Dr. Hikmet Karčić is a genocide scholar based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is a Researcher at the Institute for Islamic Tradition of Bosniaks (IITB) in Sarajevo and a Senior Fellow with the Center for Global Policy (CGP) in Washington DC . He was the 2017 Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation-Keene State College Global Fellow.


No country for new heroes

By Hikmet Karčić


Generations of young people in Communist Yugoslavia grew up to heroes that the state prescribed to them. Films portraying Partisans during World War Two were screened throughout the country, and thus the local heroes for the youth were Communist guerrillas. Hajrudin Krvavac was one of the most famous filmmakers in Yugoslavia who made several blockbusters that were popular among youth in Yugoslavia and especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of the reasons behind his success is that he incorporated Western that which intertwined with his creative style, finally resulting in movies appealing for all generations.


Hajrudin Krvavac was praised for his trilogy of Partisan movies, out of which probably the most epic film is the 1972 Valter brani Sarajevo (Walter defends Sarajevo), which is about an undercover Partisan leader in Sarajevo nicknamed Walter, a mysterious man who leads covert operations against the German Nazis. One of the most famous scenes of the movie belong to the last episode, which shows the main German officer, who was hunting Walter unsuccessfully,  standing on a hill above the city and stating to his comrade that he had realized why he could not defeat Walter and saying Sehen Sie diese Stadt? Das ist Walter!(“You see that city? That’s Walter!”).


This statement reflected a message of Yugoslav unity directed toward future generations. The idea of Walter and other Partisan movies continued in the post-war period. The Yugoslav Communists knew very well on how keep their ideology vital for the younger generations. The movie was well received in many cities, but especially in Sarajevo, since the city was portrayed as a defiant agent against tyranny.


Today, the idea of unity seems rather distant. Following the Bosnian genocide and war which took place from 1992 to 1995, the society has become highly polarized. As a result of the war, the country is divided into two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, composed of mainly Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats; and Republika Srpska, composed of mainly Serbs. The two entities have separate administrative-legal regulation, educational system, flag, etc.


The Federation is more complexly structured, composed of ten cantons, with each having high levels of autonomy. The state level itself is fragile yet somehow it keeps persisting. Having said that, as a result of twenty five years of such complicated system the youth in the country, especially in the Republika Srpska, do not have a sense of belonging to the country.


Youth in Republika Srpska look towards Serbia, while Bosnian Croats look towards Croatia. By giving them citizenships and voting rights, both countries rely on them as potential voters. However, such a strategy by neighbouring countries further distances youth from a sense of belonging to Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Croatia for instance, supports hard-line Bosnian Croat nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina who foster the idea of modern day apartheid. The policy of “two schools under one roof” still exists in some parts of Bosnia. Such unfortunate segregation means that, basically, in the same building, Bosniak and Bosnian Croat children attend two different schools.


Why? Because Bosnian Croats strive that their children learn from the official Croatian curriculum while Bosniak children use the Bosnian curriculum.  As a result, we have generations of Bosnian Croat children growing up learning about the history and geography of Croatia, and not of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Almost identical situation is with the educational system in Republika Srpska. This is a typical case of grooming young children to be alienated from their fellow citizens.


Bosniak youth stranded in the middle are facing numerous other problems. As a result of the war and genocide there is an entire generation of children who grew up without one or both parents. Leaving them scared and abandoned. At least 100,000 people were killed during the three and a half year war, and leaving tens of thousands more internally displaced and scattered throughout the world.


A large number of Bosniak youth, especially from Eastern and North-Western Bosnia, the sites of the worst genocide massacres, spent years searching for the remains of their loved ones. Their family members were executed and their remains dumped into hidden mass graves throughout the country. Thus, these children were subjected to multiple traumas without proper coping and healing system.


On the other hand, the Bosnian Government did not bother much on helping refugees and the internally displaced. Their help was minimal, and most, in the post-war years had to get by and take care of themselves. Without any job opportunities, many started to leave the country and head off to Western Europe, the United States of America and Australia. Already during the war, a large number of people, escaping the horrors of genocide left for Western Europe. These were mainly entire families, usually based upon their survival of mass atrocities.


Transition from a former socialist country into a democracy meant that corruption was high, state companies and factories were quickly privatized, and was (still is) lawlessness, similar to other Eastern European countries. A new class of tycoons as well as organized criminal enterprises quickly established themselves. Over time, the gap between the rich and the poor in the country became more and more evident.


Economic insecurity and political instability causes a decrease in natality. As a result, according to the United Nations population projection 2020-2100, the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina will decrease by almost 50% by 2100.


In the last couple of years, a new wave of immigration from Bosnia and Herzegovia started. This time, it is mainly young people, in search of better jobs. Skilled workers mainly left for Germany, as there is a high demand for such workers. Medical workers, architects, IT experts, and others are leaving well-paid jobs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to move to Western Europe for a better life and even better pay checks.


This shows that the economy is not the main factor but rather security. The lack of rule of law, respect of basic human rights (right to health care for example) and political instability, are causing people to not feel safe living in their country. Hence the pursuit of a better life is constantly increasing from year to year.


According to unofficial information, from 1996 to 2019, around 150,000 young people left the country. And in recent years, the young people are leaving without hesitation. Adnan Husic, Assistant Minister of Education at the Ministry of Civil Affairs stated that “In 2018, 4,474 persons renounced Bosnian nationality, 1,385 of whom were between 18 and 25,” This comes as no shock since the estimated unemployment rate among young people has almost reached 50%. The rest who are employed work mostly for minimum wage, no insurance and no job security.


On the other hand, unlike in Yugoslavia, the youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina have no heroes. Thousands of Bosnian Army veterans feel left out and betrayed by their country. War-time commanders were marginalized and dismissed.  Thus the sense of loyalty and recognition for ones sacrifice is brought into question. This results in generations of youth in search of their new Walter.