Hundreds of international and local journalists gathered in Sarajevo recently to mark the anniversary of the Bosnian war. The reunion, which was organised by former Le Monde newspaper correspondent Remy Ourdan and Dutch TV reporter Willem Lust, reunited foreign newspaper correspondents, broadcasters and photographers with their local colleagues.
CTN’s former General Manager Glen Felgate, who covered the siege of Sarajevo for Reuters TV at the height of the Bosnian war, joined them.
“Get down!” I shouted as I threw myself face-first to the office floor. It was 9 o’clock on June 28, 1995, when the blast occurred. It was caused by a makeshift rocket launched at the TV station from Bosnian Serb positions in the hills overlooking Sarajevo.
The rocket itself landed in the TV building’s open-air atrium. It bounced off one of the central courtyard’s inner walls before coming to rest and exploding on the ground floor. The subsequent blast shattered the plate glass windows at the front of the building and destroyed dozens of offices.
The attack killed a policeman standing guard at the front of the TV station and injured about 40 others – foreign journalists included. I was one of the lucky ones – I escaped unhurt.
Although June 28, 1995, was a terrifying day it was no means unique. In June 1995 sniper, rocket and mortar attacks were an almost daily occurrence in downtown Sarajevo.
It was the same for much of the 44-month siege of the capital. Over 11,000 people were killed in Sarajevo alone during the Bosnian war.
On April 6 this year the city commemorated the siege of Sarajevo by placing 11,541 empty chairs in the centre of the Bosnian capital.
Each plastic seat represented a victim of the siege. The chairs were lined up row-by-row on one of the city’s main thoroughfares. Although I was not able to be there to witness the actual commemoration I was there for the two days leading up to the event.
As such I was able to reacquaint myself with old friends and colleagues – some of whom I had not seen for 15 years. I was somewhat surprised by the bleak picture they painted of life after the war.
“We are in the worst position we have been in since the fighting,” one of my former Bosnian colleagues said as we sat talking over a coffee. “We need investment. We need jobs.”
“There has been lots of money donated to Bosnia,” another former colleague said. “But nobody knows what it has been spent on.”
The picture my former colleagues painted is backed up by the figures. Some reports put Bosnia’s unemployment rate at over 40 per cent while others talk about the highest government corruption rate in Europe.
Since the end of the war Bosnia has received more than US$11 billion US dollars in foreign aid. Reports about unemployment were reinforced by the reality on the streets of the Bosnian capital too.
While I was in Sarajevo this time I took the opportunity to walk around the city’s old town. (It was an activity that would have been too dangerous in 1995).
There, hundreds of people strolled around aimlessly in the spring sunshine while others sat sipping strong Bosnian coffee in the sidewalk cafes.
“I am amazed to see so many people just walking around,” I said to one of my Bosnian friends recalling the days during the height of the war when the streets and pavements were empty. “What do they all do?”
“Nothing.” came the shrugged reply. “There are no jobs.”
I was somewhat taken aback by the despondency and despair. It seemed that having survived the war the Bosnian people were now being slowly worn down by the peace – by the lack of future and hope.
According to the World Bank, Bosnia ranks as 125 out of 183 on the organisation’s ‘ease-of-doing-business’ survey.
This puts the country behind the rankings of both Yemen and Swaziland.
In addition, there are reports of persistent political infighting brought about by the ever-present ethnic divisions that were reignited by the Bosnian war. The divisions are still present today two decades after the start of the conflict.
“Foreigners do not want to invest here because they do not believe in the peace,” my former colleague said. “They think it is all being held together by the international community.”
Hearing this and the comments from other Bosnians made me think of just how far Cambodia had come since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.
Just recently, Cambodia marked the start of trading on the country’s first stock exchange. In 2011 the country’s economy grew by an estimated 7 percent with a further 6 percent increase expected for 2012.
And there appears to be no shortage of Foreign Direct Investment, with over $600 million invested in Cambodia’s economy during the course of 2011.
“Cambodia appears to be at a tipping point for many investors where the potential return is starting to outweigh the risk as the country becomes more developed,” said Graeme Cunningham, Head of Research of SBI Royal Securities.
“Infrastructure has improved to the point where larger international companies see entering this market as viable. Foreign direct investment could run above $700 million in 2012 if it just achieves the average level of the last five years.
“The stock market has proved extremely popular in its first few days, but it has only a single listing. We will need to see several more companies list before we could view it as a barometer for Cambodia as whole,” Mr Cunningham added.
In my own personal opinion one of the reasons why Cambodians seem to be happier with their lot than my Bosnian colleagues is the fact that people here can actually see the progress.
Roads and bridges are being constructed and the Phnom Penh skyline is constantly changing – with the addition of office blocks and high-rises. In addition, barely a month goes by without a foreign dignitary visiting Phnom Penh in a bid to shore up economic ties.
At CTN we covered almost all of these – as well as the visits of the government and private sector individuals overseas. In doing so we were able to showcase the effort the government is making to attract business and investment to Cambodia.
However, when it comes to Bosnia there appears to be little peacetime development to report on because the different political parties seem reluctant to work together.
For the sake of ordinary Bosnians who have such high hopes and expectations perhaps their government should take a leaf out of Cambodia’s book – and concentrate on development rather than division.
Glen Felgate was General Manager of Cambodian Television Network from 2002 until 2012. He currently runs one of Cambodia’s first ‘dedicated’ PR agencies Quantum Publicity. During his time with Reuters Television in the 1990s he covered Albania, Bosnia, Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa, Kosovo and Sierra Leone and was a regular visitor to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.