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Children
Children of traumatised parents

Many individuals in Bosnia Herzegovina carry the wounds of the war. This is exacerbated by the poor state of the economy.

There is a connection between the prevalence of depression and the economic, social and political situation in the country. According to Dubravka Salcic, Director of the Sarajevo Centre for Victims of Torture and one of the country's leading psychotherapists:

“A significant number of inhabitants live and suffer from complex after-effects of a prolonged psychological trauma of war. Nevertheless, a certain number of people, even among the victims, have emerged from the whole situation strengthened, and have found the power to put together the pieces of their lives, to go on living.

Of course, if the social, economic and the political conditions would be more stable, we would have many more such people. Believe me, the unregulated economic and political conditions of the country influence the psychological composition of each person, but especially those who are [already] emotionally unstable."

For a human being to function rationally and healthily, a healthy environment is necessary. But society in Bosnia-Herzegovina is confronted with many problems. The political situation is very unstable, and it often reminds us of things that happened before the war, in 1991/92."

The Sarajevo Centre for Victims of Torture has treated 7,000 victims, as well as 2,500 family members of victims. About 60% of the patients have managed to put their lives back in order.

Experiences of war:

  • 80% of Bosnians directly experienced the war through shooting; almost as many experienced artillery bombardment.
  • 1 in 3 experienced the killing of a family member/friend
  • 7% either witnessed rape or became a rape victim
  • 8% were captured and held prisoner by enemy forces

The Psychological Burden:

  • 13% of Bosnians exceed the threshold of seven or more of the 15 possible war-related distress symptoms, when psychological treatment would be helpful. 6% show more than 10 symptoms.
  • 34% of the population experience frequent symptoms of distress and "a persistent sense of a foreshortened future".


Woman at Social Centre Novi Travnik - Centre for Victims of Torture in Sarajevo

War Statistics:

  • 97,000 persons killed
  • Over 100,000 persons wounded in combat
  • 2.2 million people displaced or refugees abroad


Nadira and Franjo

Franjo from Novi Travnik is suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). He lives in a cellar, deeply traumatized by the war. His father was killed during the fighting. Franjo himself was shot in the arm.

Franjo's condition is inflicting a heavy burden on his wife Nadira and their children. He says:

"I was always a hardworking person. […] I always wanted to work. So that I can contribute with my work – I don't want anything for free. Sometimes there are days when there is nothing … but I am a big fighter, for my life, for my children. Concerning the war, there is always war. Since Yugoslavia has gone down, there will always be war. In those days there was peace, there was beauty, freedom, which you cannot measure in gold […]. Now it is the other way around. Now it is worse than it was. Every day it’s worse. Because something is not okay with society.”

Poverty and the Economy:

  • 36 per cent of Bosnian households lived on less than 125 euros a month in 2005  
  • 4 per cent of the population benefit from social aid programs;
  • 85 per cent of people agree with the statement: "There is one law for the rich and one for the poor"
  • Over 90% agree that "it is the Government's job to provide a decent standard of living for everyone."


A young drug addict and his mother in Novi Travnik

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A young drug addict, whose identity we agreed not to reveal, and his mother are regular visitors at the Social Centre in Novi Travnik. The loss of his father, says the young man, was a major trigger for his addiction:

"I lost my father in the war. That hurt me very much. I miss him very much. […] I feel sorry for everything I did during the last years. I spoilt his memory. And he was a good man. I was small when he died […] I miss him so much! I remember him when he went the first time, actually the last time, to the lines. He said: 'Listen to your mother.´ As if he knew he would not come back again. 'Don't cause your mother sorrows.´ And he went and never came back […] This image comes back again and again…"

The young man has since become infected with hepatitis C through his drug use. He explains the causes of his drug problem:

"I am dreaming of becoming a better human being. To become what I never was. I spent my whole childhood in a bad way. I dream of getting away, to get on the right path so that I can start to go the way I should […]. Mainly I feel hurt by the injustice. The injustice we all [had to deal with], all the things that followed the war. Everything. There is no work. There is nothing […]. There are many drugs addicts here […]. Because people have nowhere to work, no employment, they have nothing […] and there are too many drugs here. Drugs are causing havoc throughout Bosnia.”

He adds, referring to his father:

"He would not have let it happen…it would not be the way it is now. I am convinced of that."


Kindergarten in Sevarlije

The majority of people in Bosnia have managed to cope with their traumas. Selma Mujkic has returned with her family to Sevarlije, the family's home village, which she had to flee in 1992.

She spends time every day with the village kids in the community centre kindergarten. She remembers her own childhood with sadness:

"We had nothing to eat, we had no wood. We had nothing. And as a child you had a certain responsibility to struggle for your family like a grown-up. Because of that, this fight for survival – for something to eat, for something to heat – my childhood passed me by. I spent secondary school under grenade fire. We went to school, were shot at, and went home, something like that […]. Mourning […]. This childhood did not bring me anything but sorrow; grenades; hunger.”

Selma adds:

"We have come home, rebuilt the house, and achieved something again. That only means that we have recovered everything material that we had lost; but we have lost the years which we could have used for something beautiful, to get to know the world…"

Selma is now working to help the next generation:

"I am teaching them mainly to preserve unity among themselves, [to avoid conflict] and to solve things in a nice way when they quarrel; to love each other and respect each other. That is the most important: to respect each other, no matter who is who; to honour each other. If love is not possible, there can at least be respect.”

About a third of the population of the RS (and 38 percent of the overall population of the Federation) was 10 years old or younger when the war broke out is. They have no memories of pre-war Bosnia.


Adisa Zekic

Adisa Zekic, now the lead singer of Dubioza Kolektiv, was also a child when the war broke out. She lived in her home town of Zenica:

"Waiting for the end of the war. For the end of that pressure […]. You cannot do this, you cannot do that. You're hungry all the time […]. I used to carry hundreds of litres of water through the city so we could drink and wash our dishes…"

"It was a spark, a ricochet, and it hit my leg,” says Adisa, describing the bullet that wounded her. “3 millimetres from the bone. I almost lost my leg."

Adisa is especially concerned about the situation of women in Bosnia today.

"In wartime women also were big fighters. There are many cases where husbands were not at home or incapable of helping in any way to keep the family together, to bring food, to earn some money, to do anything. There are lots of these cases where women have been left without their husbands, their sons, etc. […] When you see any woman on the streets you can really ask yourself what this woman has gone through."

After the war, Adisa came to Sarajevo and joined the Dubiosa Kollektiv, a band which has become vocal in criticising the political situation.

Mario Lucic has spent the past eight years organising a youth club in Novi Travnik – a club for those who refuse to accept the division of the town into Bosniak and Croat halves.

"An unofficial group of young people found the enthusiasm to unite […] in a town which was then divided into a Croatian and Bosniak part. They made a plan called ‘Across the walls of nationalism’. We founded an organisation and now we are here. We get this power from one another."

Mario feels that the political situation is only slowly improving and that the social situation in the town is deteriorating. He faces the same dilemma as every young person in Bosnia today.

"To be honest, I see that the whole story ends with the question: I am enough of a patriot? I am a patriot as much as I can endure. As long as I can endure and am content with what I have, I will stay here.”

Two-thirds of people under 30 would leave the country if given the opportunity to do so, according to a UNDP-sponsored July 2007 survey.

June 2008

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