A young band in Bosnia mixes a heady cocktail of sounds, and, much like its home town, the music plays to its own intoxicating beat.
The band is KillingJazzHardCoreBaby (KJHCB) and the town is Travnik, situated about 100kms north-west of the main city of Sarajevo, in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In Travnik the days drag, broken by coffee meetings in bars that play loud Western music, drowning out the mosques' insistent call-to-prayer.
Home to Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Croats and Serbs, Travnik is also home to sky-high youth unemployment levels. The average family income is just $3,000 a year. The town's one elementary school is divided with Muslim students in one block and Croatians (of Catholic faith) in the other. The Muslim section is run down and heavily vandalised while the Croats study in a well-maintained part of the school. Today division is not so high on the curriculum. The closely-knit young Travnik band consists of members from all ethnic backgrounds, working and singing in harmony.
Earlier this year, KJHCB won Demofest, a festival competition held in the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina to support young emerging artists. This gave the five musicians, aged between 18 to 27, the opportunity to record, publish and distribute their album, titled Track One.
Saxophone player Deni Sijah, who lives and studies electro engineering in Sarajevo, says winning the competition was euphoric. The band was able to travel to Germany to play two concerts in April 2010. Previously, members of the band had tried to get visas to travel and were turned down. This is a common circumstance for many citizens who try to leave the country on a Bosnian passport due to its reputation in the E.U. of being politically volatile after the collapse of Yugoslavia and the rise to power of Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in 1986. Around 250,000 people died in the civil conflict between Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs. Every second Bosnian (of any background) was left a refugee or internally displaced.
Sijah admits that he is tired of discussing politics, war, religion and ethnic cleansing. He says that most young Bosnians are ready to leave the unrest of the past behind them, to move forward and concentrate on the future.
"I don't declare myself with any ethnic or religious background because I believe that at first I'm Bosnian," says Sijah. "I don't say if I'm a Croat, Serb or Muslim because it's irrelevant and at first we are all humans."
It appears that most foreigners who come to Bosnia ask questions about the war.
"They (foreigners) all want to know what it was like," Sijah explains. "I remember the war; it's not a problem to remember it, but we are trying to put it behind us."
The band records tracks about heartbreak, love and relationships, with lyrics written in English. Songs are not concerned with politics or religion and Sijah notes the group's main influences as American and English top-charting artists Madonna, Radiohead, Unkle and Kings of Convenience. He says with a lack of financial aid to support modern young bands recording out of Bosnia that most youth turn to pay television and to the West for cultural stimulation.
He laughs recalling the reactions of some of the young musicians he came across in Germany during the group's most recent tour.
"I think they were surprised by how ‘normal' we were," he says.
"I think they were expecting something else, like stereotypes of Bosnia from the U.S; they think you will be a Muslim with a long beard, but we are all not."
One aspect that definitely sets the band apart from its western counterparts is its lack of chasing after fame and fortune. When asked about the band's aspirations, Sijah insists the group does not expect to gain too much in the way of financial return or celebrity status.
"In the West everybody wants to be a star but we don't act like this because we know you can't be a star in a country where a lot of people don't have something to eat -- we have the basic things we need to play."
All too familiar with subsistence living is 28-year-old Muslim Sulejman Halepovic. Abandoned before the war at the age of two he lived in Dom Porodica orphanage -- located in Zenica in the Federation of BiH -- until the age of 18. His two brothers were also abandoned, one he has never met, he believes was adopted as a young child.
The orphanage cares for children and youth from birth to 20, who have suffered domestic violence. At present it's home to 132 young people and is staffed by nine nurses and six psychologists. Dom Porodica director Banko Bilber, who has held the position for the past eight years, runs the orphanage and says that during the war it was the only institution of its kind that cared for youth.
Although it's been eight years since Halepovic left the orphanage's care, he remembers all too well the experience of growing up there, pre and post-war.
Halepovic says that before the war the orphanage was in a much better state than today, claiming that it's heavily run down and understaffed.
"Not many people care about these kids," he says. "For two years of my life (while living at the orphanage) I remember being on the street -- hungry, thirsty, freezing and stuck to the concrete during winter because I had no shoes."
He says many kids in orphanages all over the country need critical help with issues of homelessness and drug addiction.
But, as children frequently interrupt the interview asking for small change, Halepovic wastes little time on sympathy, stating that he never begged, thieved or took drugs when he was a kid.
In 1992 he escaped Bosnia and was packed off to Libya as a political refugee. The Libyan president, Colonel Gaddafi, offered to take 1,500 children away from Bosnia when the war broke out and Halepovic didn't return to his country until 1994. He now works in a care centre as a receptionist and laundry hand and rents his own accommodation. Halepovic does not plan to stay in the country if he can help it, explaining that it's not politically secure and that he cannot create a future on a wage of 350 euros a month.
"What if I plan to have my own wife and family one day?" he says.
"In this country legal corruption is rife and religious separation mean that you are not judged on who you are but how much money you have next to you."
Rubil Pinjo, a 28-year-old trainee doctor, agrees that the political and educational system in the country has to change in order for young people to want to stay and improve their lives in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Pinjo believes that the government and state should be separate if freedom of choice is to exist and prosper. He recalls a recent incident where a Bosnian-Serb attempted to launch an independently run newspaper in Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska BiH, only to get both his arms cut off and, as yet, no one charged with his mutilation.
"Even though I wanted to study, I knew that I would have to leave Bosnia to have a fair chance," he says. "Many educated people such as professors and highly-trained professionals left the country to escape the war so the standards of education and training for young people dropped when they didn't return."
After training at the Military Academy for Medicine in Turkey, Pinjo retuned home to his country but still believes it's the 'who you know, not what you know' principle that dictates securing a position at any level of a government-run institution, such as hospitals, police departments or the courts.
"The situation (of corruption) is getting better in Sarajevo but it still comes down to money and family connections, which make life a lot easier for a young person growing up in Bosnia."
A hidden population
Those who were not able to escape the war include many infants and children, who today constitute a hidden and extremely vulnerable population.
Children who were born as a result of sexual assault in the 1992 -95 Serb-organised rape camps are now coming of age and according to U.N.(FPA) assistant representative Faris Hadrovic, it is incredibly difficult to access information on this population. Many of the women who were raped and forced to give birth are reluctant to talk about what happened and won't in many cases discuss the details with their children or family in fear of being humiliated or in some circumstances rejected by their community.
"One of the problems in this country is you don't have one truth about the situation; you have two or three truths about what happened," says Hadrovic. "And, of course, as a result there is acceptance and non-acceptance of what are the facts, or the degrees of the crimes, depending on what part of the country you are in or who you talk to."
It's a particularly sensitive issue for the U.N. as it tries to remain neutral.
"A victim is a victim. This is disproportionate of course so it's difficult to be in the middle of it and not be perceived as taking sides," he says. "What the U.N. is trying to do is work together with the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees and work out a way to support war victims in developing a strategy to help them on a state level."
One N.G.O. working towards tracking down this hidden population of war victims, young and old, is The Association (of) Woman Victims of War.
The group's president Bakira Hasecic, herself a victim of the Serb army rape camps, estimates that over 25,000 Muslim women and young girls were raped during the war. She says that many of the children born out of this rape are still living in Serbia with their rapist fathers, if they were not taken back by their mothers, killed at birth or adopted by Muslim families.
Hasecic believes that many displaced women and children are still living around the Bosnian and Serbian border, in towns close to Visegrad and Foca, where countless rape crimes were committed.
A large number of women terminated their pregnancies, unwilling to deliver a child that was a product of rape, and a vast number of young women and girls have become permanently disabled as a result of the torture they endured.
"After 18 years, three girls recently escaped from Serbia back to Bosnia and asked for my help," says Hasecic. "There are still many more that the government and our association is searching for."
She says that not many of these young women or surviving children would go back to the towns they grew up in because they are still occupied by war criminals.
"We were traumatised, why would we go back to our homes where killers and rapists walk free as war heroes?"
Although Hasecic claims Serb militants committed 98 per cent of rape crimes, she admits that not all Serbs are criminals and that Serbian and Croatian women and children also suffered a great deal during the war.
The association has about 1,800 members of different religious and national affiliation and collects data on children born as a result of rape; it has a mere 34 children currently registered.
The systematic use of rape in the Bosnian-Serb war led to the U.N. war crimes tribunal recognising ethnically-motivated rape as a war crime. It was also documented by award-winning journalist Seada Vranic, who wrote the book Breaking the Wall of Silence in 1996. She documented over 300 cases of women and men raped, and the locations of rape camps.
However, it is the denial and deep humiliation of a generation of women and young girls not willing to discuss the past that makes it hard today for many young people to come to grips with their country's origins and their own personal identity.
Hasecic says one of the first problems that these women victims of war encounter is the unwillingness of the official institutions to help them.
By establishing the association, Hasecic has succeeded in raising awareness for victims by promoting a united voice when cooperating with the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina and with the ministries in the Federation of BiH.
Panel: State of the Union
As a result of the Dayton Peace Accords, Bosnia-Herzegovina consists of two main semi-independent entities, a Muslim/Croat Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) and the Bosnian Serb Republic, Republika Srpska. There is also a self-governing district of Brcko. Approximately two thirds of the country's population of about 4.5 million lives in BiH.
Accession to full E.U. membership is a priority for Bosnia-Herzegovina and is based on a broad political consensus. The Stablilization and Association Agreement between BiH and the E.U. was signed on 4 December 2007 but, according to a 2010-updated report conducted by Youth Partnership, Council of Europe, European Commission, the process of acceptance implies huge challenges for all sectors of the country (private, public and non-governmental) for the population and thereby for its youth.
In the report, titled Country Sheet on Youth Policy Bosnia and Herzegovina, it cites that insufficient institutional and legislative capacities in BiH are causing a delay in the E.U. accession process, meaning there is also a failure to comply with commitments assumed by signing the international charters on the rights of children and youth.
The commission report also states that at all government levels there is a lack of support for improving the condition of youth and that systematic data collection is missing, which in return hinders fact-based monitoring of youth policies.
By the Youth Information Agency Bosnia-Herzegovina's (OIA) definition, young people are individuals between 14 and 29 years of age. In the organisation's independent evaluation of the national youth policy it notes that 77 per cent of young people want to leave Bosnia, 25 per cent of these want to leave forever and never return.
It states that the most frequent reasons for Bosnian youth eager to leave are an inefficient educational system, unemployment, a lack of perspective and an unstable political climate. In the report, it says that only one per cent of youth believe that they can have an impact on politics and only six per cent are members of any political party.
Reasons to be cheerful
What remains in this 'country in transition' is the critical and difficult task of rebuilding human relationships across ethnic and religious divides. Bosnia's internal struggle with corruption must also be properly confronted before the country will be accepted as a member of the E.U.
The future of this fragile country rests in the hands of one of the first generations of Bosnians who are, as a majority, willing to cast aside their nationalistic differences to unite and fight for their common interests in improved education and employment opportunities, and more importantly, social and political stability.