I’m back from Belgrade (more on that later) with some rather sad news.  Berina Hamidovic, the infant girl that inspired the protests in front of Parliament in Sarajevo, died last week. 

I realize Brazil and Turkey are getting a lot of international media attention, but I think this is an important story to tell.  Early this year, a law governing identification numbers in Bosnia was allowed to expire. My understanding of this issue is basic at best, but the best comparison I can draw is to social security numbers and birth certificates: imagine, for a moment, not having either.  You would not be able to travel outside the country, and would have great difficulty obtaining insurance, medical care, or even getting enrolled in school. 

The children born in Bosnia and Herzegovina since February face such a situation.  One of them, Berina Hamidovic, was born with traheoesofagealna fistula, which made it impossible for her to eat. 

I think sometimes my representations of this country may mislead my audience.  Make no mistake, however: it is a developing country.  If you need a complicated medical procedure, as Berina did, you must leave the country.  Unfortunately for Berina and her parents, without an identification number crossing the border to get to Belgrade for treatment became a fiasco. 

Berina’s story became public, and protests in front of Parliament and other governmental bodies in Bosnia ensued.  I have a choice view of the protests from my office, and the demonstrations have thus far been peaceful. 

Two weeks ago the protestors trapped members of Parliament in the building until 4 am (and when staff tried to escape out the windows they were chased back in by protesters screaming “Go back to work!”).  The civil society here is not very active, and people have come from all over for this protest.

The politicians issued a temporary fix that allowed Berina and her family to get to Belgrade, but have yet to pass a permanent law (I will not presume to explain a complicated ethnic situation to you, but I can assure you the politicians are resting their inaction on this). 

Berina died late last week in Belgrade due to complications.  I do not know how treatable her condition was, but I am sure that the incredible delay in getting her medical treatment only hastened her death. 

I haven’t endeavored to find out whether the little girl was Serb, Croat, or Bosniak; but her name was Berina and we will remember her because a bunch of politicians didn’t see fit to give her, and the other future generations of this country, a legal identity. 


A view of the protest from my office.  


Dosta! (Meaning Enough!)


One of the many diverse protesters, who was kind enough to let me photograph her despite the language barrier. 

The protests continue today, but I do not know how much stamina the already exasperated Bosnian civil society will have against the country’s politicians. What is heartening, however, is to see the people of a country once plagued by conflict joining together regardless of age, ethnicity, or otherwise, to fight for Bosnia’s future. 


Coming to Call a Place Home

It’s time for my silence in the blogosphere to end.  I apologize for being missing in action; not only did I have a few deadlines dogging me, I found it a little hard to write in my first few weeks here. 


The first few weeks here were strange, as they are for most people.  Like any good traveler, I’d spent some time leading up to my trip reading up on Bosnia and, more specifically, Sarajevo.  Most of this reading involved the war.


When I got here, it was hard to see the city as vibrant or alive; instead, it was a former war-zone that had been haphazardly repaired so that it might continue to function.  It was very much like walking around in a ghost town.  As I think I alluded to before, the most difficult part was that I wanted everyone around me to stop and acknowledge that there was a war here


I recognize, however, what a selfish feeling this was.  Many of the people here lived through the war, and have lived through the efforts of the international community that swept in to clean up Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The people of this country have had to, each in their own individual way, move on.  If life stopped every time you passed a spot in the city where someone lost their life to a sniper’s bullet or shelling no one would even make it to work in the morning.  Things would simply stop functioning. 


I think the change in weather has helped (the first month or so was rainy, cold, and generally quite dreary), but I, too, have moved on.  For me, Sarajevo has transformed from a place riddled with scars of conflict to the place I live, and enjoy.  Instead of seeing shell marks on the buildings as I walk to or from work, I instead notice the roses carefully tended by one of my older neighbors. 


If you stop long enough to look, you will see that Sarajevo is also full of examples of people being kind to one another.  The other day I saw a man in suit stop on his walk to work to pet a stray dog that was cowering next to a building as people bustled past.  People here also do not treat beggars the same as they do in many cities; more often than not they stop and donate some small amount of change. 


While this is not a place that has properly reconciled with its past, I think the important point is that we, as members of the world outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina, tend to see this as a country marked by death and violence.  What is more difficult, and more important, however, is to see it as a country that, despite such terrible violence, is alive.  The fact is, life in Bosnia and Herzegovina did not end because of the war.  While the genocide that occurred here is an important part of Bosnia—and Europe’s—contemporary history, we should not allow it to define Bosnia.  Otherwise, at the very least we will miss many of the wonderful things and people this country has to offer. 

What I’m listening to: “You and I” by the Crystal Fighters.