Date: Tue, 27 Jul 1999 10:16:19 -0500 (CDT)
From: Greek Helsinki Monitor <>
Subject: [balkanhr] AIM: Poverty in B&H: How the Bosnians Survive
Article: 71033
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Poverty in B&H

By Emir Habul, Alternative Information Network (AIM), Sarajevo, 13 July 1999

How the Bosnians Survive

More than 2.1 million inhabitants of B&H cannot survive on their income. About 60 per cent of the people officially make an income of 60 pfennigs a day—At the age of 49 Alija Hodzic has nowhere to turn to: he is too young to retire, too old for retraining, his health is too poor for him to dig, and he is too honest to steal.

The family of Alija Hodzic (49) from Sarajevo, unemployed wife and twins who will start secondary school this autumn, belongs among the 60 per cent of the population of Bosnia & Herzegovina who statistically have a daily income amounting to 60 pfennigs. But even this fact is not true when this family is concerned. Alija cannot even remember when he last received compensation from his company, Energoinvest's Armature factory, that should be paid to workers who are on stand-by. He thinks it was in early spring when he received 40 convertible marks (KM). Classical poverty began for this family back in 1991 when Armature factory put several hundred of its workers “temporarily” on stand-by. In that psychologically distant year of 1991, according to the data of the Independent Bureau of Humanitarian Issues (IPHI), the contingent of poor inhabitants formed just ten per cent of the total number of citizens of B&H, about 420 thousand people. In science, the term “excluded” is also used. This term sounds somehow more gloomy than the commonly used word “poor”. “Excluded” implies that people without money are excluded from everything, which is true. In the end of last year, the percentage of the poor or excluded exceeded 60 per cent with the tendency to further increase.x Statistics shows that there are 1,298,000 such people in the Federation and 890,000 in Republika Srpska.

“A disturbing number of the poor, 25 per cent of them, are in the category of the employed, or those whose salaries cover only 65 per cent of the consumers' basket of the essential food products for a family of four”, warns professor Vahid Kljaic, author of a study on the trends of poverty. In the end of last year, monthly consumers' basket in the Federation was worth 477 convertible marks and to this day its value has practically not changed thanks the stability of the convertible mark. Professor Kljaic points out that these data should be compared with the height of salaries. He says that only those employed in financial institutions and state administration can cover expenses of the consumers' basket because their salaries are on the average 525 and 475 concertible marks respectively. In other words they can sustain themselves. In Republika Srpska poverty is even more obvious: the average salary amounted to 139 KM last year. Which are the most numerous categories of the poor? Professor Kljaic lists in this order: displaced persons (450 thousand in FB&H, 416 thousand in RS), the employed (102 thousand in FB&H, 60 thousand in RS), pensioners (112 thousand in FB&H, 111 thousand in RS), workers on stand-by (70 thousand in FB&H and 45 thousand in RS), etc.

Statistically, more than two million poor people (by definition those who literally cannot feed themselves on their income) should be dead, but somehow they survive. Not a single investigation, not even that of IPHI gave an answer to the question how and on what the category of the poor sustain themselves. The general explanation is that these people live on money sent by their relatives who live abroad, made by smuggling, illegal work and family solidarity. What does the family of Alija Hodzic, former driver of a forklift in Armature, lives on? For almsot two years Alija has worked on contract as a ticket controller in Gras public transportation company. He earned about 200 KM a month, under the condition he punished ten passengers without a ticket or with irregularly cancelled ticket. However, the policy of this company is not to employ these people and not to keep them too long. That is how they thanked Alija and he was deprived of a sure income. When he was left without this job, at the age of 49 he has nowhere to turn to: he is too young to retire, to old for retraining, his health is too poor to dig, he is too honest to steal or smuggle, too proud to beg and unfortunate because he has no close relatives abroad.

However, this family survives and at first sight does not create an impression of poverty. The wife, Sabiha, supports the whole family by cleaning other people's houses for a daily fee of 25 or 30 KM. She does this with pride and properly. Until recently, she had a regular income from keeping house of an official of the international community for 200 KM a month, but this has come to an end because this foreigner's mandate expired in the beginning of July. She cleans other people's houses when somebody calls her—on work days, weekends and on holidays. But this is a necessity not a solution.

Only economic progress and permanent jobs are salvation for the army of the “excluded” or poor. Social welfare funds are empty. Jesus Christ has fed four thousand Israelis with some fish and seven loafs of bread. But from which cashbox in impoverished Bosnia & Herzegovina will the two million poor people be fed? It is expected that privatisation will at first increase the number of the unemployed. President of the trade union Sulejman Hrle appealed on Carlos Westendorp to ratify the draft labour law which is waiting in the federal parliament since last year. They fear in the trade union that due to the beginning of privatisation almost 120 thousand people who are now on stand-by in the Federation and Republika Srpska will be sacked. Alija Hodzic expects nothing of privatisation. He is indifferent to it. But he fears that he will even loose the status of a worker on stand-by which provides only health insirance for him. “If I lose that I might as well hang myself”, this man is resigned. He does not expect that he will ever get his 18 thousand German marks on his army foreign currency account. If somebody offered him 30 per cent of this value for the account, he would gladly give it. Is he looking for a job? Of course. However, employers do not take workers who are over the age of 35. Recently he missed the opportunity to get employed as a manual worker because was considered to be employed although he is on stand-by. He tried to get a job of a driver, but younger men were employed instead. “I am fed up of being on stand-by. You are nowhere. When you apply for a job, the unemployed are given advantage. And what about us?” What does Alija and the likes of him hope for? They do not see a chance for themselves. They only look forward to their children completing school. “My time has passed. I have not been a success”.