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'Enough lies!': Bosnian village bans politicians

"You've been lying to us for years! No party is welcome in Podgora!": residents of the small Bosnian village of Podgora make their feelings known ahead of Sunday's elections
"You've been lying to us for years! No party is welcome in Podgora!": residents of the small Bosnian village of Podgora make their feelings known ahead of Sunday's elections "You've been lying to us for years! No party is welcome in Podgora!": residents of the small Bosnian village of Podgora make their feelings known ahead of Sunday's elections AFP
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Podgora (Bosnie-Herzégovine) (AFP)

As politicians embark on their final days of campaigning for Bosnian elections on Sunday, there is one small corner of the country where they cannot pass: Podgora, a poor hamlet fed up with the government's broken promises.

"You've been lying to us for years. No party is welcome in Podgora," reads a white banner strung across the main square of the 700-person village, which lies some 30 kilometres (18 miles) from the capital Sarajevo.

Sunday's general elections will fill Bosnia's highest political offices, from a three-person presidency down to district assemblies.

But few are expecting significant change in a nation that has been paralysed for decades, in part because of unresolved conflicts dating back to the ethnic conflicts that engulfed Bosnia in the 1990s.

The war killed 100,000 and split the country into two largely autonomous regions linked by a weak central government.

Like huge swathes of the population, the people of Podgora are disillusioned by a political class known chiefly for corruption and dysfunction.

"Enough lies!" Adi Silajdzic, 47, told AFP when asked why he supported the village's politician blockade.

"We're fed up that every time they come they tell us stories and make promises to ensure votes."

"And every time, on the day after the elections, it is as if nothing had happened, as if they did not even come to see us," said the unemployed father.

- Old pipes, dirt roads -

A few political campaigners did not heed the warning and put up posters inside Podgora, which is home to Bosnian Muslims.

But locals quickly ripped them down. To underscore their point, someone scrawled another message on the back of the banner with a spray can: "Did you read it? People have had enough."

Families pitched in to pay for the 50-euro ($58) banner -- a hefty sum in a community where most are unemployed, living off of small vegetable farms and livestock.

Sitting around a wooden table in the shade of a plum tree, a group of local men said Podgora has been neglected by authorities ever since the war, which left lasting damage on Bosnia's economy and infrastructure.

"We are the ones who replace bulbs for the street lights," said Silajdzic.

"We do not have a single garbage container, there is no bus, and the drinking water supply system was constructed before the war with asbestos cement pipes that were not replaced," he explained.

Osman Hasic, a 56-year-old pensioner, joked: "They have promised so many times to pave the streets that the cement should be at least one metre thick by now."

The village's dirt roads turn into a muddy mess as soon as the rains start in autumn, he added.

After three years of work municipal, authorities last month celebrated paving 900 metres (yards) of a local road.

It had "nothing to do" with the election campaign, according to the municipality of Breza, in charge of Podgora.

But the ribbon-cutting was held before the final layer of cement was applied, the villagers said, stoking scepticism.

- 'All the same' -

Less than 20 percent of the people trust their political parties, according to a study in May from the Bosnian Association of Journalists.

The country's decentralised government and sprawling bureaucracy have halted development on many fronts, including economic reforms.

High unemployment -- around one third of the population officially -- has driven large waves of emigration in recent decades, especially among youth.

"They have to leave, they have nothing here," said Hasic, the pensioner, who used to work for a steel mill.

Around 170,000 Bosnians have left since 2013, when a census put the population at 3.5 million, according to the Union for Sustainable Return NGO.

Those who remain are eager for change. But many in Podgora see politics as a dead end.

"We changed, voted for one (party), then for others, but it's still the same," said Vedad Silajdzic, 43, a construction worker.

"They are all the same. They fight for the armchair and once in it, they do not think about people anymore," Hasic added.

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