdjan Puhalo is regularly referred to by the government-loyal media as a traitor or foreign agent, or as someone on the payroll of US billionaire George Soros. With his interjections, Srdjan Puhalo disturbs a practice that has developed in Bosnia and Herzegovina in recent decades into a patent recipe for maintaining political power, especially before elections. Since the end of the bloody war in 1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a de facto divided state. The country is governed practically without interruption by nationalists, who preserve a system of fear of the other ethnic group that has been tried and tested in times of war. Srdjan Puhalo gets on his nerves about this and writes about it again and again. On his blog and Twitter:
“They create artificial tensions. Because it’s much easier to govern with fear and hatred than to create jobs or solve social problems. I don’t think hatred is so great, but it is omnipresent in politics and the media. And what is also important: hatred is dosed in this way. You can increase ethnic tensions and then let them decrease again. That is controlled.” The triple occupation of the offices is annoying.
And something else gets on the nerves of the 46-year-old Puhalo. In Bosnia and Herzegovina everything is strictly divided into the categories Bosniake-Kroate-Serbe. All important political offices are held in three different languages, schoolchildren learn according to three different curricula, all official documents are trilingual, although the three languages are almost linguistically identical. Srdjan Puhalo has little understanding for all this:
“I try to identify myself first and foremost as a human being. And then everything else comes. I have no problem with being Bosnian, nor with being Serbian. But when you come home to your wife and children, it’s a bit strange to be Serbian. There you are husband and father. When you come to work, you also have nothing to gain from being a Serb, you have to be a professional.”
Mostar is divided: Bosniaks on the left, Croats on the right.
Stefica Galic walks up the stairs of the old bridge in Mostar, polished by countless tourist feet. Today it is cold and windy and only a handful of people look at the landmark of the city. Stefica Galic has the view of the Neretva almost for himself. The river with its unreal emerald green colour divides Mostar into two halves – Muslim Bosniaks live to the left of the Neretva, Croats to the right:
“Unfortunately, the bridge still does not have its old function when it connected the two banks of the Neretva. It looks the same as it used to, but today it separates, in a very everyday sense. There are countless people who have never crossed it after the war, especially young people. In this sense Mostar is a divided city. Its institutions are also divided. From the school system to garbage collection to the electricity provider – everything is doubled here.”
Portrait of the committed Internet operator Stefica Galic fights against nationalistic narratives spread by politics and the media: “They try to establish an official, invented truth. I won’t go along with that.”
Stefica Galic actually comes from Ljubuski, a small town inhabited mainly by Croats, where she and her late husband Nedjo became the “heroes of Ljubuski” in the Bosnian War because they protected their Muslim neighbours from persecution by their Croatian compatriots. Also after the war Stefica Galic was against Croatian nationalism and therefore had to leave Ljubuski and move to Mostar. Although she is Croatian, she lives and works on the left Muslim side of the city:
“It is not easy. For example, I rarely go to the right side. When I’m over there and by chance I’ve been in public with one of my statements, I’m counting on meeting someone who tells me something ugly. And since I’ve been beaten up before, it can happen again at any time, because I’m always threatened with it. But that doesn’t interest me. If you are at peace with yourself, believe in what you are doing. Then you can’t be afraid. You only live once”.
Those in power now would have to step down
Stefica Galic runs an internet portal and is – as she says – committed to the truth. When right-wing radicals had devastated the local partisan cemetery and the police refused to investigate because the cemetery was allegedly already in bad condition, she immediately put a video online with the evidence to the contrary. But she also does not want to leave the nationalists the power to interpret the past, says the 54-year-old:
“For example, the truth about the war. I experienced that myself. When I told Ljubuski in 2012 what I experienced, what I could see from my balcony and from my house, I was beaten up because they said – that’s not true, it wasn’t like that. They are trying to establish an official, invented truth. I won’t go along with that. As long as I live, I will fight for the truth I can bear witness to.”
Stefica Galic says that Bosnia and Herzegovina can only be saved if those who started the war and are still fighting it today are no longer in power. She does not believe that they will leave on their own. That is why it hopes that as many people as possible will commit themselves to a better future.
“I believe that it would be important for everyone to do their best. For example, I try to do what I do as responsibly as possible for the good of all. If everyone were to act in this way, we would certainly be better off. Everyone can contribute. The question is whether we want to be adapted and wait for someone to help us, or whether we want to do something ourselves. It’s up to us.”
Better to sing than talk about politics
In the pedestrian zone in the city centre of Sarajevo, Nahid Mamic plays one last Bosnian blues, after which he wants to take a break and take off his wine red festival for a moment. He doesn’t really want to talk about politics, he says he prefers to sing. As a farewell he does what a typical rogue from Sarajevo does. No matter how serious the subject is – you say goodbye with a wink.