Specter of War Looms Heavy over Bosnia

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia -- Nestled in the Balkan Peninsula, the heart-shaped country of Bosnia-Herzegovina is trying to sell itself to the world and to its citizens.

Glitzy television commercials showing the sights and sounds of the country have been running for years since the war under the slogan, "Enjoy Life in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

But it's been a hard sell.

A first-time visitor to Sarajevo might think that this is a very prosperous nation. Practically all the cafes in the capital city are jam-packed Monday through Sunday.

But the reality is very different. In fact, half of the country is unemployed. Young Bosnians are hurting the most.

"When we finish with our schooling we aren't able to find jobs," one young Bosnian said. "The economy is so bad that businesses aren't hiring. People are getting frustrated."

Brain Drain

The lack of work has a growing number of residents wanting to leave the country.

"There is no future for me here," one woman said. "I would leave if I had the chance."

That pessimism has government officials worrying about potential brain drain. 

"I have two degrees, but couldn't find work," another woman said. "So I moved to Vienna and now I'm a dance instructor with my own studio there."

Muhamed Usanovic runs a popular coffee shop in downtown Sarajevo. When you look around here, you see all young people -- most with no job.

"Most of the people here are students or graduates who've borrowed a few dollars from their parents. And they come here sit, talk with their friends, and have coffee," Usanovic told CBN News. "This is how they spend the their time."

A Broken System
Usanovic, like many others CBN News met, blame politicians and the culture of corruption for most of the country's economic mess.

"My opinion is that our system of governance is not working. Nothing gets done because of the political divisions," Usanovic said.

"Those in power don't feel like they have a responsibility to make this country better," he added. "Instead they focus on rewarding their own ethnic group."

In 1996, the United States brokered the Dayton Peace Accord that helped end the three-and-a-half year war in Bosnia. The agreement created two semi-independent states, one for Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, and one for Serbs.

It also led to a power sharing arrangement with Bosnian Muslims, Serbs, and Croats rotating key government positions. The presidency rotates between the three ethnic groups every eight months.

"We have three presidents! Can you imagine this? Two agree, the third doesn't," Usanovic explained. "Then it flips. One agrees the other two disagree, and it goes on and on in circles and the country suffers as a result."

Dead Last Economically

This year's Index of Economic Freedom has Bosnia dead last among Balkan countries. In 2011, the nation's credit rating took a hit when it was downgraded from stable to negative.

International investments have slowed. The World Bank ranks Bosnia 125th out of 183 countries in terms of the ease of doing business. And the global economic slowdown hasn't helped either.

"We are still a country in transition and it may take a while before we can see brighter days," one man told CBN News.

The Dayton Accord stopped Bosnians from slaughtering each other but did little to heal the nation.

Sixteen years after the war, there is a semblance of peace. Many people are surprised that violence hasn't erupted.

But when you talk to a Serb, Croat, or Muslim, very few people talk about reconciliation and a coming together within the society.

Ethnic Divisions Still Deep

In some ways Bosnia looks and feels like two countries in one. Serbs living in the Republika of Srpska use the Cyrillic alphabet. The Croat-Muslim federation uses Latin.

Each has its own police force, government leaders, parliament, school system and language. 

"Do you worry about the future?" CBN News asked Usanovic.

"Look, for me it's the basic things: I want my children to feel safe, feel secure, have a stable future and to make sure the things that happened in the past don't happen again," he explained.

But the chances that there could be another war in the country weigh heavy on the hearts of Bosnians.

"Yes the potential for war another is huge. I was a commander during the Bosnia war. I was here 20 years ago fighting on the frontlines to defend Sarajevo," Usanovic said.

"Today I see all the reasons for another war: economic stress, political divisions, ethnic divisions, religious tensions, it's all there," he continued. "It's all a matter of time."

*Originally aired on April 4, 2012.

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CBN News
George Thomas

George Thomas

CBN News Sr. Reporter

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