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Heads up – Embassy 41

Peace by piece

Mustafa Mujezinovic is a survivor: not only has the new Ambassador of Bosnia-Herzegovina lived through the longest siege in modern history, but also the slings and arrows of Bosnian politics.

In 1994, as shells rained down on Sarajevo, Mujezinovic was elected mayor of the Old Town – the most densely populated part of the city, mere kilometres from the frontline.

“My main focus during that time was to preserve lives of the civilians,” says the Ambassador, who recalls how UN blankets were draped along sniper alley to prevent civilians being targeted by gunmen.

“The biggest challenge was lack of energy and water,” he says. “We had no heating and in the winter of 1992-93 temperatures dropped to -20 degrees. Water was scarce and many people were killed at water collection points.”

A tunnel was dug under the runway of the airport, which was under the control of the UN. “It was our lifeline. Through it we were able to get humanitarian aid and weapons to defend ourselves,” says Mujezinovic.

By the end of the 44-month siege enterprising Sarajevans had become experts in DIY survival, smiles the Ambassador who vividly remembers the makeshift hydroelectric turbines made from washing machine drums on the river.

Once the Dayton Peace Agreement had been signed, the hard work of rebuilding the city started. “I am very proud of our post-war reconstruction record,” says Mujezinovic who was appointed premier of the Canton of Sarajevo in 1996. “In four years we brought light, heat and water back to Sarajevo.”

Damaged homes were repaired but many of the displaced people did not return, says the Ambassador. “The war changed the ethnic map of Bosnia so you could say the war criminals succeeded. But they also failed because with the help of the EU and the UN, Bosnia survived in one piece.”

By the time he was posted as Ambassador to the OSCE (2000-2001) the Kanton’s budget had grown from zero to €400m.

Another ambassadorial posting followed in Malaysia (2004-08) where the Ambassador observed with interest how the Southeast Asian nation managed to balance the interests of its three communities.

But in Bosnia, nationalistic politics and the unwieldy constitutional structure set up in the Dayton Agreement makes this difficult. “The Dayton Agreement stopped the war, but it also blocks future progress. We are in urgent need of constitutional reform,” explains the Ambassador, who experienced the frustrations of political infighting during his two years as Prime Minister of the Bosnia Herzegovina Federation (2009-2011) in coalition with five parties.

Bosnia’s ethnically-based constitution has stalled the country’s progress towards EU integration, because it does not comply with the European Convention on Human Rights. The transferral of key powers from Bosnia’s state entities to the central government is another potential hurdle.

The transfer of control of immobile military assets from the state entities to central government may hamper Bosnia’s accession to Nato as well.

A further complication to Bosnia’s efforts to join the Euro-Atlantic organisations is the politics of its neighbours, explains the Ambassador: “The Bosnian Serbs will only approve of membership if Serbia joins Nato and the EU in parallel with us.”

With a new administration in Belgrade, the Ambassador has his doubts whether much progress will be made on the Kosovo issue or Euro-Atlantic integration in the near future.

“But it remains our hope that one day we will all join the Euro-Atlantic club. This is essential, firstly for our security and secondly for our economy as we need access to Europe’s market,” says Mujezinovic, whose focus in London will be to secure Britain’s continued support for Bosnia’s accession.

Attracting British investors is another priority for the Ambassador, who prior to his political career was in business as an electrical engineer. As a one-time director of a privatisation fund, he knows the role public private partnerships can play in upgrading Bosnia’s infrastructure, from highways to the replacement of the country’s coal-fired thermal power stations or the construction of new energy plants producing sustainable hydro, wind and solar power. The agriculture, timber and tourism sectors all have potential too, he adds.

Being in London during the Jubilee was a special privilege, says the Ambassador. “Seeing how a nation can come together in a spontaneous celebration is an inspiration.”

A sports fan, he is also looking forward to the Olympics – and for Bosnians the ArcelorMittal Orbital in the Olympic Park holds a special significance. The steel company wanted to erect a monument in memory of those who suffered in Bosnian concentration camps which are now the site of a mine, but local sensitivities have delayed the plan.

“So for now Bosnians see the Orbit as our ‘monument in exile,’” smiles the Ambassador. “Not just for us but as a reminder for all future generations. And when you see the slaughter in Syria, it seems the international community is repeating the mistakes they made with us.”

On the 20th anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo, the challenges facing Bosnia remain daunting, but Bosnians are resilient, says the Ambassador: “We’ll continue to build our peace mosaic, one small piece at a time.”


HE Mr Mustafa Mujezinovic

“The war changed the ethnic map of Bosnia so you could say the war criminals succeeded. But they also failed because Bosnia survived in one piece”

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