The capital, Sarajevo, is filled with Bosnians and tourists during the period from May to late August, but the situation becomes distinctly different after the end of the summer.
When I started working as an assistant teacher at the University of Sarajevo more than a decade ago, I had about a thousand students, but now I only have about 200, which shows that Bosnia’s population is rapidly declining.
In the census conducted in 1991, the population of Bosnia was estimated at 4.37 million people, but the last census conducted in the country in 2013 showed that the population was estimated at 3.53 million, but I think the reality is more harsh.
** Mass migration
Many analysts considered the numbers shown by the 2013 census to be “inaccurate”, as the real figure was much lower. Over the past years, a trend of mass migration from Bosnia has emerged.
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Most of those leaving Bosnia are looking for work in the European Union, especially in Germany, where young people at universities and recent graduates are increasingly keen to learn the German language in the hope that they will emigrate.
But it is not only the unemployed who leave the country, but a number of working young professionals are also looking for good jobs with better conditions in the European Union, and there are many cases of entire families packing their suitcases and heading west.
Despite the lack of official statistics on the number of Bosnians who left the country since the 2013 census, unofficial reports issued by non-governmental organizations stated that half a million people left the country between 2013 and 2019.
In 2021 alone, the number of departures was estimated at 170,000, which is equivalent to the population of a major city in Bosnia, as these numbers are staggering for a country whose official population is 3.5 million.
However, the statistics have to keep up with the increasing scale of mass migration, as walking around the city of Tuzla (northeast), one of the main cities in Bosnia, or other cities and towns, shows the real scale of mass migration in the country.
** Similar trend in the Balkans
Other Balkan countries recorded a similar decline in population, including Croatia, which recorded a sharp decline in its population.
The census conducted in 2021 recorded 3.88 million people living in Croatia, compared to 4.28 million in the 2011 census.
According to media reports, Ireland is the preferred emigration destination for many Croats.
Unlike Bosnia, Croatia does not face an internal political stalemate that impedes governance from working efficiently, but despite the latter’s accession to NATO and the European Union, it has recorded a significant decrease in the population.
In Serbia, last October, the government began conducting a population census, more than a decade after the last census in the country.
While official statistics have not yet been released, media reports state that the population is expected to decline by half a million.
In North Macedonia, the 2021 census showed that the country’s population is 1.83 million, a decrease of more than 9 percent from the 2002 census.
These figures show that population decline is a common challenge in all countries of the region.
** The Promised Land
It’s not just citizens of the Balkan countries, once part of Yugoslavia, who are turning to Germany and Austria.
During my recent trips to Greece and Romania, I heard that young people there are eager to move to Germany, countries of NATO and the European Union that do not face post-war challenges like those in Bosnia.
For the past two decades, EU membership has been seen as a panacea for most of the problems facing the Balkans.
The prevailing discourse in the Balkans was that the process of European integration would lead to important reforms in countries aspiring to join the European bloc, and that this would improve standards of governance and livelihoods in the region.
But while joining the European Union has been beneficial for some Balkan countries, the region is still experiencing population decline.
Balkan youth are heading towards better job opportunities, more stable environments and a brighter future in Western Europe, indicating that population decline will continue with or without accession to the European Union.
This challenge of population decline should be a wake-up call for governments in the region, the situation is dire, especially in Bosnia.
The new governments that are expected to be formed at different levels in the country need to meet this challenge by offering a set of incentives to young people to encourage them to stay.
The region’s governments should also provide material grants, housing support for young people, and financial support for families with young children to cover kindergarten and school expenses.
Tax incentives for young professionals, especially the self-employed, are a priority to reduce exodus.
Young entrepreneurs should be supported financially by governments across the region, and health care should be improved.