Felicia Muftic: In Bosnia, some changes come slowly
Grand County, CO Colorado
There are times when the world seems so small and familiar and others when we in Grand County live in a world we cannot imagine.
I came to that conclusion recently on a visit to Bosnia. I was the guest of a director of a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing the problem of domestic violence and human trafficking in that southeastern European country.
The problems those Bosnian nonprofits encountered in counseling victims of domestic abuse were nearly word for word the same as I had heard from staff and volunteers of our own Grand County organization, The Advocates. My Bosnian friend, the director, related the story of a woman who walked into her center, face beaten to a pulp by her spouse, with severe bruising on her arms. As in Grand County, she was asked if she wanted to file charges or legal action against her husband and move to a safe home elsewhere. She declined, giving the excuse familiar to our Advocates’ counselors that it was partly her fault, she could not leave her children, and that her husband always acted kindly to her later She just wanted someone to talk with and to get some medical treatment.
Local Bosnian police summoned to the scene wrote up a report, called an ambulance and left it at that. How it will play out is unknown. The hope is that if she survives the next beating, she will follow the recommendations of the counseling agency.
What is remarkable, however, is that there is any attention given at all to the plight of victims of domestic violence in Bosnia. This Balkan country is a patriarchal society. Rebecca West, in her 1941 seminal book on Yugoslav history and culture, “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon,” reported that soon after marriage, men often beat their wives for no reason just to establish right up front who would be the boss. Such practices may have become less of a tradition as the Balkans modernized, but attitudes toward abuse being an acceptable practice have lingered.
Bosnia endured a bloody war between 1991 and 1995 as the former Yugoslavia broke apart. About 300,000 died, and parts of the country were pulverized by artillery, rockets, and tanks, and the term “ethnic cleansing” was spawned there. Bosnia is the poorest country in the region. Thanks to rampant corruption, it has been slow to rebuild.
Of 4.5 million people, 500,000 are unemployed and over half of them are women. One positive result has been that the supervising United Nations and peacekeepers have imposed some the Western values on the local police, including giving a greater degree of attention to prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence.
Bosnia’s cultural heritage and aftermath of the war have given rise to a horror that we in Grand County can hardly imagine … human trafficking. Many Bosnian women are lured by advertisements from traffickers who promise opportunities to work abroad and to escape from grating economic circumstances. Later, many against their will are forced into prostitution or slave labor as their fraudulent recruiters and employers exploit them.
Our news reports lead us to believe that is something that happens to uneducated Asians. However, such practices have also haunted Russia, Romania, Moldova, and other Eastern European countries soon after the fall of Communism.
Bosnia has only recently become a hot spot for human trafficking. Corruption, increasing poverty, and removal of visa restrictions for Bosnians traveling to the European Union in 2010 have led to more traffickers focusing recruiting efforts in Bosnia. Identification of victims has been complicated by laws that treat children over 14 years of age who are found engaging in prostitution are treated as offenders and punished and not rehabilitated. The patriarchal culture adds to the lack of sympathy toward victims of sexual exploitation. The government has even recently reduced the number of nonprofits tracking and identifying victims and educating the public.
For more commentary, visit http://www.mufticforum.com
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