A previously divided region has a new symbol of hope: the recently reopened train line between Sarajevo and Belgrade. Many young Serbs, Croats and Bosnians who don't remember the Bosnian war of the early 1990s hope to travel on this train, which serves as a physical link between Serbia and Bosnia.
Ironically called the "Dayton Disagreement" by locals, the Dayton Peace Accords which ended the Bosnian War in 1995 encourages the international community, local governments and non-governmental organisations to promote reconciliation between the previously warring communities. The European Union is supposed to take a leading role in the process.
But lately, Bosnians feel that the EU is acting poorly, and that local institutions and individuals are contributing more toward re-integration and reconciliation than the EU. Bosnians’ primary concern is the EU's decision in December 2009 to do away with visa requirements for citizens of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro visiting other EU countries. This decision excludes Bosnia and Albania, the only countries in the Balkans whose citizens still require visas for EU travel.
While the new rules apply to Albania as well, post-war Bosnia will be more negatively affected. After all, Albania does not have ethnically segregated areas, and its citizens have a common ethnic identity. Regardless of their religion, the majority of the country's citizens declare themselves to be simply Albanians. Furthermore, such a decision by the EU might not seriously affect relations between the Balkan states, but it certainly does not aid in the reconciliation and the re-integration of Bosnia itself, because the country's ethnic and religious composition is much more diverse than Albania's and because Bosnian Muslims see the decision as discriminatory.
The reason is that this new visa rule also allows Bosnian Serbs to have dual citizenship—Serbian and Bosnian, so that they will be able to travel to EU countries without visas. Similarly, Bosnian Croats, who have had the right to dual citizenship for years—Croatian and Bosnian—can already travel across Europe freely.
But Bosnian Muslims, ethnically identified as Bosniaks, and other minority groups in Bosnia who can only carry Bosnian passports, now feel isolated and even frustrated by such rules.
Some local politicians are even afraid this might lead to more tensions in some already divided areas of Bosnia. What many people may not know is that the Croats, Serbs and Muslims of Bosnia are basically one folk. We have the same language, same race and, essentially, the same country of origin. Only our religion is distinct. But even religious distinctions in Bosnia are based more on cultural differences rather than spiritual, dogmatic or theological aspects.
EU politicians in Brussels claim their decision was made based on the levels of corruption in the Bosnian and Albanian governments, although rumours and accusations of corruption in Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia's governments are just as rife. They also claim that Bosnia did not fulfil all the conditions for becoming a visa-free regime, such as the introduction of biometric travel documents, better border controls and stronger enforcement against organised crime and corruption. But according to the Slovenian representatives in the EU council, the other three did not fulfil all these conditions either.
While there is fear that the new law will heighten tensions between the various religious groups in Bosnia, due to what many Bosniaks feel is religious discrimination toward them and preferential treatment for others, there are some surprising and positive examples of cooperation that are emerging in light of these new regulations: many pro-Bosnian Serbs and Croats who feel solidarity with Bosniaks and with Bosnia are openly criticising the EU’s new regulation as an act of discrimination and calling for its reassessment.
Thankfully, in this post-war region, it is this kind of action that demonstrates that we can stand together in the face of adversity. And, as we make our way through this struggle for equal recognition of all Bosnians, that is what we need to remind us that inside, we are basically all the same.
* Amir Telibecirovic Lunjo is a journalist for the Sarajevo-based weekly magazine Start BiH, and a local city guide. This article first appeared in North Carolina's News Observer and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).