The civil war that tore apart the former Yugoslavia from 1992 to 1995 may be a distant memory to those of us who are an ocean away, and when you visit Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), too many of the physical scars are still evident. But while tourists again are visiting places like magical Sarajevo and the coastal town of Neum, for too many of the country’s 4 million people, the psychological effects and memories are still very raw.
Nevertheless, Bosnians are moving on the best they can, but the country faces a bevy of challenges. Infrastructure is lacking; corruption has built resentment among the people; and businesses face an oppressive tax system and bureaucratic procedures that would make anyone appreciate their local motor vehicle department’s office. Bosnia does have a lot going for it, however: independence and the peace that came with the Dayton Accords; a skilled and educated population; and spectacular scenery from the mountains in the north to the Mediterranean landscape in arid Herzegovina, which boasts endless groves of citrus, pomegranates, and olive trees. And while too many people still suffer from poverty, one social entrepreneur and the organization he founded is helping to organize citizens so that they can do more for their communities.
Zoran Pulijic started Mozaik in 2000 with the belief that locals know the best way how to build opportunity in their towns and villages. Pulijic and his colleagues developed what they describe as its Community Driven Development (CDD) methodology, which works to achieve maximum participation with community members on local development projects. Residents who work on a project within their town take the role traditionally outsourced to a consultant: they analyze needs, evaluate strengths and weaknesses, create a plan of action, and work on improving their capacities in order to carry out new community improvement initiatives.
Many of Mozaik’s completed projects focused on working with children with special needs. Under communism, many of these kids were shunned or hidden from view. Moziak spearheaded programs that worked on integrating, educating, and socializing these children, and allowed them to thrive and contribute to their communities.
Other programs focus on developing sustainable tourism throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. The “Bosnian Kingdom Trail” includes 10 towns that share a common culture and history throughout the country, and works with local residents to restore historic buildings while encouraging economic opportunities that are tied to tourism. While most tourists visit the capital, Sarajevo, also runs a project that emphasizes the cultural importance of the city of 750,000. Meanwhile, Mozaik’s Rural Communities Culture projects ensures that people in smaller towns are not ignored, and works with them to capitalize on their cultural strengths while solving differences that still flare up in this deeply divided country.
One of Moziak’s greatest achievements was organizing the citizens of the village Tegare, which is typically divided into Bosniak (Bosnian Muslims) and Serb enclaves. The village, inhabited by 40 families, had no running water or electricity and had no access to the nearest town. The population had been mostly populated by the elderly, especially women, who depend on agriculture to survive. Both Bosniaks and Serbs, with Moziak’s assistance, worked to build the road, which services both the Bosniak and Serb sections of the village. Everyone has had access to the nearest city, 10 kilometers away, since 2003.
Much still needs to improve the lives of Bosnians, but a growing private sector, and the dedication of Moziak, which believes that people want to work and not just receive unchecked aid, gives this stunning land hope.
Leon Kaye just spent a month in the Balkans, and is working with several organizations to import goods from this region to North America. He’s the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. You can also follow him on Twitter.
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.