Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Thriving together in the economic storm

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The current economic crisis has no doubt affected every country in one way or another. I can only speak of my own experience. As I described in my previous blog, many citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina are dependent upon remittances from their relatives living in more developed parts of the world.  The 1992-1995 war displaced nearly half the population and scores of people fled the country as political or economic refugees. Others were internally displaced, and lost their jobs and homes. This was more than a decade and half ago, and while the situation has, of course, improved, I know countless families who eagerly wait the arrival each month of a supplement to their income (if they are lucky enough to have one) or pension. Remittances often help secure basic needs, such as food, electricity, heating, or medical care. In other cases, they help fund a child’s education, or help buy clothes, shoes, or perhaps a downpayment on a car or apartment. Since the global financial crisis began, remittances have steadily dried up as Bosnians abroad have had their hours cut or have been laid off from their already unstable jobs.  This leaves both them and their families in a vulnerable position. With no economic growth to speak of within the country (despite the ironic increase in the number of shopping malls), families are forced to find alternatives. The problem is that alternatives are few and thin on the ground.

Lida, a pensioner from Vlasenica, eastern Bosnia. Photo by Mirko Pincelli, from the documentary film “USPOMENE 677.”

Another effect of the global economic crisis is in respect to NGOs, a sector I am directly involved with. The infrastructure of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s civil society is largely constituted by NGOs which are dependent on foreign funding, in many cases, from Europe and the United States. The global financial crisis has severely impacted the flow of funding, which means that important initiatives which help ensure political accountability, post-war justice, or cultural development can no longer afford to function, or must make deep cuts in their programs. Apart from the real consequences of this, it also drives home the point that a civil society dependent on external funding is indeed in a  precarious condition.

It’s a double crisis in the sense that Bosnia-Herzegovina has been in a state of permanent crisis (of varying sorts) since the early 90’s, if not earlier, which has only been yet further impacted by the global economic crisis. Unfortunately, there is little we can do as individuals to battle these larger economic forces which structure our lives.

However, it doesn’t mean giving up all hope. One thing that a crisis can do is highlight that we are, in fact, all connected, and interdependent. Becoming stronger and more resilient to crisis may be as simple as recognizing that we are all neighbors, and in this together. That recognition can turn into social action in the form of increased care for one another. This cannot solve the global economic crisis, but it can help us survive it in better spirits and perhaps even find alternative ways of thriving within it.

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Velma Twitter: PCRCBiHVelma

Founder and Executive Director of the Post-Conflict Research Centre (PCRC), Velma Šarić, has extensive academic and professional experience in the fields of sociology, genocide studies, international law and war crimes. She obtained her BA in Political Science at the University of Sarajevo’s Faculty of Political Science and is currently pursuing her MA in Sociology. Šarić is a journalist by training and has worked for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN). She has also worked as a researcher on numerous projects, publications and films about the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, and has planned and implemented several successful Sarajevo-based international summer school programs, conferences, and workshops focusing on the themes of genocide, justice, peace-building and reconciliation. Additionally, Šarić has worked as the Bosnian producer on the PBS film, "Women, War, and Peace", and the documentary "USPOMENE 677", which reveals the legacy that concentration camp detainment has left behind in BiH by observing the day-to-day experiences of 3 BiH teenagers and 3 former concentration camp detainees. Šarić recently coordinated the first UN workshop focusing on strategies for genocide prevention in Bosnia and organized a conference on concentration camp detainment in coordination with the Association for Concentration Camp Detainees in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the summer of 2010.