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Feb 19 2009

Aid Worker Shashlik

From Geert Mak’s visit to Sarajevo in 1999:

Batinic leans over and looks me straight in the eye. ‘Tell me, Geert, honestly: what kind of people are you sending us anyway? The ones at the top are usually fine. But otherwise, with only a few exceptions, the people I have to deal with are third-class adventurers who would probably have trouble finding a job in their own country.’ It makes him furious. ‘To them, we’re some kind of aboriginals. They think they have to explain what a toilet it, what a television is, and how we should organise a school. The arrogance! They say Bosnians are lazy people, but it takes them a week to do a day’s work. And you should hear them chattering away about it! At the same time, everyone sees how much money they spend on themselves and their position. They put three quarters of all their energy into that.’

Not a new complaint, but pungently put. The classic retort, of course, is that if the local people hadn’t made such a terrible mess of their own country, they wouldn’t need the international aid. Mak’s companion does not spare his fellow Bosnians either.

We order another drink, and Batinic starts complaining about the corruption in Bosnia, the rise of religious leaders in the city, the enthusiastic discussions at the university about ‘the Iranian model’. ‘Sarajevo isn’t Sarajevo any more. The city has filled with runaway farmers…’
Batinic’s pessimism has had the upper hand again for some time now.

In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century by Geert Mak, p. 806

About the author

Doug Merrill

Writer, editor, translator, project manager, reformed bookseller. Currently based in Berlin, following stints in Moscow, Tbilisi, Munich, Washington, Warsaw, Budapest and Atlanta. Also blogs at A Fistful of Euros, though less frequently than here these days.

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