The Balkans is a region which has been forsaken in the Western media ever since the end of the Yugoslav wars. The sporadic coverage it receives is often biased, uninformed or simply false.
Consequently, the attitudes of Westerners towards the Balkans has been greatly shaped by the unwillingness of the Western media to provide well-researched and informative articles. The only coverage the regions has received was during the Yugoslav wars when the news outlets were filled with scenes of destruction and ethnic cleansing. Thus, the popular view that the Balkans is a cauldron of ancient irreparable animosity which doesn’t deserve Western attention was born.
It’s not hard to understand why people from the West have such an opinion on the Balkans. It’s only logical after hearing nothing but bad news from the Balkans in the 1990s. But is it true that only bad things happen in the Balkans? As a resident, I can provide some insightful comments and views on the subject. Just note that it will probably be biased, like all things in the Balkans tend to be.
The Breakup of Yugoslavia And the Contemporary Republics
We all know the story of the breakup of Yugoslavia. It’s probably the most covered topic from the Balkans. Many would argue (presumably Serbs) that the way it was portrayed in the Western media is biased, but it’s still better than nothing. After the rise of right-wing politics in Croatia and Serbia, then socialist republics within Yugoslavia, things started to go downhill.
The Serbian nationalists sought a Serbian-led Yugoslavia (which it basically was ever since Tito died), and the Croatian nationalists wanted more autonomy within Yugoslavia. Needless to say that the situation didn’t turn out so well, the crisis soon engulfed all 6 Yugoslav republics. The rest of the story is probably pretty well-known. The scenes of refugees fleeing their hometowns flooded the Western media.
So, what has changed 22 years after the end of the war? The short answer is nothing. Croatia is still ruled by the same party, the son of the Bosnian war-time President is now the Bosniak member of the three-member Presidency (complicating right?), and a fierce nationalist and a supporter of the war in Bosnia is now the President of Serbia after serving three years as the Prime Minister. Serbian, Bosniak and Croatian officials are still silent and unwilling to admit their war crimes. Not only that, but they attend meetings which glorify war criminals and the atrocities they have committed.
Will It Get Better?
Having been to the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial, where at least 8000 Bosniaks, mostly women, children and older people are buried after being slaughter by the Serb forces in a matter of few days in 1995, and experiencing the proverbial “feeling of death in the air” while a car was honking on the road and waving the Serbian flag, I can’t help but feel hopeless. It doesn’t help either that the same or similar politicians in power during the wars are in power now. Aleksandar Vučić stated during a Serbian parliamentary addressing in 1995 that “for every Serb killed, we will kill a hundred Muslims“. You would think that he is now a persona non grata, but actually he is the aforementioned President and ex-Prime Minister of Serbia. And he is just one example out of many. That’s why the future looks gloomy for the Balkans.
But things are changing and going in the right direction, at least when it comes to millennials which weren’t effected by the war directly. There is substantially less hatred between them than when it comes to their parents or older siblings. At this moment, high school students from a divided Bosnian city of Jajce are protesting the opening of “two schools under one roof“, which basically means one school divided by ethnicity.
Their movement is growing and they are hoping to shut down some 50 schools within the country operating on the same principle. However, the same teenagers that seem to be the future of interethnic relations are showing less interest, even disgust, towards politics. But one would argue that real changes have to come through politics. Unfortunately, that brings up a paradox: those millennials that are showing love towards different ethnicities don’t want to take up politics, that leaves only people with extreme views who seem to be the future of Bosnian and Balkan politics, so nothing really changes.
I know the Balkans region doesn’t only include the ex-Yugoslav countries, but I have purposefully left them out because there is even less coverage on them, even within the actual region, maybe with the exception of Greece. But even Greece has been forsaken after their debt crisis and is thought of in the West as a long gone ancient civilization that brought Europe a lot of cultural improvements, ignoring the fact that it actually exists today and is in need of our help and attention.
So maybe the Western media stance not to meddle in complicated Balkan affairs isn’t so short-sighted after all. Or maybe an extensive media coverage would bring pressure to the politicians and finally bring about changes. Who knows? Until then it’s up to the youth to decide whether they would like to live in a hate-free country or not. And if that means going out of your comfort zone and taking interest in politics, so be it.