Bosnia: Where Do We Go from Here

18 years have passed since the brutal civil war in Bosnia ended. It is now nominally a single country but remains divided into two entities and three ethnicities. What happens next in a place still haunted by the memories of its past?

The prospect of European integration seems less optimistic for Bosnia than any other former Yugoslav country. Corruption in politics is omnipresent. All too often, politics (and the media) fuel nationalism rather than try to reconcile the ethnic divisions in society. Due to the brutal ethnic cleansing campaigns during the course of the war, there is no municipality that retains its prewar ethnic composition. 

The Dayton Agreement granted refugees and displaced people the right to return to where they lived before the war. It also claimed to restore the people to their previous situation. This is impossible though. So far just one million of the 2.2 million refugees have returned to their homes. For many returnees, they have no home and no "previous situation" to return to.

The missing persons count is still over 9,000, almost two decades later. Many war criminals are still at large. Just recently, a new mass grave was discovered in northwest Bosnia near Prijedor. How many exist? Nobody knows. 

To achieve anything, the political parties across the country will have to leave behind easy, divisive nationalist policies and work towards unifying goals. For example, war crimes must be prosecuted and the most basic social benefits should be delivered to veterans and the families of missing persons. Meanwhile, the judiciary system in Bosnia lacks both the money and manpower to deal with a backlog of more than 1,000 war crime investigations. The stated goal of trying all war crimes cases by 2023 seems impossible if the investigations continue at their current pace.

The persistent divisions of the country can be seen everywhere. In the education system, each district tells the narrative of just one ethnicity (Bosniak, Croat or Serb). Many Serbs continue to refute that war crimes were committed by their fellow-countrymen, despite the acknowledgment of international courts. The country is dominated by a culture of denial rather than one of acceptance and repair.

After almost two decades of annual commemorations, denials, judgements, identifications and burials, what has been learned in Bosnia? It remains a country caught between a destructive and violent past and an uncertain future.

—Ole Elfenkämper

Editor's Note: The video above is an extended trailer to Ole Elfenkämper's feature-length documentary "Where Do We Go From Here". Excellent!