SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina—Twenty-three years ago on Dec. 14, a U.S.-brokered peace deal that ended the Bosnian War was signed in Paris. The so-called Dayton Agreement, reached in 1995, ended almost four years of bloody ethnic conflict following the breakup of Yugoslavia that left more than 100,000 dead.
The deal was celebrated not only for stopping the killings, but also for the hope it gave for a prosperous and democratic future in a multi-ethnic country.
Today, more than two decades after the end of the war, Bosnia has healed some of the wounds of its past, but the future and the integrity of the country of 3.5 million are still uncertain.
In March 1993, Fikret Grabovica, an inhabitant of Sarajevo during its infamous siege that lasted for 1,425 days, lost his 11-year-old daughter Irma in a grenade explosion.
In 2009, he decided to enter public life and became chair of the non-governmental organization Association of Parents of Children Killed. His drive was to bring to justice those who killed children and adults during the war. During the Sarajevo siege, 1,601 children lost their lives, out of a population of 11,541.
Now, Grabovica, a father of three daughters, believes that many of those prosecuted for carrying out targeted killings have been released from jail. But that’s not his only concern.
Grabovica says his 24-year-old daughter, a junior computer engineer, has left the country with her fiance to start a new life in Germany. She’s not the only young person doing this.
“Having young professionals and those educated leaving the country is not just sad but is also a tragedy. [It] is a bad omen for our country’s future,” he told The Epoch Times.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the five poorest countries in Europe today, with an unemployment rate of over 25 percent among the general population and over 50 percent among youth, according to World Bank estimates.
The process of joining the European Union is in a deadlock, with corruption and nepotism prevailing. The lack of prospects, frustration with the main political figures, and the constant tension are pushing many young people out the country to try to find a better future in Western Europe.
“Today, Bosnia is a good place only for the children of those who are rich and profited from the war. For the rest, Bosnia is a difficult country where young people can’t work in their profession, and even if they do so, the salary they get doesn’t provide for a good life,” Grabovica said.
According to the non-governmental organization Union for Sustainable Return and Integration (UZOPI), 35,377 Bosnians left the country during 2017, and 18,000 more in the first six months of 2018 alone, suggesting a growing trend and an alarming “brain drain.”
Germany has become a favorite destination for many Bosnians as a result of the high need for qualified workers, especially in health care.
Danijel Kovacevic, a journalist based in Banja Luka, says that the rush to leave the country has also affected the middle class and people who have decent jobs.
“You’ve had the same politicians, the same faces all over the place, for the past 20 years. Nothing changes and people just stopped believing that something will be better,” he explained.
Blame on Politics
The Dayton Agreement left Bosnia with a complex political and administrative structure based on three ethnicities—Muslim Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats—who fought against each other during the war.
The country is made up of two autonomous entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina—inhabited mainly by Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats—and Republika Srpska, made up of Bosnian Serbs. In the federation, there are 10 cantons, plus the standalone Brcko district.
At the state level, a tripartite inter-ethnic presidency stands in the center, together with a two-chamber parliament. On top of the structure stands an international envoy in charge of overseeing the agreement implementation.
Srecko Latal, a political analyst in Sarajevo, however, believes that the complexity of the system is the least of the country’s concerns, with the biggest one being the lack of willingness of the political parties to collaborate for the whole country’s sake.
“Personal and political conflicts in BiH [Bosnia and Herzegovina] have come to the point where none of the main political actors are really willing to compromise. They are always blaming each other and as result, BiH is today in the middle of the biggest crisis ever,” he said.