Articles on the Bosnia Conflict
Bosnia-Herzegovina Journal # 10 (last installment)
Elections wrap up; more crime and scandals; politics
By Peter Lippman
Journal index (all include photos)
Journal 1: Sarajevo and Bosnia, early September 2008
Journal 2: Sarajevo and Bosnia, early September 2008 (continued)
Journal 3: Srebrenica, September 2008 Srebrenica memorial photos
Journal 4: Bratunac, September 2008
Journal 5: End of the Queer Festival, late September 2008
Journal 6: Tuzla, early October 2008
Journal 7: Kozluk & Bijeljina, October 2008
Journal 8: Prijedor and Kozarac, mid-October 2008
Journal 9: Stolac and Mostar, October 2008
Journal 10: Elections wrap up; more crime and scandals; politics, late October 2008
To contact Peter in response to these journals or any of his articles,
This is a wrap-up of the reports on my September-October visit to Bosnia. After I was in Stolac and Mostar, I returned to Sarajevo for a week before leaving the country. The elections had finished about ten days earlier and meanwhile, crimes and scandals continued to break into the news; high-placed officials continued their scams and manipulation; international officials backed them up; and young people and activists pondered how to make Bosnia-Herzegovina into a "normal" country.
View of Sarajevo from above the Kovaci war cemetery
Through these journals I have tried to present a coherent picture of the way Bosnia (mal)functions. I have probably not focused enough on the responsibility of the international community for the mess at hand. International officials hold plenty of responsibility. It's another long and complicated story.
I think that I have cast enough aspersions on RS Prime Minister Dodik, and a few other high officials of different ethnicities, to illustrate that most public officials are stealing the wealth created by Bosnians during the Tito era. Only these officials and the gangsters are getting rich. The exceptions to this statement -- honest people who are doing well -- can probably be counted on the fingers of one or two hands. I ruefully include among the thieves most Bosniak leaders and, for that matter, some religious leaders.
I have no doubt that the Bosniaks were the greatest victims during the war, and that they were the clear targets of a genocidal plan. That's a simple fact; reality gets messier when you acknowledge that an extreme nationalist movement also arose among the Bosniaks at the beginning of the 1990s; that that faction's leaders were intimate with gangsters and war profiteers; and that while protecting Sarajevo they plundered it and enriched themselves.
I mention these wartime events because they were the precursor -- on all three ethnic sides -- to the post-war plunder, division, and hypocrisy that continue to this day. Hypocrisy, because all the nationalist (and often fascist) parties bear the word "Democracy" in their names. Some religious leaders speak in the name of tolerance and reconciliation on one hand, and pal around with profiteers on the other. The true defenders of Bosnia are now digging for food in the dumpsters and the true heroes' memories have been erased, while party operatives stand on pedestals as the leaders of their people. You can throw your old copy of Orwell's Animal Farm away; a new, more accurate and detailed version has been written.
One reader of this journal will say I've been too hard on the Croats; another on the Serbs; and another on the Bosniaks. I hope that I've not been hard on any of them, but on their venal leaders -- and equally so.
In journal #2 I mentioned that a couple thousand mail-in voters were in danger of being deprived of the right to vote because their citizenship was in question. In the end, their ballots were accepted as provisional, subject to verification after the elections.
As it happened, the nationwide municipal elections did not bring big surprises; rather, they illustrated some broad trends. Republika Srpska (RS) Prime Minister Milorad Dodik's party (SNSD) won big in that entity, taking most mayoralties except for a handful. And those exceptional municipalities were won by equally or more nationalist Serb-controlled parties.
Meanwhile, a competitor to the Croat nationalist party lost big, and the HDZ re-emerged dominant. Perhaps the only result that qualified as a surprise was the widespread defeat of Haris Silajdzic's Party for Bosnia (SBiH). Silajdzic was elected Bosniak member of the three-part Presidency in 2006 by a wide margin. Apparently what my friend Marc had told me -- that people are sick of Silajdzic's manipulation and incitement -- applies to a majority of voters. Silajdzic's weakened position could have significant effects in the next couple of years, as constitutional reforms are hammered out and as the state-level elections slated for 2010 gear up.
Voting was stronger in towns and villages, where people tend to hold more closely to the ethnic-based parties, than it was in the cities. However, in the cities some interesting things happened. Nasa Stranka, a very new non-nationalist party, made a respectable showing. In Sarajevo this party won several seats in most municipalities of the city. Given this, a coalition of relatively progressive (non-nationalist) parties could be a strong power in Sarajevo. Nasa Stranka actually won the mayoralty in the town of Bosanski Petrovac, in the northwest. In Tuzla, as expected, the Social-Democratic Party won another landslide, and Nasa Stranka won no municipal council seats at all.
The overall impact of the elections was the reinforcement and consolidation of nationalist parties, with the SDA (Izetbegovic's Bosniak nationalist party), SNSD (Dodik's party), and HDZ (Croat nationalist party) coming out ahead. Overall, the SDP and other non-nationalist parties held their previous levels or made slight gains.
Once the elections ended, the leading politicians went back to focusing on constitutional reforms. The international community is putting pressure on Bosnian leaders to institute reforms as a condition for progress in accession to the EU. Entry to the EU is the only thing that all politicians, or all but the real wing-nuts, agree on. That is, they agree on it rhetorically, but the required reform does not necessarily serve their purposes. More about that below.
THE ONGOING GASHI SAGA
I mentioned the Gashi crime family in journal #6. (There, I spelled the name Gasi, the Bosnian spelling. However, since this is an Albanian surname, I have decided to spell it as it is spelled in Albanian.) Prominent members of this family were arrested earlier this year, and their trial has been going on for several months. It is worth examining the proceedings and looking into the history of this racketeering organization, since it is one of the predominant mafias in the Sarajevo area and beyond.
In the mafia wars in Sarajevo, the conflict has involved the Gashi family and the rival group centered around Ramiz Delalic Celo. Celo was assassinated in the summer of 2007, in what was clearly a move to destroy his organization and take full control of Sarajevo's mafia activities. Testimony in the current trial points to a Gashi relative brought up from Kosovo and promised 250,000 KM for Celo's murder.
The investigation of the Gashi family, led by the head of the department for organized crime in the Federation Ministry of the Interior, Edin Vranj, began after the assassination of Celo. The police conducted raids, arrests, and confiscation of weapons and stolen property late in 2007 and early 2008. Some suspects went into hiding but eight, including the brothers Muhamed Ali Gashi and Aziz Gashi, were arrested by last spring and have been held in custody ever since.
The Gashi group has been accused of extortion and usury, as well as involvement in the murder of Celo. They are also suspected of numerous other murders in Bosnia. Their most common practice has apparently been to pressure owners of small businesses and properties in very favorable parts of Sarajevo to sell those properties to the Gashis at low prices. Along with that, the Gashis lend money to businessmen in need; the pattern has been that those businessmen then become indebted to the Gashis to the point where, because of high interest rates, they owe more than they borrowed in the first place. At times this has resulted in the debtor handing over his or her property to the Gashis. And the Gashis have also muscled their way in on property that was not privately-owned, but belonged to the municipality or a government agency.
In this and other ways, the Gashis opened a string of shops around Sarajevo and became quite rich. They had begun their operations after the war and intensified them in the early 2000s when, momentarily, other crime bosses including Celo were for one reason or another out of circulation. The violent conflict between Celo and the Gashi family began in earnest in 2004, after the Gashis began trying to assassinate Celo.
During the current trial the Federation's financial police unit testified that they have evidence of Muhamed Ali Gashi's income amounting to around 200,000 KM between 2003 and 2007, and in that period he purchased thirteen properties for approximately a half million KM. In the same period Aziz Gashi had no declared income, but he purchased an apartment in Sarajevo for 100,000 KM.
The list of the Gashi group's extortions and other crimes is long, and over one hundred witnesses are set to testify at the trial. Many are people who had hoped to earn money by opening a small business, and they risked borrowing from the Gashis. They have testified of the threats they were subjected to when it later came time to pay exorbitant interest rates. Out of fear, not all of the victims were willing to testify, and some have recanted, but the trial goes on.
The operations of mafia groups that took shape during the war are an indication of the absence of law at one level of Bosnian society. The Bosniak- and Albanian-run mafias are only one example; such groups exist among the Bosnian Croats and Serbs as well. However, what makes this story more interesting than ordinary organized crime is the nexus between these very crude and violent bandits and those who wear suits and ties. An unexpected light was shone on the interaction between these two levels of criminality early in November, when it came to the attention of the Federation police that members and friends of the Gashi group, both in and out of jail, were attempting to influence witnesses.
The Federation police were eavesdropping on conversations conducted via cell-phone between jailed Gashi clan members and both friends and potential prosecution witnesses on the outside. In early November they arrested nine people for attempting to influence witnesses and for planning to attack the family of chief investigator Edin Vranj. Additional members of the Gashi group were arrested even though they were already in jail. Police staged a surprise raid on the jail cells of the Gashi brothers and two accomplices and confiscated cell phones from them. With these telephones the police found evidence, including text messages, of threats that were sent.
One of the people arrested for helping the Gashis from outside was Senad Sahinpasic "Saja." Saja is a well-known close friend of Bakir Izetbegovic, son of the deceased president of Bosnia Alija Izetbegovic. Saja is one of the richest Bosniaks in the country. He is also a close friend of Fahrudin Radoncic, the newspaper magnate and property developer whom I mentioned in earlier journals, and he has associated with Naser Oric and the recently-deceased gangster Ismet Bajramovic. Before the war Saja was owner of a produce store.
During the war, by all accounts, Saja enriched himself in cooperation with certain other prominent Bosniaks who trafficked in arms and international humanitarian donations. These donations were intended for the well-being of the Bosniaks and others who were trying to defend the unified state of Bosnia. However, a significant portion of the donations translated into wealth for Saja Sahinpasic, Bakir Izetbegovic, and others. Saja has been under investigation by European police agencies for various manifestations of corruption, and he was for a time blacklisted by the US State Department (thus prohibited from traveling to the US).
Saja is what is known in Bosnia as a "controversial businessman." This was his first arrest. Evidence against him included vulgar cell-phone conversations between him and Muhamed Ali Gashi that the police had recorded. In these conversations Saja made threatening statements against prosecutor Vranj. Decent people of Bosnia were shocked when some of these recordings were replayed on public television, including one where Saja said, "I'm going to send a Black man to rape his twelve-year-old daughter." Later, Saja asserted that he was "not serious."
Unlike the others who were arrested, Saja was released after two days. The prosecutor justified his release by saying that his offense, "planning a crime against the chief investigator," was not something that he was likely to be jailed for in any event.
Bakir Izetbegovic, one of the most powerful men in the leading Bosniak nationalist party, said of this incident, "Saja said things that shocked the women in my family." Then he went on television to talk about Saja's humanitarian actions during the war.
There are further connections between low and high crime. Someone in the police department tipped off Saja that he was going to be arrested, and the first person Saja called was Fahrudin Radoncic. Radoncic, the publisher of the right-wing Bosniak nationalist organ Dnevni Avaz, moves around town in a tinted-window SUV donated to him by Gashi clan member Naser Kelmendi.
One could make a three-dimensional model or monopoly game that would illustrate how the underworld is connected to the "controversial businessmen" who are connected to the prominent politicians of Bosnia-Herzegovina -- to all the politicians, in fact. And from there to the religious infrastructures. These dimensions of the regime of corruption are connected across ethnicities as well.
In the Bosnian language there is now an expression, "Dodikovanje," which means, more or less, "doing what Dodik does." One of the things Dodik does, as the most clever politician in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is to play the international community like a Stradivarius. Nor is he a slouch when it comes to manipulating opposition politicians and, for that matter, his followers.
Dodik is probably the most powerful and effective politician in Bosnia today. You have seen how he was able to dead-end the energetic Fadil Banjanovic in his little village of Kozluk (see journal #7: Kozluk and Bijeljina). He has arranged much higher-level tricks than that, including a more recent political deal that you'll read about below. One of the reasons Dodik is so effective is that there is less democracy in the Republika Srpska than in the Federation; because the RS is essentially a mono-ethnic entity, politics is more monolithic there. The Federation is shared not only by Croats and Bosniaks, but also by socialists, liberals, nationalists, anti-nationalists, each of whom has a separate party and contends in the political processes. Of course, the nationalists have the upper hand, but there again, they are not united in the way the Serb nationalists are. In the RS, Dodik's party competes with the SDS and other secondary Serb nationalist parties, but they all fall in line when it comes to supporting separatism and apartheid. Since 2006 Dodik has ridden the crest of popular support from his Serb constituency.
I have noticed that Dodik seems to oscillate between the role of boogeyman/reincarnation of Milosevic and that of the ultimate bearer of peace and reconciliation in the Western Balkans. His oscillations between separatist extremism on one hand, and compromise on the other, can be traced over time, and I will mention a couple of his relevant maneuvers. In playing the role of a one-man good cop-bad cop, Dodik throws people off balance with his threats, and then they are so relieved when he comes up with a relatively reasonable suggestion that they forget the recent past and applaud him.
When I say "Dodik throws people off balance," I am referring both to international officials -- especially High Representative Miroslav Lajcak -- and domestic politicians, more than average people. The ordinary people are so fed up with and cynical about politics that they hardly pay attention to what someone like Dodik says. Ordinary people become tired of the false euphoria of separatist hysteria when they see that none of the drama changes their lives for the better. They sense that they are being used.
Apropos of this, the UN Development Program's "Early Warning System" recently released the results of its latest quarterly political survey. Broadly, the results show that fewer people are voting or otherwise participating in politics in the Republika Srpska; that fewer people are supporting Dodik's party, and that those people are not gravitating towards another option. Thus, apathy is growing, and the optimistic prognosis would be that there could be an opening for a new alternative. Meanwhile, in the Federation the number of voters has risen slightly, unlike in the RS, and there has been a respectable rise in support for the non-nationalist Social-Democratic Party. These latter indications seem to support my feeling that political processes in the Federation, while not splendid, are more lively and participatory than in the RS.
In any case, the constant off-balance state of Bosnia's leaders helps Dodik stay in his position of power (in his "armchair," as Bosnian commentators like to say), and clearly this is his intention. Better to run a satrapy than to be hauled before a local court for stealing millions.
Some people might recall that a year ago commentators were saying that Bosnia was facing its "worst crisis since the war." Was that "pre-déjà vu?" They said the same thing again last month. It is a pattern; back then, towards the end of 2007, Dodik engineered a deep-freeze of government processes at the state level when he instigated a Serb boycott of Parliament, and the Serb prime minister of Bosnia, Dodik's man, resigned. Everything stopped; local politicians castigated Dodik, and international officials wrung their hands. Then everything started again, because Dodik climbed down from his rhetorical treehouse and allowed a compromise. The government was put back together, everyone sighed, and life went on -- until Dodik's next crisis. What was this all about? Essentially nothing. If you're reeeeallly curious, read my article from December of 2007: http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/crisis_and_reform_a_turnaround_in_bosnia.
When I look back at it myself, I can hardly figure out why all the huffing and puffing was worth those 3,000 words.
Now there has been another Dodik-crisis and Dodik-denouement. The elections campaign happened. Elections mean hot air; elections mean threats. Hot air levitates voters, and threats polarize them into constituencies. Silajdzic called for the abolition of the RS (knowing it's not going to happen). Dodik threatened to hold a referendum for secession. International officials muttered about removing "certain politicians" from office. Dodik threatened that if he were removed from office, he would annul Bosnia's laws pertaining to the RS and declare independence -- knowing that it's not going to happen. And this latest took place after the elections, the momentum of the pre-election hustle carrying past the goal post.
Paddy Ashdown (former High Rep) and Richard Holbrooke (latter-day Kissinger) wrote a worried open letter to the world, published in the Guardian, saying, "Hey people, Bosnia's falling apart, we'd better pay attention." Lajcak announced that Bosnia reminded him of other countries that were about to break up. And a reporter from the New York Times visited Bosnia for a while and, thinking he was seeing something big, new, and real, wrote of "fears of a new ethnic conflict in Bosnia."
It was big, but it was not real, and certainly not new. It was for show. Leaders of Bosnia's main political parties got the message, as did the internationals: "Dodik is a threat." They were off-balance, and it was time for Dodik to pull the next rabbit out of his hat: a compromise on constitutional reform, hammered out among the three leading nationalist politicians. Again, at least in the eyes of the international officials, Dodik was a prince.
THE PRUD DEAL
In mid-November, Dragan Covic of the Croat nationalist HDZ, Suleiman Tihic of the Bosniak nationalist SDA, and Dodik met at a village called Prud in northern Bosnia. There, they agreed to go to their parties and to Parliament and promote compromise solutions on specific long-running neuralgic issues that the international community has been pressuring them to resolve. Resolution of these issues is necessary for advancement in the process of accession to the EU; they are among conditions that the international community set forth at the beginning of last year.
The Prud deal addressed several issues including a proposed census; the status of Brcko District; and the disposition of state-owned property. Probably the most controversial -- and most open to finagling -- is the latter issue: what to do with state-owned property, such as military real estate, that is no longer in use. Shall that and similar property go to the central Bosnian state, to the entities, or to the municipality? Here is where you can imagine a profiteer's steal-o-meter zipping into the red zone. "Ethnic privatization" -- plundering while standing behind an ethnic shield -- is an effective way for nationalist leaders to enrich themselves, and they have already helped themselves to much of Bosnia that was not nailed down. But the plunder party is not over. And collaboration among the elites of the three ethnicities is not new; it's just going into a new phase.
One commentator described the Prud trio, Covic, Dodik, and Tihic, as "two hardened crooks and a simpleton" -- this last referring to Tihic. I have mentioned a couple of Dodik's self-enrichment schemes. Covic is the subject of a long-term corruption trial that has undergone reversals and been shunted from one court to another but has not been completely abandoned. Tihic has not, as far as I know, been stained with the same accusation of corruption as the other two operators, but he is certainly interested in power. And with these three leading parties banding together, there may be a possibility of edging certain competitors off the stage.
Power calculations changed immediately with the Prud compromise, because it reinforced the defeat of Haris Silajdzic's party, as well as that of the rival Croat nationalist party, in the October elections. Silajdzic and others immediately denounced the Prud deal as undemocratic and as a sellout by Covic and Tihic, who were accused of caving in to pressure from Dodik. Meanwhile, the Prud trio and their respective parties promoted the compromise, and they were lauded by Lajcak and others of the international community.
If you were unconcerned about ongoing corruption, the Prud deal could indeed look like a solution to Bosnia's ongoing near-dissolution. After all, the three most powerful politicians had agreed on something. However, the compromise will probably not be pushed through. The three relevant political parties do not possess enough of a Parliamentary majority to put it over by themselves. Silajdzic's party is in coalition with the SDA, but it will not cooperate. For a while the promoters of the Prud deal were courting Zlatko Lagumdzija and his SDP. Lagumdzija played coy for a month or so. He could have joined the government, but instead, he announced that he was having nothing to do with the deal.
In his criticism of the Prud deal, Silajdzic said that the three initiating parties were trying to take complete control of Bosnia, and that Tihic was "betraying Bosniak national interests." Tihic responded that Silajdzic doesn't know "how to solve problems, but only how to make them.” This may be true. However, Silajdzic is not averse to backroom deals himself, and he certainly knows how to recognize when a corrupt deal is being set up.
Along the way, Dodik has racked up an interesting record of antics over the last half year or so. One of his campaigns has been to withdraw as many governmental competencies as possible from the central Bosnian government, throwing them back to the entities. Over the last few years, the Office of the High Representative has succeeded, mostly by decree, in strengthening the central government to some extent. This year Dodik launched an offensive to reverse this trend, for example focusing on the statewide electricity distribution network, which he wants to divide into two companies. Motivation: there's money to be made in controlling the distribution.
Another potential scandal arose, and quickly faded away, when it became apparent that the Republika Srpska police force was secretly arming itself through side-deals with Slovenia and other governments. Meanwhile, the RS was behaving as if it were a sovereign country, setting up direct diplomatic relations with as many governments as it could. And Dodik exercised exceptional extravagance and wastefulness in the construction of certain highways, as well as a palatial new government office building in the RS capital of Banja Luka. These actions led to an aborted investigation by the state secret police (SIPA), after which Dodik threatened to arrest the SIPA police. Eventually, he handed over the documents they had been looking for.
In response to all his apparent malversation and bullying, various leaders around the region have rhetorically struck back at Dodik. In October Croatian President Stjepan Mesic compared Dodik with Milosevic. Croat member of the Bosnian three-part Presidency Zeljko Komsic called Dodik a "dictator." And the Dutch Ambassador to Bosnia said that Dodik was "worse than Lukashenko" (the president of Belarus). In response, Dodik banned Ambassador Vosskuhler from the Republika Srpska. Later Vosskuhler apologized -- to Lukashenko.
Perhaps the height of this comedy was reached when Dodik filed charges against Deputy High Representative Raffi Gregorian for "engaging in a criminal conspiracy to stop a positive trend" in the Republika Srpska. Gregorian said that Dodik was losing touch with reality and should seek psychiatric treatment.
Over the past few months the international community has increased its attention on Bosnia and the region, and correspondingly heightened its criticism of Bosnia's leaders -- especially of Dodik and Silajdzic -- for their failure to break the logjam of constitutional reform. But notwithstanding new attention from the international community, its representatives have been content to accept excuses and half-measures from Bosnia's leading politicians. The Prud deal, which could help to split Bosnia's two entities further apart, is worse than a half-measure, but the international officials are supporting it eagerly.
One question that's floating around is why High Representative Lajcak is so easy on Bosnia's leaders and at times seems to strain to placate Dodik, the mini-strongman. Some commentators assert that it is because Lajcak lacks the strong support from the international community that earlier Hi-Reps had. Others say "no, Lajcak just doesn't care; he's only a careerist trying to get through a difficult assignment."
Apropos of the international community's behavior, I want to share something written in a semi-public letter by Kurt Bassuener, a Senior Associate of the Democratization Policy Council (see http://democratizationpolicy.org): "...the EU seems trapped in its own enlargement/accession mentality, and assumes that that script will apply here [in Bosnia]. It isn't and it won't, but it remains to be seen whether they'll internalize that. As of now, the impression I get is that so long as the EU flag flies over the shiny new Commission building, and Bosnia isn't burning, it's a 'success.'"
With this section on Dodik and my critique of the international community's role in Bosnia, I am winding up my set of journals. I have not said everything, but I have written too much. I have not adequately discussed some of the most problematic figures in Bosnia: Haris Silajdzic; the Reis-ul-ulema Mustafa Ceric (spiritual leader of Bosniaks and major political player); the crooked Croat nationalist oligarchy, and others. And the ever-present Radoncic -- his corruption and meddling are bottomless.
There will be more scandals. And more swindles. But their stories will have to wait. It's time for me to let you move on to other things. But I hope that I have given you a rough idea of how things are working in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a glimpse of the fact that there are young activists there who need to be supported. I love them as I love Bosnia and Herzegovina. They have a hard job, because the kleptocracy that now rules Bosnia (with the disregard, and sometimes assistance of the international community) is firmly entrenched.
ODDS & ODDS
I finish this series of journals with a few odd items:
--Cop returns lost money:
Why is this news? The October 8th edition of the Banja Luka daily Nezavisne Novine reported with fanfare that a policeman found a lost wallet containing several hundred KM, belonging to a pensioner. He returned it. Together with the money.
--Who has the most guns?
The September 30th, 2008 issue of Start magazine reported the results of the Small Arms Survey poll from 2007 that researched the number of guns per 100 population in different countries. The top three: The United States at 90 guns per hundred people; Yemen at 61; and Finland at 55. Serbia ranked sixth with 37.5 guns per 100 people. No other Balkan country -- nor any other East European country, and only one other Middle Eastern country (Iraq) -- were listed in the top ten.
--Three Algerians/Bosnians released from Guantanamo.
Soon after 9/11 six Algerians, most carrying Bosnian citizenship, were arrested in Bosnia on suspicion of plotting to blow up the US Embassy. They were held by the Bosnian government for a while and questioned, and then released for lack of evidence. But on their release, they were handed over to US authorities, who spirited them off to Guantanamo. Their handover to US authorities was one of the low points of the government headed for two years by Zlatko Lagumdzija and his SDP.
At Guantanamo they were tortured and abused for the next seven years. Finally, the US Supreme Court decided that there was no case against them and that they must be released. Interrogators had long since dropped the bomb-plot accusation. After the Supreme Court decision the US agreed to let all go except one, whom they accuse of "having planned to go to Afghanistan." Recently three of the prisoners were released and are living peacefully in Bosnia, reunited with their families. The stories they have to tell of how they were treated in Guantanamo are appalling.
--Santa Claus banned!
With the introduction of religious education in a government-run chain of 24 nursery schools in Sarajevo, Santa Claus has been banned. The director of this group of pre-schools said that Santa Claus "plays no part in Bosniak tradition." Sarajevo Serbs and Croats were said to be removing their children from these schools. But many Bosniaks were unhappy as well. Santa Claus, better known in the former Yugoslavia as "Grandfather Frost," has been a tradition for at least the last two generations and has brought joy to many children in Bosnia. In late December an ethnically-mixed group of several hundred parents held a public protest of the ban.
The great spreading Wall Street and mortgage crisis meltdown took place while I was in Bosnia. People there, including intelligent people, asked me if this wasn't something cooked up by the Republican Party. Their assumption was that then the Republicans would pull something out of their hat to fix it all before our elections: a fine October surprise. I had to disabuse my friends. Then people here in the US asked me how the crisis was being received in Bosnia. Slowly. When you're nearer the bottom, it takes longer to hit. Some Bosnians had congratulated themselves for being in less danger, since they had less to lose. But then there was a run on the banks. And foreign investment, such as it is, is slowing down. In the long run, it may not be as much as a disaster for Bosnia as some other venues, but it's not promising.
I stopped in Bucharest for a few days on my way home from Bosnia. What a contrast! First, a contrast between Romania now and the last time I had been there -- in 1981. Then, even tourists could hardly get food to eat. Now, Romania is a full-fledged member of the EU.
Layers of Bucharest
Second, a contrast between Romania and Bosnia. As I was heading to Romania I read something about it being very high on the corruption index, relative to the rest of Europe. That could be. But Romania's economy is growing, and its unemployment rate is hovering around four percent -- about a tenth of Bosnia's. Investment is taking place; a car company built a factory that employs 9,000 people. You don't hear about that kind of thing very much in Bosnia. And shiny buildings are going up all over the city. Alas, I didn't learn anything about life in the countryside.
I remembered my friend Marc's quip about corruption in Bosnia: "With the politicians, the problem is not that they steal, but that they steal everything" (see journal #1). Apparently, if they are stealing in Romania, nevertheless they are leaving something for ordinary people.
Graffiti on the streets in Bucharest: "In a normal country, people don't grope women on the streets" and "In a normal country, people take a shower every day." These were both done with stencils. Another: "Anti-NATO!"
Graffiti in Bucharest: "Destroy Fascism!"
I went into a restaurant and there were men wearing suits and ties, smoking cigars. In Bosnia those people would be members of the criminal element: either gangsters, politicians, or businessmen. Here, there's a chance that they are honest people.
One day I walked around my north-end neighborhood near Gara de Nord, and I looked around for a coffee shop. In Sarajevo you can't swing a raggedy jacket without hitting one. I couldn't find one easily here -- how unusual! I thought, "Hmmm, people are doing something productive here."
THIS JUST IN
I started out this series of journals by revealing a few sordid details of Federation Prime Minister Nedzad Brankovic, who sold valuable parts of public utilities on the cheap, stonewalled important reforms and investment, and feathered his own nest. Just the other day a member of the "Society of Anonymous Writers" painted a graffiti message in Brankovic's neighborhood: "Thief, Give the Apartment Back!" Now Brankovic is complaining that some members of the independent press in the Federation (especially Dani and Slobodna Bosna) have been "creating an atmosphere of witch-hunt" against him and that he just might resign. The graffiti makes him "fear for his and his family's security."
I was on the phone with my friend Marc today, and Marc pointed out that it was interesting that Brankovic assumed that the graffiti message was addressed to him.