Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 1.5-million-strong diaspora is increasingly sending less money back home, but this underused resource could provide the country with expertise as well as investment to boost economic development. By Srdjan Kureljusic (BIRN)
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s diaspora sent more than 1.8 billion euros in remittances and charity donations to Bosnia and Herzegovina during last year, according to local institutions.
This amount is smaller than in previous years, but it still has a significant influence on the country’s budget, and makes up 12 per cent of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s total gross national income.
Analysts say that state institutions only see the diaspora as people who send money back to their families and should be giving them more opportunities to invest or share the expertise they have gained while living abroad.
But the authorities insist they are aware of the problem and promise they will prepare a strategy by the end of this year on how to utilise one of the country’s biggest potential resources.
Muris Cicic, a professor at the Economics Faculty in Sarajevo, believes that the diaspora is injecting more money than the official figures suggests, arguing that they do not include the amount spent during visits to Bosnia and Herzegovina by people living abroad.
“An institution cannot know how much a person brings into the country in his pockets, how much he spends while he is here. We can be sure that is a serious amount,” said Cicic.
Experts said however that the lack of official interest in the diaspora and its connection poses a big problem.
Adnan Efendic, another professor at the Economics Faculty, thinks the problem lies in the fact that the authorities see the diaspora as “mere helpers”, and see Bosnians abroad simply as a source of remittances.
“Our citizens living abroad have knowledge, skills, information, diverse networks of communication and collaboration, as well as access to economic and non-economic resources. All these things represent capital that should be better utilised with the aim of supporting the development of the country,” Efendic said.
The authorities should encourage the diaspora to invest in projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina rather than just sending financial help to their families, because this has no long-term economic significance, he argued.
During a congress of the World Diaspora Association last month, the Minister of Human Rights and Refugees, Semiha Borovac, announced that a document on strategic policy towards the diaspora would be prepared by the end of the year.
“The document should serve all institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, from the state to the municipal level, obliging them to cooperate with the diaspora. From the other side, we request the diaspora to set up larger organizations, to form bonds irrespective of their ethnic, religious or political affiliation and direct their capacities towards Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Borovac urged.
Experts warn that, unless high-quality and systematic methods of cooperation with diaspora are developed, the inflow of money from abroad will continue drop as those who were born the country but left because of the war get older.
Sociologist Jusuf Ziga said that people in the diaspora, as they get older, often tend to return to their home country.
“Especially in so-called traditional societies, such as Bosnian society, people are emotionally attached to their homeland. Even when they lead a fully comfortable life in the society where they currently reside, they attempt to go back to their homeland,” Ziga explained.
But this also contributes to the decrease in the inflow of resources, because they keep their money for themselves in their retirement rather than sending it to Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said.
Senada Softic-Telalovic is one such example.
She left for Australia with her family and managed a big translation company for 20 years. Despite the fact that she had a good life in Australia, she recently decided to return to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“All the immigrants in the world, particularly those from Bosnia and Herzegovina, dream about returning to their homeland and spending their old age there,” said Softic-Telalovic.
But she said that she did not plan to get involved in any significant economic activity back at home.
“I don’t intend to become involved in private business in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I don’t want to seek a permanent job either, but I am open to part-time or voluntary jobs,” she said.
The challenge for the authorities is to create the framework for solid economic connections with the diaspora in order to use its potential systematically, as well as making proper use of the expertise of those who do return to the country – utilising what they know to help the economy develop.