In the summer of 2019, I lived in a small hillside community bordering the old town of Sarajevo.
Every day, I walked past a cemetery where thousands of Bosnians who died in the Yugoslav War are buried. Vertical tombstones shrouded half the hillside in white, reminding people of the genocide that took place here. There were others elsewhere in the world, and there will be another genocide, another terrorist attack, another hate killing; then another grave, another cemetery, and another monument, with or without the names of those who died. How could a passerby not pause and wonder why humans never stop killing each other?
The average income of college-educated Bosnian young people is approximately 600 to 700 Bosnian Marks (BAM); that is, if they can find jobs after school. For those who are unfamiliar with BAM, that’s equivalent to about 300 to 350 euros. However, “most young people won’t even get a job,” according to one of my colleagues at the War Childhood Museum.
For those young people who try to stay in/come to Sarajevo, the biggest challenge might be the rental market. Many international NGOs are operating in Sarajevo, and they bring in a large number of foreigners. Of course, there are also many people coming to experience life in an exotic – and affordable – European city. Foreigners earn euros or US dollars and enjoy a low cost of living. Landlords increase the rental prices, double or triple; and those foreigners pay anyway because it’s far cheaper than where they came from. Most of them won’t feel guilty, as they believe that they are contributing to Sarajevo’s development.
However, neither rising prices nor economic development necessarily improves the lives of young Bosnians. It is hard to live in a city where rent can be as high as their entire salary.
My funding for the summer internship was 950 CAD per month, two times more than the average local income. That amount, in addition to getting to enjoy a three-room apartment in the heart of Sarajevo, was more than reasonable. I was also one of those people who had the luxury of not caring about rental prices.
And that just makes me feel sad.
One of my tasks in the WCM was writing the condition report for some letters written by the children and sent to America during the Siege of Sarajevo. However, even though I had already read and watched a lot of similar stories, movies, and pictures in Sarajevo, I was still heartbroken when I saw those pictures.
'We, the survivors, are not true witnesses......We are......an anomalous minority: we are those who by their prevarications, or their attributes or their good luck did not touch bottom. Those who did so, those who saw the Gorgon, have not returned to tell about it, or they returned mute.' Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved.
The above paragraph appeared in a footnote in Tony Judt's Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945. It reminds me of what happened in Sarajevo and Bosnia once again.
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