UPDATE: A Letter to the Editor From Berlin

We recently received the following letter from a young Bosnian student named Samir Beharic who’s currently studying in Berlin. “Political disagreements” in Bosnia and Herzegovina are threatening to deprive students and academics funding for education in the EU. Please pass Samir’s message on.

Dear Bosnians, colleagues, students, honorable professors,

I am addressing you as individuals who understand the importance of good quality education and its immense necessity in the society we live in. My name is Samir Beharic, I’m a second-year student of journalism at the University of Sarajevo’s Faculty of Political Science, and thanks to European Commission’s Erasmus Mundus scholarship, this year I’m studying at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin. “Thanks” to the irresponsibility of Bosnian politicians, this year’s generation of Erasmus Mundus students from Bosnia and Herzegovina might be one of the last.

For those who don’t know what Erasmus Mundus is, I’ll just say briefly that it’s a scholarship program that has made it possible for many successful and gifted Bosnian students, researchers, and professors to spend time at some of the most prominent European universities for a semester, an academic year, or for the duration of an entire academic program. Attending the lectures of prominent European professors, and gaining knowledge at universities such as Bologna, Granada, Lund, or Munich, previously seemed like a dream light years away, unlikely to ever come true. The European Commission has made this dream into a reality through their generous scholarships. And so Bosnian society has gained young people who’ve had new insights and broader views: students with a Western European mindset, successful individuals with new working habits and high goals in life, people who will in 10, 15, or 20 years represent the pillars of our society, and whose aim will be to lead their state on a path to prosperity and well-being.

If you’re asking yourself why I’m writing all this, please understand that I was motivated by feelings of bitterness, need, and disappointment after reading an article Slobodna Bosna published on that gloomy December day, Friday the 13th. News that due to political disagreements, the youth of Bosnia and Herzegovina won’t be able to take part in a new colossal education program called Erasmus +, worth 14.7 billion euros, struck me like lightning from clear skies. Due to disagreements with his colleagues from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Minister of Education and Culture in Republika Srpska’s Government, Goran Mutabdzija, decided to use his political power to refuse to give his signature of approval necessary for joining the Erasmus + program. “Disagreements on the level of the State’s entities” are an old, banal platitude of the Bosnian political scene. However, I find this to be pure sabotage against the inclination of Bosnian youth towards new knowledge and broader horizons.

I’ll now try to explain what will happen if Mutabdzija continues to play this role of “bad cop” all the way to the end.

If we leave things this way, young people from Bihac, Derventa, and Siroki Brijeg, won’t be able to volunteer in Ljubljana, Prague, or Copenhagen next year as part of the European Voluntary Service. Therefore, they’ll miss out on the chance to enrich their CVs, and better prepare for the labor market. High school students from Banja Luka will be deprived free study visits to high schools in Finland, where they’d have a chance to experience studying in a European environment. Unlike their colleagues from Serbia’s University of Nis, the best students from the University of Mostar won’t be able to apply for scholarships to study in the European Union – for example at the Sapienza University of Rome, where all of their expenses would be covered, and they would receive a 1,000-euro monthly stipend from the European Commission. And professors from the University of Tuzla will not be spared from this political negligence. They’ll read on their computers about their colleagues from Montenegro holding lectures at universities in Berlin, Torino, and Warsaw — with generous financial compensation. Finally, Erasmus + would enable young, successful athletes from Sarajevo to show their talent at football camps in Austria or The Netherlands – completely free of charge, and without a manager!

Still, it seems to me that some individuals from the political elite of Bosnia and Herzegovina don’t want our country to make any great strides over the next several years, thanks to new knowledge acquired through education and training in the EU. I realized a long time ago that a significant number of politicians suit the system in which force is the king, and mind is the laborer. [Editor: A paraphrase of a proverb, “Mind is the king, force is the laborer”.]

Erasmus + is fully financed by EU institutions, meaning Bosnia and Herzegovina wouldn’t shoulder any expenses for joining the program. That’s why, as much as I try, I can’t find a rational reason for politicians to treat young people this way, students who are only eager to adopt terabytes of new knowledge as soon as possible, and to catch the eye of European professors. The only logical rationale for the incoherent political moves of those in power, is the fear of such an elite comprised of young people. It’s also worrying that the threshold of tolerance young people have for politicians’ misdeeds is incredibly high — something that needs to be changed as soon as possible.

In the end, I use this opportunity to call upon my colleagues, students from all Bosnian universities, to pressure the political structures whose approval is needed for joining the Erasmus + program. On the other hand, I demand from the political “leaders”, whose irrational decisions made me write this letter, to approve joining the Erasmus + as soon as possible. My wish is that young Bosnians, myself included, will join the family of hundreds of thousands of young people who will benefit from this program in the period from 2014 to 2020. This year I’m studying in Berlin; I live every student’s dream, and I desperately want as many Bosnian students as possible to be able to experience the same thing. Only together will we be able to set the rusty gears of our society in motion again. So let’s start oiling these gears today, before it’s too late.


Samir Beharic

(Berlin, December 15, 2013)

UPDATE: There is now an online petition to include Bosnia and Herzegovina in Erasmus +.

Photo: Samir Beharic in Berlin.

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