Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Field Notes: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Field Notes: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo surprised me.  Its denizens projected rugged, comforting warmth, welcoming visitors across religions and nations to visit their modern ruins.  Tourists usually compare Sarajevo with Jerusalem; the crosses of Orthodox domes and crescents of Sunni minarets blend comfortably alongside the synagogue’s star.  But Sarajevo, with its teeming horde of ministers, commissioners, and potentates gathered from their ethnically divided winds, reminded me of a different, but no less troubled, cosmopolitan capital.

Sarajevo did not remind me of Jerusalem’s symbolic ideal for religious harmony.  I saw instead Europe’s fractious bureaucratic souq: Brussels.  Brussels, whose citizens—like Sarajevo—have recently gone years without a national president.  Brussels, the capital of the world’s most dysfunctional currency.  Brussels, where Flanders Field’s poppies still grown in springtime, reminding us all of war’s timelessness and senselessness.

I appreciated the bitter awareness Sarajevans possessed regarding humanity’s baser instincts.  Like them, I am also a war veteran who inherently dislikes politicians. I shared sardonic sympathy with Dubioza Kolektiv, Bosnia’s funk/ska cultural export.  In one of their better songs, the band heaps scorn upon the perennial struggle their countrymen face to follow the siren’s call towards the United States.  I had once heard Mexicans sing similar corridos.

But this year, “B and H” may have a great deal to celebrate.  Croatia’s accession into the European Union will pour euros into the national coffers.  Political leaders agreed to hold the first census in two decades, and the event will include protections for war refugees.  Perhaps best of all, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s soccer team looks strong in the World Cup 2014 qualifying rounds.  FIFA currently ranks the Bosnians 26th, two places above the United States.  Serbia sits quietly at 37th.