In Bosnia and Herzegovina you can be one of four things: Serb, Croat, Bosniak or “The Others”. I Belong to The Others.
The Others are: Jews, Roma, Germans, Poles, Bulgarians, Romanians, Hungarians.. even Eskimos (Yes, Eskimos!). They my have lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina their whole their life, speak local language as a mother tongue, practice traditional customs, but because of a pointless bureaucratic mechanism the are only recognized as “The Others”.
Few years ago, two men, Dervo Sejdic, a Roma, and Jakov Finci, Jewish, sued the state of Bosnia for breaching human rights. It reached Strasbourg Court. According Bosnian state constitution, only a citizen of Serbian, Croatian and Bosniak nationality could become a candidate for a member of the BH presidency. Sejdic and Finci wanted to compete democratically with colleagues of other nationalities, but there was no legal basis for them to stand. The court ruled that it was absolutely necessary to enable everyone to have the same rights in that regard. Outside European Courts, a celebratory Mr Finci said: “Those who encourage national divisions say that they are doing that to protect their people, but to put it in other words – if you had a toothache you would look for the best dentist not for dentist of your nationality, because you are looking for an expert not for a member of certain nation.”
The ruling was not applied, election took place, a new president was elected. Mr Sejdic and Mr Finci could have asked for the voting to be repeated, they could have fought until their names were on the ballot papers, but, for reasons that are only known to them, they did not. Had they, Bosnia would have lost 12millions KM, the expense of holding a voting campaign. It’s not easy being The Others.
Discrimination doesn’t affect life at a political strata, it filters down to every level of society. When the war was over, politicians talked about reconciliation and equal rights, but little has changed for for the ordinary man. In many villages and cities, children cannot sit in the same classroom only because they have different names, nationality and religion. Mixed marriages (unions between members of the different nationalities and religions) have been demonized. What is ordinary, normal and unremarkable practice in other democratic countries is roundly condemned in the media as unacceptable, filthy, and against God’s law.
Of all The Others, Roma people are singled out for the worst discrimination. Constantly derided, with no jobs and prospects for the future, all the financial help they should receive is diverted to other people.
The politicians will not succeed in repressing the spirit of those who do not think that the nationality and the religion of others are more important than anything else. We are all Herzegovians and Bosnians.