You Don’t Speak Our Language

I try my best to speak Bosnian when it comes to simple enough interactions. But when any phrase past “please” “thank you” or “here you are” is used, I immediately have a deer in the headlights look. On more than one occasion, once the jig is up and people realize I do not actually speak Bosnian, they have said, “You do not speak our language.” This is so true in so many ways.

Every day it becomes more apparent that with a foreigner’s perspective, there is so much that I do not understand to the fullest. Today, the supervisors at my internship brought us to a protest that was taking place outside of the Bosnian Parliament building. My supervisors not only translated what was being said and what was written on the protest signs, but also explained to us the foundations of the grievances that culminated in today’s demonstration. While this is the most simplistic way to put it and in no way does justice to the complexity of the situation, the protest focused on the provision and management of healthcare services. This included the demand for a 30% salary cut of government officials- money that would be put towards a fund for health services for those who cannot afford to go abroad to receive care for more complex procedures no longer performed in BiH due to an overall lack of funding.

While the issues themselves are important, the perspectives driving the protest were of the most interest in my opinion. I think that in the United States, overall opinion is that progress is defined by having more than the previous generation. That is not necessarily the case here. Obviously, the war resulted in the severe degradation of the infrastructure and bureaucratic structures that governed before the siege. It was explained to me today that, for those old enough to remember the country pre-war, progress is not getting something that they have never had, but simply a return to the more comprehensive services that were provided pre-war. There is an overall lack of trust in the government and thus no drive to adhere to government policies. The people feel that nothing is being done for them, but that money is being used in inefficient and corrupt ways. The government even shut down the country’s National Museum due to a lack of funding. As my supervisor pointed out “What is a government doing if it does not support national and historical institutions?” Not enough, in my opinion.

Something to think about.

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