09 nov Bosnia deserves to join a more humanitarian EU
It is just a two hour flight from Paris, London or Amsterdam, but visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina will make you realize two very important things: first that while we like to complain about the crisis, quite a lot of people living very near to us are living an a few dollars a day -in the cold, grey, streets of Mostar for instance- and second that we so easily forget to care when the media attention fades.
The parts of former Yugoslavia that are not a member yet of the EU, like Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, used to be in the news but are no longer interesting. Somehow we believe that things are going well compared to, say, the Gaza strip or Ukraine. But when you talk to the man on the street in Mostar you realize that most of us are not aware of the immense poverty of the country. With around 60% of the people looking for a job, with tourism stagnating and exports having dramatically gone down, the economy is in a bad shape. Alcohol and cigarettes keep the depressed more or less alive as there is no money for meat. It does’t help that so many buildings are still bullet riddled, that the ruins of the houses once belonging to the Serbians have never been rebuilt and that mosques and Catholic churches, minarets and crosses compete with each other in villages and on the many mountains of this rough and tough country. Not because religion plays such an important role, it doesn’t, but because politics have taken over from sensibility and community feeling. Everything here is politics, even and especially in the schools. Imagine a math book for Muslims written by a Muslim professor and the same sums being explained by a Catholic writer in the Catholic math book. It only makes sense if you want to create double jobs, and even those are rare. In Mostar I visited a beautifully restored building that houses three high schools: the United World College, a Muslim and a Christian ‘gymnasium’. The pupils meet each other during breaks, become friends, then go back to their own schools. Do they visit each other in their homes? Of course not. This is almost twenty years after the war. Most of the funds necessary to create work and a strong civil society are spent on programs to enhance the differences and to keep the form prejudices, not to say hate, alive.
I for one find this completely unacceptable. Instead of waiting until Bosnia has cleaned up its mess well enough to be able to join the EU (twenty five years from now?) it would be a clever idea to let this country join the not so select club in the near future. Before it either goes down the drain totally or before the Muslim population decides to join the ranks of ISIS.
Not Moldavia, not Montenegro, not even Serbia deserves it more than a country that is still suffering as if the war wasn’t over yet. But as we tend to overlook what is nearest to us, we focus on South Sudan and Mali instead. Mr. Juncker and your fresh team, here is a challenge for you. Because, yes, Bosnia Herzegovina is Europe too.