Osman Topcagic is the Director of Bosnia and Hercegovina's Directorate for European Integration. He is the country's top civil servant in charge of European integration and a tireless advocate of the European agenda. He says:
"More Europe in the region means more stability, more economic prosperity, more jobs… All parties support the European integration process, and the public is very much in favour, 80 percent or more support the process." (See www.esiweb.org, The Adriatic push for enlargement.
Osman Topcagic was born in Sarajevo. His mother came from an old Sarajevo family: her father was a merchant who traded with Vienna, Budapest and Istanbul and owned a big house opposite the library, where Osman’s mother still lives. Osman’s grandfather owned a lot more property around town, but it was all confiscated by the communists.
Osman went to school at the First Gymnasium, the best school in Sarajevo. Osman's family was religious, but – this being the Tito era – not openly so. Like many seven year olds, Osman became a member of "Tito's Pioneers", Socialist Yugoslavia’s equivalent of the Scouts. At 18 he was proposed for membership of the Communist Party, but refused. His teacher understood, he says. In the 1971 census, the first in which he participated, Osman described himself as Yugoslav; later on, however, he started calling himself a Muslim.
Osman studied mathematics at Sarajevo University. His first job was at the Metallurgy Institute in Zenica. He later returned to Sarajevo, where he did NCR computer programming for big projects. His job took him all over Yugoslavia: to Belgrade, Pristina, Istria, and Zagreb.
"I got married in 1980. We rented a nice apartment. It was a time of decent living standards. I had a car and we could travel. We had holidays in France and Italy. I travelled a lot on business, to Germany and the Netherlands for example. There was social equality, quality education and health insurance. I was in favour of these things. We were worried about what would happen when Tito died. We asked ourselves: 'Will there be war? Will the Russians come?' We were all in favour of defending Yugoslavia.
In 1991, when the war began in Slovenia and Croatia, I didn't believe it would happen in Bosnia. I was involved in big projects on the Yugoslav level. The Croats said it would come. I said everything was fine here. I was working at the UNIS institute. UNIS was a big Bosnian company.
At the time of the referendum in Bosnia, in March 1992, I was offered a big job in Slovenia. I hesitated. The weekend of the referendum we thought of going to Maribor in Slovenia. After the referendum the barricades went up. My daughters were eight and ten years old. I suggested they leave and go to Croatia, which they did in May. But I wanted to be here.
Bosnia was about to be an independent country and we wanted to know what we could do for it. I was not in the frame of mind to move. I did not realise it would be so bad. My family stayed in Croatia until 1993, when the Croatian-Bosniak war broke out. They then left for Sweden and ended up somewhere above the Arctic Circle!
My job in Sarajevo was to save UNIS' computers. We had a new $1m computer and the UNIS towers were burned, but we managed to save it. I was also trying to save data. We were trying to keep working as normally as possible, but there was not much we could do.
Of course I felt very Bosnian and Sarajevan then. My sister was killed in September 1992 at the door of her house. She was giving food to the dog. In February 1993 my mother was wounded and my young niece was killed. It was really a time of complete destruction and 1993 was a time of no perspectives. It was a disaster, because we were also at war with the Croats.
In mid-1993 I got a job, running the computers at the Ministry of the Interior. Then I was moved to Foreign Affairs. In Sarajevo we were only 30 in the ministry. I stayed in Sarajevo until 1998, when I became ambassador in London. Then I went to Brussels for a year.
When I was a child, I sometimes had the opportunity to go and play in the garden of Tito's villa in Stojcevac with some of my friends. It was very luxurious, which was not so common in the late 1950s and early 1960s. There was me - a Muslim, a Serb, one Jew, one Roma and one Montenegrin. That was typical for the time.
Today, I like to go out and drink coffee with my friends and chat with them. Since the war, though, Sarajevo is not as ethnically diverse as it was. It has not returned to its former state. But in other ways it is more interesting than it was, because of the embassies and international organisations. Now it is a European capital. Bernard Henri Levi, the French philosopher was once asked what Europe should look like in the future and he said it should be like Bosnia, ‘which is a little Europe in itself’. I like that very much."