Back in the USSR (Day 8)
Ann and I have been tagging along to all the organizations this week. Today, we went out on the streets of Sanski Most to conduct interviews with the group interning with the local, municipal government.
Let me preface this by saying that I have purposely avoided making reference to specific people’s names with regards to the information we received today. This being a public forum and the topic being one of a sensitive nature, I have done this for the safety of my new Bosnian friends, as well as for myself. Yes, it is that important.
One of the men who works for the local government has openly jeered at the group working with him. Joe said he saw him throwing away their ideas and Julia was blatantly harassed by by him. Instead of suggesting work for Sean, he shamelessly flirted with her. This man is the youngest person in Sanski Most’s government; he is the person who would be the easiest for local youth to connect with, but he is the least likely politician to enact change or progress.
We interview three or four Sanski Most teenagers about how they would want to improve the city and how they could get involved. They suggest concerts, international food festivals, folklore societies, and public sports complexes. They all have good ideas and they all agree they would like to see progress.
Progress will come slowly, if at all in Sanski Most. Though enmity is no longer visible between Bosniaks and Serbs, there is still a reigning conflict in government: the corrupt versus the just.
We take a tour of the local high school and discover that there are only 50 books in the library and that none of the kids have ever looked through a microscope. The biology lab has no running water and only half a microscope – it doesn’t have a lens. The chemistry lab is filled with beakers, but they’ve never been used. The worst part is that, each year, some official pops in for a visit in order to cross off the names of potential graduates whose fathers may not have paid the official a high enough bribe. One of our friends is 17 and, though he should have graduated this year, is just now starting his junior year.
Last year, a girl at the high school was raped and murdered. However, there was never an investigation into her death and no one has been charged. There was never any coverage in the news. When a group of students started a protest, they were silenced with threats, sometimes on their lives. Earlier this year, a local club received several bomb threats as a means to force the owner to sell it. One night, the only night for weeks that wasn’t prefaced by a threat, a small bomb went off in the street, killing two. There was no media coverage. The owner agreed to sell his €3 million club for 1 million BAM. There still has been no coverage of the war criminal’s death from last week.
On the surface in Sanski Most, life seems nice, if a little slower in development than the rest of Europe. Yes, there is unemployment and poverty, but petty crime is almost unheard of.
However, do a little talking and you find out that there is no such thing as a secret ballot and some people have never heard of free media. Political corruption and bribery is rampant and the attitude of most people in Sanski Most is that there is nothing they can do to change it. We ask someone why they don’t stop going to the club that was bombed if they know the circumstances behind its new ownership. They say there is nothing else to do here, and that the club is the only one with a dance floor (which isn’t technically true, Palazzo’s dance floor is great). We ask why they don’t choose to vote for opposition candidates. Because, they say, our fathers will be fined or fired. One of our friends has his own sketch comedy TV show here. When he wrote a sketch poking fun at the government, his boss yelled, “Are you crazy!? Do you want this station to be shut down?” and threatened to fire him.
It is not ingrained, as it is in Americans, in the people of Bosnia to take responsibility for their lives and their governments. We were blessed with incredibly wise and progressive founders like Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin. Under Tito, Yugoslavia was spoon fed everything it needed (with the exception of freedom of political expression) and as a result, Bosnians have no concept of the idea of political revolution or even of the idea that an individual can be capable of changing things for the better.
I’ve always appreciated my political freedoms and I’ve alway been in such awe of the foresight and incredible planning that went into the US Constitution. But I’ve never been aware of what it really looks like when freedom of the press, or assembly, or speech, or any other right that I may or may not take for granted gets swept out from under. Or what it looks like when those rights were never there in the first place.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to vote again without thinking about my friends here, and how they can not be guaranteed a free and fair election.
It sounds so cliche and trite to say that this trip has really made me appreciate my life at home. In reality, it just makes me really sad that the talent and intelligence and political concern in this country are not getting adequate room to grow. I am continually amazed by the ability of power to corrupt even the most well-meaning person, and to transform a person of average ethical practices into a purveyor of evil.
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Tags: Bosnia, Europe, politics, Sanski Most, travel