By Amina Horozic
You’re from where?
I was almost twelve years old when I came to the US in 1994. Since then whenever I mention that I am from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, I am always inundated with all sorts of unusual questions. Occasionally, I have to clarify that it is a country in Southeastern Europe east of Italy; that yes it does consist of two names Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it is oftentimes referred to only as Bosnia; and that Sarajevo is in fact the capital city. More frequently however, the questions typically revolve around the war of the early ’90s: the siege of the city, the genocide of the country, the ethnic cleansing of the people.
Rarely am I asked questions about my homeland outside of the war context, though it has been almost fifteen years since the war has ended. Despite its many positive attributes, to the majority of the outside world Bosnia and Herzegovina is still a scary and foreign place, synonymous with war and destruction. What is less commonly known or recognized about Bosnia and Herzegovina is its untouched natural beauty and ecological wealth.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has always had an extremely solid foundation of well preserved and immaculate natural resources. As it has some of the most unpolluted air, water and earth in Europe, it is essentially one giant national park. Its streams are so clean that Richard Banks, the host of the award winning PBS show Adventures with Purpose, wrote “If, as some have postured, water is the next oil…then Bosnia might be a one-country OPEC with its luxury of freshwater fonts.” I feel it is time to start thinking and talking about Bosnia and Herzegovina less as an example of genocide and ethnic cleansing, and more as a country that could provide fertile ground to become an example of sustainable and ecologically friendly economy. It has the resources, both in human and natural capital to kick off a new way of responsible nation building and economic growth.
As a developing country with such rich and undisturbed environment, Bosnia could position itself as the European, and even global, representative of a truly eco-friendly economy. Instead of the typical approach of mimicking what the West has done for the past hundred years to reach plush standards of living, Bosnia and Herzegovina could focus on developing itself in the way the West would have, if it had known ahead of time the implications of careless industrial revolution.
For instance, in order to attract new business ventures, it could provide tax breaks to domestic and foreign companies, and individuals, who are attempting to create new ways of providing clean and sustainable energies. In order to preserve its existing ecological beauty, it could set forth to have the largest protected land per capita. In order to promote its eco-friendly stance to the world, it could market itself as the destination for authentic ecotourism. Needless to say, the possibilities are endless and such a shift in focus would not only change Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tarnished reputation but would also create innumerable jobs, boost the economy and propel the country–as well as the region– towards progress. A sustainable progress.
Idealistic? Possibly. Impossible? Hardly. A lot of hard work to make it happen? Undoubtedly.
Recently, as I have been pursuing an MBA in Design Strategy, through my course on communication it became clear to me that discussing difficult topics is not so much about communicating what is “true” for each party in a conversation, but what is of value. Oftentimes important conversations are avoided or are ungrounded, ultimately resulting in negative or undesirable outcomes. Avoiding discussing what matters most is detrimental to any relationship and business, let alone a country.
It is important to communicate to Bosnia and Herzegovina its potential. Hence, any movement in shifting the country towards an initiative in sustainable economies would first require effective communication. Effective communication between the people and its government, between the government and its people, between entrepreneurs and companies, between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the rest of the world. This communication needs to be both informative and educative, persuasive and inspiring, motivating and empowering. To paraphrase, change can only occur if understanding precedes it.
Bosnia and Herzegovina also needs to listen to itself. Value has to be extended to the diversity and mélange of its people as much as that of its flora and fauna. It has a proud and extremely well-educated populace both within and outside its borders eager to catapult the country towards a better future. In this ecological and social diversity, Bosnia’s strength lies. The sooner it starts capitalizing on its strengths, the sooner it has the ability to become a pioneer in progressive, environmental economies; regenerating the country and improving the standards of living of its citizens in process.
Taking advantage of this global recessionary lull Bosnia and Herzegovina can use this time to restructure itself and reevaluate its priorities. Focus on the fruitful future that lays ahead, instead of on the ghosts of its past. Now is the perfect opportunity to undergo a makeover and position itself as a genuine curator of economic progress with minimal environmental footprint. As such, it will be leaving a legacy of positive resurrection for generations to come.
If you fall in the majority of those who have never been exposed to the natural splendor of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its people, do yourself a favor and pay it a visit. Witness its beauty and its powerful potential. Only then and there will you understand and experience the sublime feeling of standing in the heart of Europe, and the importance of preserving and nurturing it.
Amina Horozic is an industrial designer pursuing her MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts. Her focus is on creating meaningful experiences that add to the richness of life with consideration of social and environmental impact.