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Lessons from Bosnia — Part 5
This is the most important topic we will discuss. At the same time, it is the biggest topic. This could easily be a book, and I could easily do a hundred talks just on this topic. We could talk about information overload, sifting through what is important, what is not, lies versus the truth. We could talk about miscommunication; i.e. the government is too far and citizens are too close, this could cause all kinds of issues. We could talk about personal awareness, from discovering a need you have and then going out there to fix it, to going out there to fix it no matter what — these two are very different. The topic is huge! However, I will sum it up into the most important points.
Let’s start with the Dayton Peace Agreement (Dayton). When it first came into power, the people of Bosnia welcomed it. It ended the war. The forces from Serbia and Croatia were pulling out. That’s all that mattered, that’s all that the people knew.
That does NOT mean that everyone supported Dayton. Some people were against it from the moment they heard about it. A book called Dayton v. Attorneys by Ahmed Zilic and Saba Risaluddin was published in 1997. Dayton was signed in December of 1995. When did they have the time to get together, outline this book, and write it, and have it published?
However, this book is very academic and most people have not even heard of it, let alone read it. This happens to be the case with a large number of other books on the topic. And, as I said earlier, Dayton doesn’t even exist in Bosnian, so people couldn’t have read the original document.
People of Bosnia know about Dayton through its practical application and what they’ve been told by a large number of domestic and international officials addressing the people through public media, usually the TV. After 27 years, most people in Bosnia have no idea about the document, who has what rights, who has what kind of power, but they are certain that the document is unfair and unjust, especially to the victims of mass murder and genocide, and that our government is simply chaos.
I remember I had three questions about Dayton and I went out there to ask three experts in the field. All three of the experts I asked gave me different answers. So I concluded that no one knows Dayton. And since no one knows Dayton, is it any wonder that it is being spoken about on TV with conflicting and illogical views?
Yet people have very real and rational suffering every time a man (sometimes a woman, but it’s mostly men), who is paid out of their money (money that they need), talk against Bosnia. These men also tell lies about the citizens of Bosnia. They deny their suffering. They cheat, act like they have no values, like they respect no one, yet the whole world respects them. These are all extremely painful experiences to have every single day, multiple times a day.
What is not seen is the silence of those who suffer the most. A group of victims will never deny the suffering of another group of victims. I have not seen one official express that they are aware of this. So we have an obvious denial on the one side, no denial on the other, yet only those who express their denial receive attention. Their denial is cruel, irrational, and even illegal now, yet our media outlets are still full of reports from those who deny this basic level of respect to the victims of crimes against humanity.
In short, living under Dayton has taught many Bosnians that logic and rationality have nothing to do with democracy, or rather, leaders in democracy. Combine this with the greed of capitalists, and the people of Bosnia are turning back to Tito, a dictator.
So, yes, an additional problem is that capitalism and democracy came in one package, and people think this is a must. Again, lack of education. Capitalism and democracy are in no way connected. In fact, capitalists and capitalism, in theory, are so far apart, I’m not sure that even those two are connected anymore. We could argue that in theory, capitalism and democracy have some similarities, you know, like: the price is determined where the number of suppliers meets the demand. That could be seen as ‘people determining the price’, whether people are supplying or demanding a product, making it or selling it. One, that’s not the case, but far more importantly, things like freedom of speech are treated very differently by capitalists compared to democrats. It is reasonable to assume that a democrat would be a huge fan of freedom of speech, while a capitalist is not likely to appreciate that and would want your opinion only if it is positive. If you have a negative opinion about their product, capitalists would prefer it if you stayed silent.
And, of course, one of the main differences is that in a democracy people are the key. In capitalism, people are a resource that they need to get as cheaply as possible to keep the cost of production down so that they maximise profit. This leads to a number of other issues, most notable: respecting the environment. In theory, social cost/benefit is a big deal in capitalism, but it seems we’d rather ignore it in practice, and just obsess over profit maximisation. Some might argue that democracy is there to balance out capitalists and keep them in line, but that’s just a theory. We could just as well argue that democrats are more likely to become capitalists without even knowing it.
Hence, without knowing the theory of either capitalism or democracy, Dayton has managed to turn the people of Bosnia against both. Yet, they don’t see an alternative. While they praise the Tito era, when asked if they want a dictatorship again, many have expressed that they fear that even more than the current chaos, mostly caused by the greed of those in power; i.e. corruption.
Corruption exists everywhere. In Bosnia, it is EVERYWHERE. And I mean, from local to national/international level, from the business sector to non-government organisations, to government organisation… Everywhere! If you go to an official with a fantastic proposal, they will ask you how much you will give to them. Their logic is that if they help you, you should show your ‘gratitude’ by giving them money. The fact they’d just be doing their job for which they are already overpaid does not cross their mind.
It is well known that a job in a public firm like the ‘electric supply’, or the post office, or the telephone company, is about 10,000KM, i.e. about £5,000, and you have to be connected and active in one of the ‘tribes’, i.e. leading political parties. People openly talk about this.
You can buy a diploma, for any level of education. This has become so common, we joke that supermarkets will soon stock them. You’ll be able to go into a supermarket and just buy a PhD in engineering (or whatever), together with your food.
For many in Bosnia, this is just capitalism. And they are very proud of how they ‘made it’. They are far from understanding that this is destroying us. In fact, things that make and break a society are unknown in Bosnia. People who are not in those ‘success’ circles, who are just trying to survive, will happily do things like give their bus driver money for the ticket, but not ask for the ticket, so that the poor man can make a decent living. Naturally, such bus lines are considered unprofitable and cut. Those same people are left without transport all because they were trying to do a good deed.
Now we’ll look at a social issue much more familiar to all of us: the recent pandemic. I think this is probably the easiest way to show the difference between Bosnia and the rest of the world.
The first news we got about the pandemic was from Italy. Many of us know people there, and I have to say that many people contacted their friends to ask about it as if they didn’t believe the media reports or what the officials were saying. The news was confirmed, in fact, I remember one woman telling me how her niece is a nurse in Italy and that the situation is worse than they can show on TV.
Not too long after that we had mandatory masks, disinfectants everywhere, and a curfew, called ‘police hour’ in Bosnian. Shops were told that they can only allow a certain number of people in at a time. I remember standing in line outside a shop when an elderly gentleman, sitting on the side, waiting for his wife (no need for both of them to go in, so he waited just to help her with the bags), he said “It was easier during the war, at least then we knew where the enemy was.”
Very few people wore masks outside (apparently it was uncomfortable), but everyone wore a mask inside any space. And while we all respected social distancing, standing in line but 2m away from one another, people exchanged bits of advice: “Make sure you put some eucalyptus oil in your mask to protect you a little more.”
Then we had comments on social media about masks being useless. While some people in Bosnia took such comments very seriously and wondered if their freedoms were being taken away, many people I spoke to said how Westerners are spoiled, why would wearing a mask be such a big deal, why did they expect it to protect them 100%, and why would doctors wear masks in their profession (even without the pandemic) if it has no effect.
Curfew was yet another story. The last time we had curfew, or the ‘police hour’, was during the war. The sirens would go off, meaning it was too dangerous to stay in our homes, and we’d all go to shelters, which were in the dark, dump and cold basements. During that time we had no electricity, no water or food.
It didn’t take long for the following message to go viral:
“Am I doing this right? It’s police hour, yet I’m at home, eating popcorn, watching the TV. Feels very wrong.”
This was a message that some guy sent to his friend. The friend shared it on social media. I got it from one of my friends. We all felt like that. I remember turning the lights on and wondering if I was allowed to do that during the ‘police hour’. And don’t even get me started with leaning out of my window to clap for the medical staff who were working around the clock to care for the sick.
So while in Serbia there were protests against the curfew, we were trying to figure out what is the big deal. It’s not like your friends weren’t allowed to visit. Our friends came to visit even during the war. It was just that if they didn’t go home on time, they had to stay the night. The same happened during the pandemic. One guy laughed as he said, “It’s like New Year’s in June.”
And then the vaccines came. Up to this point, I felt that the people of Bosnia were making up their own minds about the new policies, based on their own experience. For us, curfew was not related to restriction of movement. We’ve seen it save lives. Was there a need for it at that time? Looking back, with the information we have now, maybe.
However, according to https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus/country/serbia?country=SRB~BIH COVID deaths per 100,000 people were almost the same in Bosnia and Serbia at the beginning, but they spiked in Serbia while in Bosnia the wave was considerably smaller. So, maybe not. I don’t know. It’s impossible to tell even now.
People found the vaccines a much harder issue to make a decision. That’s not something we experience except when we’re a child, and most of us do not remember being vaccinated. I was against it right from the start. I did not like the pressure or the speed at which those were created. I do not believe that competition is always a good thing; let’s face it, people are far more likely to cheat when they’re competing than when they’re not, and when they just want to get a job well done. Plus, I believe that ‘patience is a saintly virtue’. I was willing to wait.
Expressing this opinion face-to-face didn’t cause any arguments. In fact, one elderly man I knew from protests said, “If you’re not getting vaccinated, neither am I.” While this may sound like a compliment, it was a bit too much for me. I do not see myself as a leader, and I do NOT want people to copy me. I am responsible only for myself. I will share opinions, ideas, thoughts, and advice, but I believe that everyone should think for themselves, and make up their own minds. The man in question reassured me that he believed my way of thinking was correct. That’s when I was happy that I spoke to him.
Expressing this opinion online was a totally different experience. I was bombarded with insults. To this day, I have no idea why. And then I realised that it was just a sign of how angry and frustrated people were, in need of strong leadership. This need for leadership was expressed by taking it out on each other — makes sense that in a democracy we’d exect more from each other.
I remember reading how people wear masks because they love their family. And then reading how people will refuse to wear masks because they love their family. I don’t agree with either. However, it was fascinating to see how people see ‘love for your family’, and I was starting to wonder if I’m letting important things slide because the safety of your family is about noticing the things that ‘could’ turn into danger. Waiting for danger to strike has cost us thousands of lives during the war. On the other hand, I don’t want to turn molehills into mountains.
In Bosnia, I have not met a person who couldn’t name all the vaccines, where they’re from, how many were made, how many were available, who got which one — it was insane. I never thought that people in Bosnia could be so well informed. However, sifting through this information to make a decision was another story.
A friend wrote on social media that he’s going to Serbia to get vaccinated because they have more than they need, and the president of Serbia was offering the vaccines to whoever was willing to take them. I wrote to him: Let me know how you’re doing, if all goes well, I’ll get one in about 5 years.
There’s never been a policy or cause of action that everyone agreed on, however, I can usually tell if the majority of people agree, and why some disagree. When it came to vaccines, I had no idea. People were changing their minds, being hopeful one minute, and terrified the next. I couldn’t tell what was going on.
The information we have about the vaccines now has changed everything, yet people in Bosnia are no longer concerned about this issue at all. Very few will say how many young people are now dying suddenly, and could it be because of the vaccine? It’s all very shy and sorrowful. Nothing like the ‘decision-making’ era when they felt in control.
Two things spring to mind when I think back to the pandemic. One, everyone was into alternative medicine and natural remedies. ‘Foods that harm, foods that heal’ was the most popular topic. Two, all other issues, those that were brought up during the 2014 violent protests were almost irrelevant.
You know the old saying: create chaos in one room, so you can get away with murder in the other? Well, many of us feel that politicians in neighbouring Croatia used the pandemic era to get ahead with their lobbying in the EU. They didn’t create the chaos, but what kind of people would abuse that kind of situation? We can’t be sure, but we are asking how and why Christian Schmidt was selected to be the High Representative. He is 100% on the side of Croatia, and he came in 2022. So the preps must have taken place during the pandemic. It would be unreasonable to assume that replacing the High Representative happened ‘overnight’ even over a few months.
Also, the ambassador of the US in Sarajevo accused one of the ‘tribal leaders’ of corruption. This happens to be true, but it’s never been proven. This is just something we know. However, the leader of another tribe that the ambassador pushed into power was in court, and then the key piece of evidence went missing. No one was held to account. The case was simply closed. Does that sound like he’s innocent? We know that the leader the international community pushed into power is even more corrupt than the leader they accused of being corrupt. Why isn’t the ambassador aware of this? Where is he getting his information? Who is inspiring and motivating him?
These are the sorts of questions we’d like to ask, but apparently, citizens shouldn’t know everything. The excuses range from ‘it’s diplomacy’ to ‘it’s a question of national security’. In other words, citizens' awareness is in the greatest chaos it has ever been. On the one side, we have information overload with too many topics, too many opinions, a grey area between lies and truth, and we also have to deal with what is ‘diplomatically’ or ‘politically’ correct — I don’t know which one is worse. AND who is hiding their deeds behind the ‘national security’ excuse?
It’s no secret that I find the world of diplomacy annoying. However, I will try to be as nice as possible. The way I see it, it seems we have a bunch of people in leadership positions who claim to be democratic but are really capitalists, and then a handful of people who claim to be democratic and who really are democratic, fighting over what is correct and what isn’t, while ordinary people are suffering because moral compass of the institutions is turning around like it’s on drugs.
It’s no wonder that people are going crazy. Like a man in Bosnia said: whoever stays normal now, isn’t normal. And it’s not just Bosnia.
I will write about the international community in one of the future articles, for now, I’ll show what I mean by a well-known joke in Bosnia:
“A man and his wife were watching a TV program called 60 Minutes. It was about what’s going on in the country. As soon as it ended, the man said to his wife “That’s it, pack your bags, we’re leaving.” So they went to pack their bags, the man finished sooner, so he sat down to watch TV while waiting for his wife. He watched a program called ‘Parallels’. It was about what’s going on in the world. She came in and said, “I’m done. Let’s go.” He looked at her, shook his head, and said, “Forget it, we have nowhere to go.”
In short, lessons from Bosnia about Citizen Awareness:
1. Generally speaking, people do not read academic articles. If there is something people should know, it needs to be presented so that it does not feel like a chore. People are smart, they want to learn, but they’re also tired. So they will learn from friends, family, online, and their own experience.
2. Sometimes silence is a voice, probably louder than any other. So being aware of silence when there should be noise, is true awareness.
3. Capitalism and democracy are not co-dependent. In fact, they are two very different independent things. One should not be confused with the other, and both should be taught from an early age.
4. Everything in life is relative and we are constantly comparing everything. This means that what is completely acceptable, maybe even welcome, in one situation, to one set of people, might not be acceptable in another situation or another set of people.
5. Cause and effect on a society is a study all on its own.
6. What we prioritise will prevail. If we prioritise helping one individual over our bus service, we will help that individual and lose the bus service. At the same time, we can have multiple priorities, but it does mean more effort.
7. More information equals more thought, which leads to better decisions. Hence, we should welcome sharing. Mass sharing can be burdensome, especially if you’re talking to someone who is 100% convinced that they know best, and you want them to think like you because you are 100% convinced that you know better. In reality, relatively speaking, there aren’t that many things we know with certainty. And considering how many people claim that they’re over-thinkers, I’m sure many people read all the arguments and then don’t know what to do with them. But, making good decisions is a process that we do not need to fear as long as we take our time and we’re not too rigid to change our minds.
8. Being aware of our power can be motivating. It can inspire people to learn without the feeling that learning is a chore. After all, decision-making is part of being a grownup.
9. While it is vital to recognise things that are potentially dangerous, or could become pain and sorrow, it is equally important not to turn molehills into mountains.
10. Being aware of each other is the greatest form of awareness, but it should never come at the price of being aware of ourselves.