Take Five: Bosnian editor Sukrija Dzidzovic on Bosnia's upcoming elections
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 1, 2010 - The country of Bosnia and Herzegovina held presidential and parliamentary elections on Oct. 3. The election was the nation's sixth since the end of the Bosnian war that led to Bosnia's creation. Before the war, Bosnia-Herzegovina was a part of the multi-ethnic Republic of Yugoslavia, which included three different groups: Serbs, Bosnians (who are mostly Muslims), and Croats. The long and brutal war not only resulted in Bosnia's political independence, but it also displaced more than 1 million ethnic Bosnians, thousands of whom eventually settled in the St. Louis area.
To provide news and information in Bosnian to American Bosnians, in 1997 Sukrija Dzidzovic founded SabaH, a weekly newspaper distributed throughout the United States. Originally, Dzidzovic located his paper in New York, but he moved to St. Louis because it has the largest community of Bosnians outside of Bosnia and is also near other large Bosnian communities in Chicago, Louisville, Des Moines and Bowling Green, Ky.
The Beacon sat down with Dzidzovic on Friday to discuss the weekend's election. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Before we talk about contemporary politics, what were the events that led to St. Louis having the largest population of Bosnians outside of Bosnia?
Dzidzovic: During the Bosnian war and post-war period, many Bosnian refugees were living in Germany. After the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed and the war stopped, the German government gave Bosnians two options: go back to Bosnia or enroll in a program to come to the United States. The big problem was finding U.S. sponsors for Bosnian families. Because the International Institute of St. Louis was actively working with refugees, many of the first immigrants came to St. Louis. Also many churches in St. Louis did a lot to sponsor Bosnian refugees.
Are you expecting many American Bosnians to vote in the Bosnian elections?
Dzidzovic: Most Bosnians in the United States have become citizens of the United States, and we are proud that we can vote over here, and we do vote. But we still have the opportunity to vote in the Bosnian elections. Unfortunately, the response from the Bosnian community in the United States has been very weak. Out of 200,000 Bosnians of age to vote, we have only 3,000 signed up to vote. In comparison to European countries where the rest of the Bosnian diaspora lives, U.S. interest in Bosnian politics is very low. The Bosnians who live in Germany, Austria and other Western European countries return to Bosnia much more often than we do, and I think Bosnians here feel very alienated from the politicians. We send home money, but we see little results of our labor.
What are the main political issues being fought about this election?
Dzidzovic: Unemployment. That's the first issue. A huge percentage of Bosnians is unemployed. The second issue is the treatment of war veterans. Veterans make up a huge number of people, maybe 40 percent, both men and women. The entire country was at war defending the country. Veterans do not have enough health insurance. They're unemployed. They are hungry. They ask themselves, "What did I fight for?" because they are today in a much worse situation than they were before the war.
International issues of concern are human rights and war crimes. We have trusted the European Union's arbitration of war crimes, but we still have war criminals who are free. War criminals involved with mass killings and genocide are now police officers and chiefs in Serbian-dominated areas. The European Union and NATO have given Bosnians the guarantee that they can go back home, whether in Bosnian or Serbian areas. But would you return home if you would meet the people who arrested you, burned your house, or killed your family members? Could you deal with that?
What are the main political parties, and does anything make them standout?
Dzidzovic: In Bosnia, there are not two political parties. There are hundreds. In this election, there are five main political parties. The problem is that four of the five are not new. They are political parties that have had their chance before and failed. Bosnians have been disappointed. Only one political party is new, and it is the creation of a single businessman who publishes newspapers. Most people do not trust this new party because it is too new and unknown. Unfortunately in this election, there is no Bosnian Barack Obama -- someone with a new, positive energy who appeals to the entire nation.
What are the most important issues shaping Bosnia's future?
Dzidzovic: Something new that is happening in Bosnia is that Turkey is becoming more strongly involved. Turkey's government is seeking to help all the Balkan countries, including Bosnia. Turkey has had huge economic success, and they are interested in being economically involved. I hope Turkey's involvement will help open Bosnian industry. We have proved in the United States that we are hard workers. We want to work. We want our kids to be educated. We just need companies to work for. I also am excited that in the next year, the European Union will begin to allow Bosnians to travel to the rest of Europe to find employment without needing a visa. Again, I hope that this will give Bosnians the chance to work.
Alex Sciuto is an intern at the Beacon.