I am dirty, tired, and broke right now as I sit in my final hostel in Belgrade. But I am also happy. From the gut-reaching first-hand testimonies of genocide in Bosnia to driving over massive mountains passes in Southern Albania my summer in the Balkans has been an extraordinary experience. I am so grateful for the friends I have made, the sights I have seen, the knowledge I have gained, and the stories I have heard.
Living and working in Bosnia though was a double-edged sword. On one hand, I now have a real connection to the country and the culture. I have a vested interest in seeing Bosnia succeed as a nation and Bosnians (regardless of ethnicity) as a people. On the other hand, I am now worried about what the future holds for Bosnia. It is a country that, for better or worse, clings to the recent past of war and mass atrocities and cannot seem to move on. This obsession with the past, in my opinion, is holding Bosnia back and the window for a bright future seems to be getting smaller with the passage of time.
Between ethnically segregated schools, the spread of radical Salafi Islam, an abysmal economy, and ethnonationalism that holds the government and people hostage, Bosnia is a troubled place. It’s a sad state of affairs for a place that holds such promise. The people are wonderful (to foreigners, if not themselves), the food is great, the culture fascinating, and its landscape stunning. It’s paradox that a place with such beauty and promise feels like it’s on the edge. I will be back to Bosnia, and my hope is that the problems I saw have dissipated by the time I’m back. I do not know where my level of confidence is in that hope though. It seems the country is stuck as the rest of the world is slowly leaving it behind and forgotten.
It’s sad to feel this way for a place I have come to know and appreciate deeply. There is hope, however, no matter how bleak the outlook is. There is one thing I am confident in and gives me peace of mind that Bosnia, while on a rocky road will make it out ok, the resilience of Bosnians. They are a damn tough people and if any group can figure out how to fix a broken country it’s probably them. Regardless of what the future holds for Bosnia, I know for sure that I cannot wait to go back.