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A New Wave Of Young Bosnian Politicians Is Trying To Turn The Country Around

Drasko Stanivukovic, an economics graduate, decided to enter politics.
Drasko Stanivukovic, an economics graduate, decided to enter politics.

Omer Berbic has never been one to follow the trend.

So it came as no surprise that once he finished his studies in Brussels, he returned home, unlike the thousands of young Bosnians clamoring to get out of one of Europe's poorest countries in search of opportunity.

More than two decades after a devastating war pulled the fledgling country apart along ethnic lines, Bosnia is still trying to shake off the effects.

Younger Bosnians have been hit hard by instability, and droves are leaving after losing hope as the country struggles with the world's highest youth unemployment, at 55.5 percent.

The lack of opportunity and dim prospects of a better life even if a job can be found have pushed some 80,000 Bosnians to leave the country of 3.5 million over the past two years.

Enter Berbic, and other younger Bosnians, who have joined the political fray in an attempt to stem the tide.

"The system needs to be turned upside down, and only the younger generation can do that, can bring the fresh ideas and positive attitude that is lacking right now," he told RFE/RL's Balkan Service.

"I thought it was better to get involved in politics than to get on a bus to Germany."

Bosnia is made up of a Serbian entity, a Muslim-Croat entity, and a central government that ties both together in a fragile state.


Elections in October underlined the same divisive rhetoric that sparked war almost three decades ago and highlighted the crossroads Bosnia sits at: Either it continues to pursue its path toward deeper Euro-Atlantic ties or its ethnic rivalries further derail progress toward European Union membership and NATO integration.

"Bosnia and Herzegovina has many social and economic problems, and instead of trying to improve the social and economic situation the citizens are in, we see political confrontations all the time, every week," the European Parliament's rapporteur for Bosnia, Cristian Dan Preda, told N1 news.

"Those confrontations are discouraging young people who do not believe in a future in this country, and that's why they are leaving," he said, adding, "That's very sad."

Drasko Stanivukovic, a fresh economics graduate from Banja Luka, a city in the majority-Serb entity, appeared to have it all.

He could have joined his well-to-do family's business and lived a comfortable life in a country where the average monthly salary is below $500.

Instead, he said, he decided to help push Bosnia down the right path.

"The saddest story is for a person to have a rich burial...and nothing more. What do you have from that?" the 25-year-old asked during an interview with RFE/RL.

"Life is the message you leave today we must fight."

That fight began with his joining the Party of Democratic Progress and helping it in October to its best election result in almost two decades.

Omer Berbic says the system needs to be turned upside down.
Omer Berbic says the system needs to be turned upside down.

​Similarly, Berbic, from Tuzla, is also from an entrepreneurial family.

After studying international relations and politics in Brussels, he returned to Bosnia and worked behind the scenes for the Youth Forum Our Party.

He didn't run as a candidate for the party, since his grandfather was at the top of the candidate list for the canton of Tuzla.

Nonetheless, Youth Forum Our Party almost tripled its result in October, as well as capturing the key position of prime minister for the canton of Sarajevo.

"I had an opportunity to get an above-average education, so it would be really selfish if I didn't try to transfer my good fortune toward our country, to try to make a positive change," he said.


In addition to bolstering election results, the optimism political leaders such as Stanivukovic and Berbic radiate has helped bring younger Bosnians to the streets in protests against corruption, perceptions of the weak rule of law, and the mysterious death of a student last year.

Still, convincing their peers that change is on the way is proving difficult among some.

Many have mixed feelings toward the new wave of politicians, especially those who come from wealthier families, questioning whether this isn't just another group trying to do anything possible to get power and profit from it.

Kenan Piric, a young person from Tuzla, is one of them. He has seen the effects of a broken political system close up.

He blames greedy politicians and poor government policies for his father, a factory worker, and his mother, a hotel worker, losing their jobs.

"It's bad," he said of the political situation.

"We need some type of restart, especially among our youth. In a couple of years, this will be a state for the elderly and they will decide on policies for the handful of young people who stayed. And we know where that leads," Piric said.

With about one in five Bosnians already out the door, Berbic knows the clock is ticking as he tries to help reverse the trend.

He's hopeful that younger generations will help deconstruct the establishment politics that have plagued Bosnia and enact policies to help turn the economy around.

"We need to lay the foundation of democracy, freedom," he said.

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