Tamara Zrnović is a lawyer who has lived in Bijeljina for the past five or six years. She was born in Sarajevo. She works for the NGO Helsinki Committee for Human Rights as Project Coordinator. She works in two areas – judicial reform, as that is her profession. And the second area she is involved in, both personally and through her organisation, is facing the past and building the peace. Personally, she also has an interest in photography and she travels a lot. Bijeljina is the eighth town she has lived in and that is why she does not feel attached to any town, but in exchange she has friends in every BiH city and, so to speak, lives all over the country.

She claims that she did not consider leaving BiH, although in the last couple of years 20 to 30 of her friends left, all young and valuable people who could really contribute to the community.

Tamara Zrnović:

And why didn’t I leave? Well, somehow I always fall back on the notion that I do not want to be a second-, third- or fifth-class citizens in some country somewhere. Secondly – I believe I can still give some contribution to this society in a way that I can work and contribute something that young people bring, some extra energy that is needed. And thirdly – I do not know what I would be doing there? I do not want to be a cleaning lady. What I would do there I can do here, in truth, for a lower salary.

Admittedly, right now I am working three jobs and, probably, if I worked this much abroad, I would be earning way more. But somehow, the money is not the sufficient motive for me to leave. I received my education here and I am trying to find a path for myself here. And I figure, if my parents could make it here, and all my ancestors who had lived here before, I ought to manage somehow myself.

Why do you think young people are leaving?

For the jobs. And the money. As I just said, I am working three jobs and I can’t lead a decent life. You always have to make ends meet, can you, or can’t you afford a vacation on the coast. For instance, I just took some vacation days to do a different projects. I do not take vacation during the year. And also, I believe that young people are fed up with the way things work in municipalities in cities in this country. This system that emerged which forces you to ask someone to give you a job, and when you get a job, you don’t get a contract for a year, but for just three months, you are afraid of losing your job if you get pregnant, or if you have a family, if you have one kid, you worry whether you can afford another, etc.

You are constantly on the move and keep trying to make a difference. Do you think that, perhaps, too few people are proactive and striving to make things better?

I do not know if there are too few in BiH terms, but there are definitely too few of them in smaller towns and cities. I often say, „Whatever happens, happens in Sarajevo,“ while it isn’t really true. Many things happen in smaller communities, in smaller towns, that deserve a reaction and are worth of support. In those communities there are no people who do that, who struggle and who try to feel good about themselves even for a day, to feel that they achieved something good, something useful. I think that it’s what’s missing.

And as regards people who are proactive and who want to get things done, there are such people, but they are somehow all concentrated in two or three cities in BiH. I myself am considering moving to a larger city, Sarajevo, or Banja Luka. I might move if I get a good job offer, or something like that. But then, I think again and wonder whether I would be equally satisfied with what I do in a bigger city as in a small town. I feel that a bigger city might overwhelm me with its pace and this bigger system. What I find fascinating about smaller communities is a kind of solidarity that one feels, and which is not found in big cities.

What bothers you most in BiH, i.e. what do you think might be corrected so we all benefit?

You know what, the moment someone talks about what they dislike in BiH, everyone zeroes in on politics and the political system. Although I believe that our constitution is quite OK and that it should not be changed, but instead properly interpreted, in a nice, normal and reasonable way, rather than used to sow hatred. That is what I would change – people should simply leave what had happened 20-25 years ago in the past and instead live their lives broadmindedly and openly.

There are such people in BiH, but those who are on top, although I do not want to call it „top“ because it is no top I would like to be on, somehow they sow hatred and intolerance. And I am irked with the constant mutual accusations, and all that labelling. And that, that is something I never felt as much as in BiH – the moment I walked into a cafe, I am automatically assigned various labels. And the moment I say my name, then I get still more labels. This is what I would change.

Education in BiH, what is your take on that?

That is a difficult question. Half of my family went abroad during the war and we refer to them as „diaspora“ and they had children there, and I only say to them, „Thank God you can afford the education your children deserve, and not the education we have here“. Because that is the start. In fact, it is the most essential question of all.

This education system is a disaster. I work in an NGO that offers informal education, and there you see how creative young people really are, how they can discuss so many topics that are never raised in school, and that are essential. Because those high schools students leave school with narrowed minds and then are tossed into the system that is, and then they are like a pinball, just pushed from one point to another – they don’t know who to listen to. They do not know whether they should listen to their teachers, to their university professors, to their friends or crew. And they simply don’t read. When I get on a bus and see a girl or a boy reading, I get really surprised.