International isolation and its reflection in Bosnia

Amir Telibećirović
Sarajevo, 26 de Abril de 2020

How to deal with all those imposed isolations and self-isolations, individually and collectively? Perspective based on actual pandemic, or whatever it is, might not be the same in each country, although things are changing rapidly and strangely, confusingly even, from day to day, so it is not easy to be specific. But we can still try.

Being a very small European country, often almost forgotten but socially and culturally significant, Bosnia is struggling against the ongoing international crisis in at least two ways. One way is more or less the same as it is happening in other European countries, with slight differences. Certain restrictions related to the public movement of the ordinary people, hygienic advices, medical testing, daily press conferences on TV, precautions, curfew at night, emphasis on vulnerability of the older population, shortages and of course economic consequences for the whole nation. The other way is more about ordinary people in the country. Those who lived through the siege, war and/or expulsion from the 1990s, are a bit more resilient, based on their experiences and memories, than younger people. They are standing by this collective isolation more patiently. To explain shortly the complexity of the situation in Bosnia, especially in the country’s capital of Sarajevo, let’s divide explanations into, subjectively speaking, ‘good and bad information.’

In order to avoid classic ways like – “give me first good news or tell me the bad news first,” let’s make a sandwich of a good list divided in two, with a bad information list in between, squeezed between good ones. That way, the text shall end on a good info.

Good List (subjectively speaking)

  • According to Gallup International statistic survey, 96% of all Bosnian citizens are washing their hands with soap and water automatically after going to the toilet. It puts Bosnia on the top of European countries. This study was allegedly made back in 2015, and it was not a big deal back then. How accurate, precise or valid is this statistic, is hard to tell for sure, but even though we cannot speak about exact number, the majority of Bosnians are for sure washing their hands often, especially after going to the toilet, with soap and clean water included. Before this global state of emergency, it would not be a big deal, but since the beginning of the alert, local officials and WHO is advising people on a daily basis to wash their hands often and carefully. That made many people in Bosnia remind themselves of the fact we were already doing this, for generations, as something usual, with or without pandemic.

  • Another suggestion on hygiene, advice, warning, from the authorities, global and local, is to take the shoes off before entering private space, house or apartment, as a precaution against virus. That is another tradition deeply rooted in Bosnia which was already practiced not only for generations, but for centuries.

  • People in many countries were hysterically buying enormous amounts of toilet paper at the beginning of the crisis. They did it in Bosnia too, just on lesser scale. At first they imitated what people did in some other countries out of fear of shortages, but soon they remembered its own hygienic tradition. It’s simple – water is more important, more significant and more effective than toilet paper. Water and soap first, and then paper, but not paper alone.

  • People are spending more time with their relatives.

Bad information list (objectively speaking)

  • Economy, which was already in bad shape, even before this crisis, is about to collapse.

  • A lot of people are losing their jobs.

  • Political crisis is more visible, especially with corruption on a local level.

  • Governments of the neighboring countries, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, are misusing this situation to manipulate illegal immigrants sending them across the border into Bosnia, and even trading with them, which stays in a shade of daily news about pandemy.

  • Neighboring countries are misusing ongoing crisis to promote more segregation on political and ethnic level, by distributing medical aid discriminately, based on ethnicity, and suggesting indirectly (again) Bosnia could be divided between Serbia and Croatia. They support separatism inside of the country.

  • Croatian government is announcing to dump nuclear waste from the nuclear plant in Slovenia, on the Bosnian border, but local authorities of Bosnia are too corrupted to react to this.

Good Information (subjectively and objectively speaking)

  • Death rate is not significantly higher than before the crisis, so far.

  • Ordinary people are closer to each other, helping their neighbors. Young volunteers are self-organized in helping older and disabled people who cannot go out for their supplies.

  • People are spending more time with their relatives.

  • People are turning more to agriculture, in order to rely on their own production, like their ancestors.

  • Greeting each other similar way to what Native Americans used to do, with elbow, with small bow for respect, like in the ancient times, is back due to precaution against possible infection. There is more humbleness now in greetings, saluting, more modesty, less formalism like it was before, to some degree. It looks odd at first, but traditions are out there to be changed, to evolve into new traditions, to be adjusted. The rest is history, as long as people respect each other. So, there is a reason for optimism, despite all ugly prognosis.