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Dough Boys: Departing Bosnian Lawmakers Look For One Last Free Loaf

That's a lot of bread....
That's a lot of bread....

While many Bosnians are having difficulty putting bread on the table, a group of lawmakers are looking for a few free loaves of their own.

With a new parliament preparing to convene, some deputies who weren't reelected are asking the Supreme Court to rule to bring back the privilege that's been dubbed "white bread," where departing legislators are granted up to a year's pay to help them adjust to private life.

The topic, long a sore spot in one of Europe's poorest countries where one in six people lives on less than $5 a day, has sparked public outrage on social media, and even among some of those who are leaving office, who have begun to refer to "hungry" politicians.

"Until the approach to our government's thinking about economic policy and their greed changes, we will have situations like this," says Faruk Hadzic, a Bosnian macroeconomic analyst.

The term "white bread" is derived from a sarcastic twist on how Bosnians refer to wages. Money earned through work is often called "black bread," thus funds given to lawmakers when leaving their jobs as a perk has taken on its moniker.

Under the plan, lawmakers could receive as much as 2,850 Bosnian marks ($1,660) a month for a year. The average monthly Bosnian wage, by comparison, was about $800 in August.

The "white bread" practice was abolished for national lawmakers in 2016 amid protests that it was costing the state millions of dollars each year, though it still exists for those in legislatures in both of the country's two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska.

Despite a widening national budget deficit in 2018, around 15 deputies have demanded that current lawmakers reimplement the "white bread," raising a chorus of protests from many Bosnians as the country's economy struggles to gain strength.

The thought of giving politicians money for nothing hits hard especially among Bosnia's youth, where the unemployment rate was 38.8 percent in July.

Zeljko Ninkovic, a consultant at the Center for Civic Initiatives in Banja Luka, says the right to "white bread" shows a complete "ignorance" by domestic politicians, who are looking out solely for their own interests as they exit public life after failing voters.

"If at least they showed a tiny bit of will and lowered the amount they're demanding to the average monthly salary, they could at least see what it's like for ordinary Bosnians to live on 850 marks," Ninkovic says.

"But they want everything!"

'Let Them Eat Bread!'

Social media have been flooded with posts criticizing officials asking for the payments, while some have become creative to show their displeasure, posting pictures of bread stuffed with currency, jewelry, and other riches.

Or plain old cash.

Adam Sukalo is a departing member of parliament who has responded to the outcry. The outgoing Republika Srpska National Assembly deputy has submitted a request for "white bread" but vowed to use it for humanitarian purposes.

"I will not take this 'white bread' for myself, but instead will give it back to the people," he says, adding that just at the local level in the Bosnian Serb entity there are 256 functionaries with the right to "white bread."

"If I don't take the funds, they will remain in the budget and be allocated to those who want to keep the privilege alive."

With reporting by Ajla Obradovic of RFE/RL's Balkan Service

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