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Yugoslavia: Sarajevo's Transformation Yet To Become Model For Balkans

  • Bruce Jacobs

The Balkan Reconstruction Summit held Friday in Sarajevo gave the city a chance to show off the changes that have taken place since the end of its civil war in 1995. Sarajevo is a city transformed, thanks to massive help from the international community. But as correspondent Bruce Jacobs reports, far more needs to be done before Sarajevo, and Bosnia as a whole, can be considered successful models for the rest of the Balkans.

Sarajevo, 1 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Seventeen-year-old Daniel Muzurovic is not very different from many other 17-year-olds. After saving some money from a summer job, he's dreaming about an upcoming holiday on the coast. In the meantime, he's enjoying cappuccinos and conversation with a few friends at a busy outdoor cafe in the center of Sarajevo.

Sarajevo -- a city once so close to death -- now pulses with life. The streets still show the scars of war, with bullet and shrapnel holes almost everywhere. But the market places are now filled with shoppers, young and old, along with soldiers, aid workers and even some tourists.

Daniel says the help that the international community has given -- thousands of millions of dollars and thousands of peacekeeping troops -- have turned things around for the city:

"Life has become much better and different in the last four years since the war. The financial and economic situation is certainly better than during the war and the first year after the war. People just live their lives and enjoy this time, in summer. With the many changes, it's great now."

Daniel has a lot to look forward to. He's studying to become a dentist. From his point of view, Daniel thinks the world can learn a great deal from what has been accomplished in Bosnia since 1995:

"I think Bosnia is a big lesson for the Balkans for Europe, for the whole world. After the war, that is what we have done here. Everybody here -- I think we made a miracle here in Sarajevo."

But if the international community is looking to Bosnia-Herzegovina as a model, there are plenty of lessons about what not to do. Unemployment is estimated to be at least 50 percent. The Muslim, Croat and Serb governments within Bosnia still barely cooperate with one other.

Robert Barry is head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina. He says Bosnia has taught the international community that setting economic and political reform is at least as important as rebuilding infrastructure:

"I don't just mean a stable currency. I mean that you've got to create conditions for private investment. The conditions for private investment do not exist at this moment in Bosnia, although there is a stable currency, and there has been a lot of money invested in humanitarian aid. There is also the question of dealing with organized crime and dealing with a corrupt judiciary. Those have got to be very high priorities because there's a danger that the main security problem of this region will be organized crime, not ethnic cleansing."

But there is some optimism about Bosnia's future back in the narrow cobblestone alleys of Sarajevo's Old Town. There, artisans turn misfortune into fortune, hammering 30-millimeter artillery shell casings into decorative souvenirs for tourists.

Mido Bukvic has lived in Sarajevo for all of his 50 years. He says the tourist trade in the city is still far from what it was before the war. But he's hopeful that people will see that Sarajevo is a place where all ethnic and religious groups can still work together, and with a little help, be as good as it once was. Above all, he believes in the spirit of the people of Sarajevo:

"If you have in one city, 15,000 dead people and you can't see hate on the faces, that's the whole story. You can see what I mean. And we hope in a few years it will be the same Sarajevo. We need more help from Europe and America, and I hope it will be the same."

The international community has pledged more than $5 billion dollars toward the reconstruction and stabilization of Bosnia over the past four years. The job is still far from complete.

There is still no accurate picture of how much time and money the stabilization of the Balkans will require.