Mediha Adrović was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1979. Graduated from the Faculty of Political Science, Department of Journalism. “Journalism is a big love, in all segments, from radio but also print and online media”, she likes to say. After working in the news program, for 15 years she has been working for the state TV of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the editorial office for culture.

Unemployment is a burning problem facing Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH). Young people here share in the unfortunate designation that BH has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe. Those who are, nevertheless, employed, are mostly working in the private sector, but they aspire to a secure position in public service.

Anela Mrdić, from Sarajevo, is still looking for a job. She blames the government for the unemployment, which goes hand in hand with poverty, corruption, and the BH political system.

“For four years now I have been trying to find a job in my profession, without success. For every job you need a connection or to have somebody who is politically active who can help you find a job. Knowledge is least valued here. Although I have no experience in my profession, I am willing to work, to learn, but I’m not being given the chance. I’ll probably end up going outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think the option is Germany, and we’ll see,” says Anela.

But Anela is not the only one who sees a better future for hreself abroad. The massive departure of young people is increasingly visible in BH society. This trend has been on the rise, significantly, over the past five years, and should it continue, BH will be facing a grim future: it will become a country of the elderly. Unemployment is the reason that the American Cato Institute has ranked BH in the less than glorious eighth place on their poverty index.

“According to the most recent research from 2019, the desire to go abroad is not on the wane. Between 60% and 70% of the working population has indicated they would like to leave. But interesting that when they are asked what they are willing to do to prepare for leaving, the percentage drops drastically. Only every tenth person has actually taken the steps needed to leave,” as Amer Osmić tells us, a sociologist working on migration and an assistant at the Sarajevo Faculty of Political Science.

According to a study run by the KULT Institute for Youth Development in 2017 analysing the reasons why they are leaving their home country, young people between the ages of 15 and 35 say that the main reason they’re moving away is that they can’t envision a better future for themselves.

“Over 80% of the young people who were examined selected this as their reason for leaving, followed by dissatisfaction over the political situation, selected by under 70% of the people who were examined.

Unemployment holds only sixth place among the reasons why young people are leaving their home country, and just under 40% of the people examined said this was why they were leaving their home country.

Next to unemployment is dissatisfaction with a current job or salary level, which about 30% of the young people gave as the reason for leaving. The conclusion is that young people are not leaving primarily because of a lack of employment opportunities, but because of the entire political and social situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” as they say at the KULT Institute for Youth Development.

Over the last seven years, 230,000 have left the country 

Unfortunately BH does not keep precise data on the number of people who have left the country in the recent period. According to data from the Union for Sustainable Return and Integrations in BH, about 230,000 people left BH between July 2013 and January 2020. Among them are people who left BH while still retaining their residency status, but also those who permanently renounced their citizenship.

According to the data of the Ministry of Civil Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina, more than 85,000 people had renounced their BH citizenship by halfway through 2019.  “If we take into consideration that young people are the group that most often leaves BH, we conclude that the number of young people leaving BH is equal to the population of third- or fourth-level cities here,” said the Institute.

There is no state-wide law in BH about young people. The Institute is currently working on analysing the condition and needs of young people in BH in conjunction with the Ministry of Civil Affairs in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is a key step toward writing important strategic documents for young people.

“In the BH Federation, a Youth Act has been in effect for ten years, but even after ten years there has been no work done on the strategy that is required by the law. As far as the Republika Srpska entity is concerned, there the situation is somewhat better because a youth policy was adopted for 2016/2020. The Brčko district of BH has had a Youth Act on the books for the shortest time, but already they are developing a strategy for the young, which is slated to be adopted this year. An analysis of the condition and needs of the young in the Brčko district of BH has been drawn up, and currently underway  is operative discussion in work groups. At the lower levels of government (cantons and municipalities) the situation is somewhat more positive, while the Institute intends to offer, this year, support to six or seven communities to help them develop their strategies for young people,” the Institute said.

On the basis of experience working with the young and following all trends and movements related to the young, young people do not generally make adequate use of the available legal options regulating employment while they are students.

An alarm no one is activating

Unfortunately, the education systems were not created to motivate high-school and university students to work, or build up their experience through practical work. Every fourth person in BH drops out of the education system, which is far higher than the average number of drop-outs found in most European countries.

“Young people have expressed satisfaction with the system of education, yet they show no interest in travel, for instance, for educational purposes, they don’t think volunteer work is worthwhile, or gaining practical experience and so forth. This gives me the impression that young people see education as a path to a diploma, but not to the knowledge, skill and competence that would make them competitive in the workforce.

The fact that they see public administration as the most desirable employer also shows that young people feel that what matters most is obtaining the ‘papers’ to open the doors of the institutions, to find a secure job and that this is what matters.

Unfortunately time and energy must be invested both in the education system and the labor market for this attitude to change among young people. In essence, we can say that a significant number of young people are aware of the serious situation and the circumstances they live in, but what worries me personally is the lack of quality solutions offered by young people, except the fact that they see leaving the country as their solution.

On the other hand, there are some young people who feel, for instance, that the BH education system is good, yet they have never traveled outside the country anywhere for educational purposes, so it is difficult to say what they have to compare our educational system with. We could therefore say that the perception of young people of the condition in society is founded on a narrow perspective of the ways in which they, themselves, live, and less on an understanding of the broader context, and an analysis of the problems and solutions,” as Dr. Lejla Turčilo explains, of the Department of Communications/Journalism at the Sarajevo Faculty of Political Science.

Unfortunately, this is an educational system which does not have a dual orientation, and it does not offer young people opportunities to acquire knowledge, competence and skills during the formal education process in keeping with the needs and competitiveness of the 21st century, so this reduces the chances for quick employment, which leads to the assumption that many young people are doing jobs they were not trained for and for which they do not have adequate education.

“Almost 50% of BH young people are doing jobs they were not trained for or have no skills or competence for, while almost every third young working person feels overqualified for the job he or she is doing,” says Amer Osmić.

An interesting but also worrisome fact is that an exceptionally small number of young people find jobs to put themselves through their tertiary schooling, which can be explained by custom in BH, but also the other countries of the region, for parents to support their children throughout their studies. “According to the available data, the number of young people who decide to volunteer is low. Only 13% have stated that over the last twelve months they were involved in an activity which could be termed volunteer work. Young people most often serve as volunteers in schools or universities, and youth organizations”, says Osmić.

According to recent research conducted by the Studija o mladima Bih [Study on Youth in Bosnia and Herzegovina], under the auspices of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Study on Youth in Southeastern Europe 2018/2019, an international research project that is being run simultaneously in ten southeastern European countries, has shown that almost every other young person in BH who drops out of the formal education system remains at the level of third-year secondary school or lower.

They spend their free time in cafes, they do not attend cultural events, nor do they travel. The reason for this is that young people do not perceive expertise, competence and qualifications as key to getting a job, but instead believe that what matters more is having friends, acquaintances, and connections with people in certain positions, or simply good luck.

A key problem is that there is no systematic concern for young people, and the sporadic measures and public calls aimed at young people will not contribute to significant progress. The very lack of strategic documents and concrete action plans funded by a budget are a reflection of the state’s lack of concern for young people.

For all these reasons, but also because of the vast numbers of people leaving BH, the KULT Institute for Youth Development inaugurated a campaign known as #necudaidem [#Iwon’tleave], with the goal of encouraging, motivating and stimulating the media and decision-makers to tackle more seriously the problem of the mass departures of young people.

“What matters most is that young people mustn’t lose their motivation for their personal advancement, but also for making a contribution to the community. They must not accept or be part of negative trends in society, instead they should point to all the anomalies they notice or experience. Young people are the vitality and potential of every society, and they should see themselves as such, but they should also convince society that they have the capacity for advancing and developing the community!” as the KULT Institute for Youth Development concluded.

Anela Mrdić, quoted at the beginning of this story, says she doesn’t want to go abroad, but she is afraid she may have no other options. She says that the time has come for politicians to listen to the voice of youth and start creating the climate for them to stay, instead of leaving. BH still seems to be silent in response to the groans of those on whose shoulders rests the future of the world.

Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać