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"The noise of normal life here today so starkly contrasts with what used to prevail""
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Wednesday, 15 November, 2000, 16:13 GMT
Bosnia: The legacy of war
Bosnian Serbs, supporters of the SDS party
Serbs maintain their lead in the Serb Republic
By Alexandra Kroeger

Bosnia has come a long way in five years, Sarajevo especially.

People queuing to vote
It seems voters are split on ethnic lines
When people return to the capital after having been away since the end of the war, they cannot believe how much has been rebuilt.

There are still shellholes in the side of the old parliament building, and a fair number of windows covered by plastic sheeting. But once you get past the devastation out by the airport, it is not that noticeable.

In rural areas, the progress has been less visible. There are more ruined houses, and parts of the countryside are just empty of people.

But in a way, what is happening there is more remarkable. The refugees are beginning to return.

And they are going back to places people never thought they would. Muslims are going back to Visegrad, Srebrenica and Foca, in the eastern Republika Srpska.

Serbs are going back to Croat-dominated Drvar, in western Bosnia, and areas in central Bosnia which were taken over by Islamic mujahideen after their original inhabitants were driven out.

Builders in Sarajevo
Sarajevo is being re-built
Houses are being rebuilt, but the economy lies in ruins. For five years, Bosnia has survived on massive transfusions of international aid. Now that support is gradually being reduced. Unemployment is at least 40% and imports exceed exports by a ratio of four to one.


A recent United Nations survey found 62% of young people want to leave the country - 100,000 people of all ages have left since the end of the war.

Add to that the estimated 250,000 people killed during the war and the 800,000 still displaced from their homes, and you begin to get an idea of the scale of the disruption that has gone on here.

Bosnia's population stood at around four million before the war - nobody is too sure how many people there are here now.

Tough challenge

Corruption is rife. There is the agriculture minister who turned a blind eye to an epidemic of the cattle disease Q-fever, the cantonal officials in Tuzla who paid for the schools to be repainted four times in one year, and the post office clerk who offered to let her friend make international phone calls on someone else's account.

Ballot box being emtied
It is the third election since the war ended in 1995
A senior government official told me it was part of the attitude developed during the war.

If you were going to get killed by a shell or a sniper, you took what you could while it was there for the taking, and never mind the consequences. After all, tomorrow might very well never come.

But for Bosnia as a whole, tomorrow has come. Whoever wins these elections will have to change a whole culture.

Earlier this year, a Sarajevo magazine published an appeal to the international community. Turn Bosnia into a protectorate for one year, it urged, clear out the politicians and let the country make a fresh start.

But that is not going to happen. Even if the international community was willing to fund it, it would not achieve anything.

For one thing, it would take a generation, not just one year. For another, it would relieve local leaders of the responsibility to do anything about the problems they have helped create.

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See also:

15 Nov 00 | Europe
UN regrets at Bosnia poll result
20 Oct 00 | Europe
Row over Kostunica's Bosnia visit
14 Oct 00 | Europe
Bosnia war: Main players
09 Oct 00 | Europe
Serbs shown war crimes film
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