A Bosnian Fortress

19 December 2007
Coal mining equimpent in Doboj. Photo: ESI
Coal mining equimpent in Doboj. Photo: ESI

This report has been produced in cooperation with Populari (Sarajevo)

This research has been supported by the
Foreign Ministry of Norway

It is also part of the ESI New Economic Geography project

All opinions expressed in this report are those of ESI and Populari only

Executive summary

Twelve years after its own vicious war, Bosnia and Herzegovina has changed tremendously. It has seen the large-scale return of displaced persons, the return of property and a comprehensive process of demilitarisation. Freedom of movement has been restored. Interethnic violence has disappeared. New institutions at the state level govern an increasingly integrated single market. The changes that have taken place in Bosnia over the past twelve years have been no less profound than those which transformed Western Europe in the 12 years after World War II.

This report investigates conditions in a municipality in Republika Srpska on the former frontline that was once infamous as a hotbed of (Serb) nationalism. Doboj, divided by the war and today split into four parts, has long been a mirror of wider trends. Ten years ago, Doboj was notorious as a centre of hard-line nationalism. The Bosniak and Croat villages in the vicinity had been ruthlessly destroyed. The few remaining non-Serbs were under intense pressure to leave. The SDS (Serb Democratic Party), founded by indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, held Doboj firmly in its grip. There was little reason for hope that the multiethnic life of this region could ever be restored.

In fact, in recent years Bosniaks have returned to all the villages in the Doboj region where they had lived before the war. Across the municipality, more than half the pre-war Bosniak population has come back. Bosniak community leaders confirm that there are "no problems whatsoever for Bosniaks to use the RS health system", that Bosniak children go to local schools "without any problems" and that the local police are "professional." As a result of large scale return, the inter entity boundary line means very little in the daily life of people. A sign of just how much things have changed is the demilitarisation of the region – there are no international troops to be seen. Checkpoints and controls have long been abandoned. In the garrison once occupied by SFOR to control the area the Joint Defence Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina are stationed today.

Return, ethnic reintegration, reconstruction are all local success stories. However, while most of the problems of the immediate post-war period – ethnically motivated violence, lack of freedom of movement, mass violation of property rights – have been addressed, it is the absence of jobs, particularly in rural areas, that constitutes the largest obstacle to further return. At the same time, the virtual erasure of the inter-entity boundary line has been a precondition for almost every business success in recent years. Wherever one looks in Doboj today it is economic forces that are conquering wartime divisions. Doboj is now on the brink of the largest commercial investment in recent Bosnian history, a new coal-fired power station, which will make it a hub in the regional economy.

Energy – coal and electricity – could have a similar impact on the integration of Bosnia and South Eastern Europe as coal had in the first stages of European integration in the 1950s. Its central geographic location means that Bosnia and Herzegovina is very well placed to supply its north-western neighbours (Croatia and Slovenia), as well as those to the south east (Montenegro, Serbia, Albania, Greece, Macedonia and Kosovo). By building new production capacity, Bosnia would be in a natural position to contribute to the economic progress of the region.

Everywhere in Doboj old linkages are being revived, to mutual benefit. In this new context, Doboj's diversity – and its strategic position as a potential regional transport, education and energy hub – provide it with a path out of its current economic malaise. The current and future prosperity of Doboj – and of other places in both entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina – depends on the economic success of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its ability to integrate into regional and European markets.


Twelve years after the end of the war, the world had changed tremendously.

A nation once known for its militarism and feared by its neighbours had been brought into a new defence alliance. It had integrated millions of refugees. After a post-war period marked by economic and social crisis, its economy was growing again. Some of its worst war criminals had been put on trial, together with an ideology that had led to genocide. Some (though not all) of its public institutions had been vetted. It had also begun to regain the trust of its neighbours. Its return to the world community had begun with the unprecedented step of sharing sovereignty over its most strategic industries (coal and steel) with its former enemies through new European institutions. Twelve years after the peace settlement, it signed the Treaty of Rome, committing itself to full integration with the European common market. By 1957, West Germany was a very different society from the one that had been defeated in 1945. Europe too had changed profoundly and the institutions that were to reshape the continent and create the framework for lasting peace were all in place.

Twelve years after its own vicious war, Bosnia and Herzegovina has also changed tremendously. It has seen the large-scale return of displaced persons, the return of property and a comprehensive process of demilitarisation. War-time leaders have been tried and convicted for war crimes. Freedom of movement has been restored. Interethnic violence has also completely disappeared. New institutions at the state level govern an increasingly integrated single market.

To assess the extent of these changes in villages and towns across Bosnia and Herzegovina, ESI, in partnership with the Bosnian think tank Populari, has conducted extensive research in the past 18 months in several parts of the country. This report is the first part of this assessment. It investigates conditions in a municipality on the former frontline that was once infamous as a hotbed of nationalism. Doboj, divided by the war and today split into four parts, has long been a mirror of the wider trends that first destroyed Bosnia and more recently allowed it to return once more to life.

The conclusions of this report may surprise those who remember Bosnia and Herzegovina from a few years ago and who are used to hear Bosnia discussed only in apocalyptic terms. We argue that the changes that have taken place in Bosnia over the past twelve years have been no less profound than those which transformed Western Europe in the 12 years after World War II. This is as true for Republika Srpska, the Serb entity whose war-time leaders – Radovan Karadzic, Biljana Plavsic, Momcilo Krajisnik, Ratko Mladic and others – fought to destroy Bosnia, as it is for the Bosniak-Croat Federation. The situation in Republika Srpska today is as different from the one twelve years ago as the situation in West Germany in 1957 was different from that in 1945.

There is another striking similarity between (West) Europe in the 1950s and Bosnia today. It is the emergence of economic forces as the most powerful driver of political and social change. Wherever one looks in Doboj today, from Bosniak farmers to privatised industrial companies, from private education institutions to the largest and most important regional energy project, it is economic forces that are conquering wartime divisions. Doboj is now on the brink of the largest commercial investment in recent Bosnian history, a new coal-fired power station, which will make it a hub in the regional economy. Energy – coal and electricity – could have a similar impact on the integration of Bosnia and South Eastern Europe as coal had in the first stages of European integration in the 1950s.

This is the untold story of Bosnia. It is remarkable how the dominant account of this small country in the middle of Europe has become out of step with reality, leading to misguided political and diplomatic strategies. It is time to acknowledge the profound changes that have taken place in Bosnia, and to concentrate attention on the issues that really matter today – in particular, on supporting the stirrings of real economic growth that could create employment. It is economic forces in a context of European integration which offer Bosnians the prospect of a peaceful and prosperous future.


The river Bosna is the backbone of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Its source lies west of Sarajevo at the foot of Mount Igman. Flowing north, the river crosses the two central regions of Bosnia's mountainous heartland – the Sarajevo and Zenica basins. It carves the route followed by Bosnia's conquerors throughout history. Some of these – the Hungarians and the Habsburgs – came from the North; others – notably the Ottomans – came from the South. The strategic role of this central Bosnian artery is apparent from the numerous fortresses situated along the river. One of the most important, first mentioned in the early 15 century, is the fortress Gradina in Doboj.

Ten years ago, Doboj was notorious as a centre of hardline Serb nationalism. At the end of the Bosnian war, the old Muslim quarter had been "ethnically cleansed" of its occupants, with its houses illegally occupied and its streets renamed after Chetnik leaders. The few remaining non-Serbs in Doboj were under intense pressure to leave. The Bosniak and Croat villages in the vicinity had been ruthlessly destroyed. In 1996, Human Rights Watch singled out Doboj municipality as a place under the:

"absolute, autocratic control of a group of local Bosnian Serb political leaders, police chiefs, party leaders, officials and civilians who have established an underground mafia-type network… They view the Dayton peace process as a direct threat to the power base they created during the war… The plans of this underground paramilitary network include 'destabilizing the peace process, creating opposition to IFOR and international agencies with the Bosnian Serb population in Republika Srpska, stirring up general animosity towards the other entity – the Bosniak-Croat Federation – and destroying any moderate-line Serb elements including Bosnian Serb opposition parties and individuals not affiliated with the SDS."

The SDS (Serb Democratic Party), founded by indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, held Doboj firmly in its grip. There was little reason for hope that the multiethnic life of this region could ever be restored.

Pre-war, Doboj's population had been very mixed. According to the 1991 census, Doboj municipality had 102,630 inhabitants: 40 percent were Muslims (Bosniaks) and 38.8 percent Serbs. Croats constituted 13 percent of the population, and those who chose to define themselves as Yugoslavs and other nationalities totalled 8 percent. The majority of the population lived in the villages, which (as throughout Bosnia) were predominantly mono-ethnic. There were 10 Croat, 17 Bosniak and 40 Serb villages (only 5 villages were mixed).

Table 1: Ethnic structure of Doboj municipality, census 1991





















Total municipality







During the war (1992-1995), the military frontline cut right across Doboj municipality. Virtually all non-Serbs were expelled from the Serb-held areas; numerous war crimes were committed, and Bosniaks were systematically tortured in detention camps. Following the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, Doboj remained a tense frontline town, where the mono-ethnic Republika Srpska faced off against the Bosniak and Croat 'Federation'. This new 'inter-entity boundary line' followed the military frontline. As a result, some of Doboj's pre-war municipal territory fell inside the Federation. The Federation portion was divided into three new municipalities: Doboj East (Bosniak), Doboj South (Bosniak) and Usora (Croat).

Before the war, some 16,000 people had lived in the areas that now formed these three new municipalities. Of the remaining 86,500 pre-war citizens of Doboj municipality, around 30,000 Bosniaks and 10,000 Croats had been expelled. Taking their place, some 26,000 Serbs had been displaced to Doboj from other parts of Bosnia. Thus Doboj in Republika Srpska had around 72,500 inhabitants in 1996, almost exclusively Serb. In the immediate post-war period, any attempts by the former inhabitants to return to their homes were met with violence by organised Serb mobs. Attacks against would-be returnees and their property continued throughout 1996 and 1997. Except for a few returns to villages in the internationally controlled Zone of Separation (ZoS), post-war Doboj had become a mono-ethnic fortress.

Against this grim background, the breakthrough, when it finally came, was remarkable. In August 1997, SFOR asserted its control over special police forces in Republika Srpska, which had been instrumental in obstructing return. It required them to disclose their officers, weapons, ammunition and equipment, and to undergo a thorough restructuring process. One detachment of the Doboj special police refused to comply. On 10 November 1997, SFOR raided their headquarters, confiscating everything they found and disarming and decertifying all the officers. In the following years, security sector reforms and a vetting process run by the UN's International Police Task Force (IPTF) transformed the local police. One priority was to remove all officers who had been involved in war crimes. Some of Doboj's war criminals have been brought to justice. Nikola Jorgic, the leader of a paramilitary group, was arrested in Germany. In September 1997, he was sentenced by a court in Dusseldorf to life imprisonment for genocide committed in the Doboj region. Only recently, in October 2007, the leader of another paramilitary formation, Predini vukovi (Predo's wolves), Predrag Kujundzic, was taken into custody to be tried for crimes against humanity before the War Crimes Chamber of the BiH State Court. He is accused of having ordered and participated in numerous murders and rapes against the non-Serb civilian population in Doboj in 1992.

The dismantling of the town's war-time police structures opened the way to the return of Doboj's Bosniaks. Over the past decade, over half of the pre-war Bosniak population (an estimated 16,000-18,000 people) have returned to the municipality. Today, more than a third of the students in Doboj's institutions of higher education are Bosniaks. The current (SDS) mayor of Doboj, Obren Petrovic, elected in 2004, envisages a future for Doboj that is a complete break with its wartime history. As Petrovic told ESI:

"When I became mayor four years ago, I wanted to open up Doboj. As soon as I opened up the secondary schools, Bosniak children from the Federation started attending them. We have to continue on this path. We have to create the conditions to become again a trade centre and a traffic junction, a regional centre. We also have to become a tourist centre. I regret that we don't have a decent hotel. When the new highway is built, we will connect northern Croatia with the Croatian coast, and people could stay overnight here. Our wish is to revitalise the economy, for Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks alike."

Today a visitor who climbs up towards the Gradina fortress through the old Muslim quarter will find an area that is once again returning to life. In this historic centre (carsija), whose roots go back to the 15 century, half of the original Bosniak population has now returned. The main street, named Pop Ljubin (Priest Ljubin) during the war, was recently renamed after Mesa Selimovic, a Muslim writer born in Tuzla. Entering Gradina fortress, a visitor is greeted by a guard in mediaeval costume. There is an "ethno-café", a small stage and a newly built playground. Since it was reopened in 2006, the fortress has hosted a number of cultural events. In February 2007 there was a festival of Bosnian cuisine, attended by women dressed in Serb, Bosniak and Croat traditional costumes. In May 2007, the fortress hosted the first Bosnian Tour Fest to open the summer tourist season. In the summer of 2007, the fortress staged a music and theatre festival. After years of decrepitude, life has returned to Gradina.

Miodrag Bosic is the man behind these new activities. Born in 1969 in Doboj, he left his hometown in 1989 to study agriculture in Novi Sad. When war broke out in his native town in 1992, he decided to stay in Serbia. Seven years later, war caught up with him. When NATO air strikes during the Kosovo war destroyed the three bridges over the Danube in Novi Sad, he decided to return to Doboj. Now in his thirties, he had to start his life all over again. Finally he set up an NGO to advise municipalities on issues of economic development.

While investigating the town's tourist potential, Bosic discovered the sorry state of the Doboj fortress. It had not been maintained in many years, and the stonework was crumbling. Local people had turned the area into a waste dump. Bosic raised money from the Swedish development agency, SIDA, as well as some funds from the municipality. His goal was to turn the fortress into an attraction for visitors travelling along the Bosna valley:

"We welcome visitors from across Bosnia. Our aim is that school classes from both entities, and everybody who travels along the Bosna highway, visits this fortress. You will not find any national symbols in this place. We deny requests to use the location for political rallies. This is not a Croat, Serb or Muslim fortress, but a monument that belongs to Bosnian history."

Today, looking down at the centre of town from the Gradina fortress, one sees the minarets of rebuilt mosques alongside the cupolas of Orthodox churches, a completely reconstructed Catholic church next to a fully refurbished synagogue. The ezan (Muslim call to prayer) can be heard five times a day, whilst church bells ring each hour. The obvious question is: how did this transformation come about? And what will it take for a multiethnic Doboj to prosper economically in the coming decade?

1. The return of Aziz and Emina

In May 1992, the people living in the villages of Sevarlije, Pridjel and Potocani on the east bank of the Bosna river were told by the Serb authorities in Doboj to hand over their weapons. There had been fighting since late 1991 in nearby Croatia. Then in April 1992, war had broken out in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The villagers at first believed that if they cooperated with the army, they would be left alone. They were wrong.

On 17 June 1992, the three villages were attacked by artillery. In panic, the villagers tried to escape across the river Bosna, swollen with water due to heavy rainfall. Two people were killed and six wounded by the artillery, and three drowned in the river. The next day, Serb paramilitaries wearing masks to hide their identities entered the villages. The attackers demolished the mosque in Sevarlije and blew up its minaret. They systematically destroyed all of the houses. They killed 30 men in Sevarlije and another 23 in Pridjel and Potocani. Some 300 people, mostly women, children and the elderly, were detained and taken to the army barracks in Sevarlije.

Aziz Ibrakovic, 65, had left Sevarlije the day before the attack. He spent the rest of the war in territory held by the Bosniak-dominated Army of BiH across the river Bosna. The river marked the frontline, and its banks were heavily mined. Throughout the war, Aziz could see his village. What he could not see were the mass graves with bodies of villagers killed on 18 June 1992; they would be discovered only many years later.

Emina Mustafcic, 48, a teacher of maths and physics, fled Sevarlije with her two daughters, then 1 and 4 years old, on 17 June 1992. Her husband Resad Mustafcic, Emina's brother Salih Durmic and her parents Meira and Smail stayed behind to protect their homes. On 18 June, Emina heard shooting from across the river Bosna. She saw smoke rise from her village. It was months before Emina learnt that her husband, brother and father had been shot in cold blood near the mosque, and their bodies burnt alongside those of four other men.

Emina's mother, Meira, was one of those taken prisoner. She spent two nights in the military barracks in Sevarlije and was then released. She went to Kakanj, a town 110 km south of Doboj, where Emina's sister lived at the time. Emina and her daughters made it to France as refugees, spending a year in Chamonix and two years in Pouilly-les-Nonais. In August 1995, Emina decided to return to Bosnia, then still at war, and work as a teacher in Zenica.

When the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed in Paris in December 1995, Aziz Ibrakovic lived in the municipality of Tesanj west of the river Bosna. He immediately began to organize the villagers from Sevarlije, Potocani and Pridjel, keeping track of where they had gone. But the end of the war did not bring what he hoped for – a return to Sevarlije.

In fact, 1996 was a year of disappointment for all potential returnees to Doboj. On 29 April 1996, a group of Bosniak visitors became impatient after waiting for hours for international troops, the UN police and the local police to allow them to enter Republika Srpska to visit their former homes. Some 50 people tried to bypass the check-point and got lost in a minefield. One person was killed, and another seven wounded. On most occasions, Serb civilian mobs waited at border crossing points to prevent would-be returnees from entering the RS. When on 10 May 1996 a group of 60 Bosniaks managed to enter the RS to visit a graveyard, they were shot at by snipers. An angry Serb mob smashed the windscreen of a UN police car. Some 20 RS policemen, including the deputy chief of the Doboj police station, watched but refused to intervene. The Bosniak visitors had to be rescued by international soldiers. On 1 June 1996, the buses of 84 Bosniaks who wanted to visit the village of Potocani were stoned by a hostile Serb crowd, injuring two. On 11 November, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) reported that 200 Bosniak houses had been blown up in the Doboj, Prijedor and Brcko areas. "We are seeing systematic violence against property, systematic destruction of houses to make sure that minorities don't return," said an exasperated UNHCR spokesman. On the same day, three Bosniaks were injured when their vehicle was fired on as they drove through the Poljice neighbourhood near the Doboj railway station. The next day, 30 people armed with iron bars demonstrated against the return of Bosniaks to Poljice.

The first meetings between the Bosniaks from Sevarlije and local Serb authorities were organised by UNHCR in the Miljkovac garrison just outside Doboj, which was then hosting international IFOR troops. Aziz remembers these meetings as "painful":

"We made our point that we were not guilty of anything. We did not come closer to each other, but with every meeting, it became clearer to the other side that our return was inevitable."

In September 1997, the first municipal elections after the war were held across the country. Aziz Ibrakovic was elected deputy to the Doboj municipal assembly by the votes of displaced Bosniak voters. When the assembly held its inaugural session in the town's former cinema, he was still unable to return to his destroyed home.

Aziz spent these frustrating years organising his fellow villagers. First 50, then 100 applications for return were registered with the municipality. In the end, there were 400. Only in 1998 – two-and-a-half years after the Dayton Agreement had come into effect – did these efforts begin to pay off. In May 1998, the local head of the UNHCR office in Doboj, Oliver Birch, took Aziz aside and asked him to "set a date for return" to Sevarlije:

"I decided on the 1 of June 1998. We were told to make a list of 100 families – but I put in all the 113 that wanted to go first. In the morning we took off. When we reached the heights of our village above the Bosna, we sat down together and just cried. Every week more people followed and soon the whole village was full of returnees. The village was a jungle and we desperately needed help. After one month we began to stay in our village overnight."

In 1998, Sevarlije was a wilderness, the houses looted and burned. The whole area along the Bosna, including the primary school, was mined. Weeds and bushes had overgrown gardens, houses and roads. The first neighbours to help the Bosniak returnees were displaced Serbs now living in neighbouring villages. Until the first grocery store opened in the village, the returnees bought their daily necessities in a Serb's shop in Potocani. Not one incident overshadowed this return. RS police patrolled the village every day. SFOR was never far away, providing essential reassurance.

For the return to succeed, massive support from international donors was crucial. Most of Sevarlije's citizens were destitute and had no savings. Many of them lived from casual labour. So ultimately the speed of return became dependent on the flow of donor aid to support reconstruction. Before the war, the village had some 450 houses. In 1998, the European Commission financed the reconstruction of the first 100. Another 289 houses were rebuilt with the support of different donors. A further 93 houses were reconstructed by their owners, mostly people who had lived and earned money abroad. By 2007, only 69 houses had not been rebuilt. These houses belong to owners who have started a new life in the Federation or abroad.

In 1998, electricity was restored by the local provider with the support of USAID. Soon 120 houses were connected. A water supply project, planned before the war, was implemented for the first 44 houses with USAID funding. The community centre was rebuilt with donations. The reconstruction of the mosque was completed in 2004. As return by the pre-war population gathered pace, tensions in Sevarlije decreased rather than increased. Aziz Ibrakovic recalls:

"The first with whom we actually managed to establish relations were displaced Serbs. They had experienced the same fate as we had. They knew what it meant to live in someone else's property. They could understand our urge to come home."

Meira, Emina's mother, was among the first people in Sevarlije to receive a donation to rebuild the family house. She returned in 1999. The mass grave which held her family members was excavated in 2000. It was impossible to identify and separate the charred bones. Meira took them and washed them by hand. Then their remains were reinterred. Emina's mother told ESI that "the greatest punishment for the murderers is to walk the earth with all their sins on their mind and no chance of redemption."

After the return of her mother to Sevarlije, Emina and her daughters travelled every weekend by bus from Zenica to the village to visit her. As more families returned, the question of schooling arose. At first, villagers sent their children to schools in the nearby Federation. In 2000, the primary school in Sevarlije was reopened. The area around the school was still mined. In 2003, the village leaders asked Emina Mustafcic whether she would be willing to work as a teacher at the local school. Emina agreed, applied for the job and was promptly hired. Then she moved back to the village herself. Sometimes her memories still haunt her: "My father had lived his life, he had experienced happiness, seen his grandchildren… But my husband and my brother were still young." She says the situation has also been very difficult for her daughters, today 17 and 20. The elder daughter went through periods when she did not speak to anyone. Her teachers were frequently worried, but Emina explained to them that this was her daughter's way of coping with the loss of her father. Now she studies at university in Sarajevo. Emina's younger daughter attends medical secondary school in Doboj.

The primary school in Sevarlije (nine grades) is a branch school of the Sveti Sava Primary School in Doboj. All 175 pupils in this branch school are Bosniaks. Five teachers including Emina teach exclusively in Sevarlije; all five are Bosniaks. Another ten (half Bosniaks and half Serbs) teach both in Sevarlije and in the main school. The branch school teaches according to the RS curriculum, but for 'national' subjects (language, history, geography) it uses curricula and books from the Federation. The language spoken in school is Bosnian. Both the Latin and the Cyrillic script are used, since children are supposed to learn both, but Latin prevails in most subjects. The local imam teaches Islamic religion in the school.

Emina teaches mathematics and sciences. Asked about differences in her subjects between the curriculum in Zenica-Doboj Canton and the RS curriculum, Emina laughs: "Two plus two is always four, isn't it?" Her relations to her Serb colleagues are good. They celebrate each other's religious holidays by bringing cakes and sweets to the school. "The people are not misled," she said. "The politicians at the top are trying to instigate hate for their personal gain, but we are not that easy to fool."

As things are normalising, the importance of the inter-entity boundary line in daily life around Doboj diminishes. 2004 saw the construction of a new bridge across the Bosna, the former frontline, providing Sevarlije with direct access to the main north-south highway running from Croatia to Sarajevo. Building the bridge required cooperation between Doboj municipality (which built the access road on the RS side), Doboj South (which built the access road on the Federation side), the RS, the Federation and the Zenica-Doboj Canton. In the summer of 2007, twelve years after the war, the agricultural fields along the Bosna river were also finally cleared of mines.

2. Reversing ethnic cleansing

Sevarlije is not an exception. Bosniaks have returned to all the villages in the Doboj region where they had lived before the war. Rural return took place to largely destroyed villages. Across the municipality, more than half the pre-war Bosniak population has come back.

Enes Suljkanovic, 46, was born in Pridjel, the village next to Sevarlije. He worked as an engineer in a large lime factory in Sevarlije until May 1992.  He left after the villagers had been asked to hand over their weapons. "One could already feel the danger, and I had a wife and a little girl of four years." He left Doboj one month before his village was burned to the ground. In the municipal elections of 1997, Enes was elected deputy to the municipal assembly of Doboj as a member of the Social-Democratic Party (SDP). He was active in lobbying international organisations to support the return of displaced persons. In 2000, he was able to return to his village. He rebuilt his house with support from the Swedish development agency SIDA. Today, his daughter, 19, studies law in Doboj and his 11-year old son attends the primary school in Sevarlije.

In 2004, Enes was re-elected to the municipal assembly and became its president. Enes works closely with the Serb mayor of Doboj. He considers the return of Bosniaks to Doboj a huge success:

"In fact, we think that Doboj is the number one municipality in Bosnia with regard to return. One of the reasons is that most people spent the war and post-war period very close to their homes – in Doboj South, Doboj East, in Tesanj where I was, and in other nearby places – so it has been easy for them to return. Some still work in the Federation and can easily commute, but we are working on resolving this, we are trying to create jobs here."

One of the biggest obstacles for large scale Bosniak return in the post-war period appeared to be the large community of displaced Serbs from the Federation who had moved to Doboj and occupied Bosniak homes. At the end of 1999, the High Representative, the top international civilian official and supreme authority in post-war Bosnia, imposed property laws that prescribed the return of houses and apartments to their pre-war owners and tenants.

Ilija Jotic, the (Serb) president of the village council of Poljice, remembers having to reassure the displaced Serbs that they would not be evicted onto the street if the Bosniaks reclaimed their houses in Poljice. As the return of Bosniaks and the implementation of property laws accelerated in 2000, the future of the displaced Serbs became a major concern of the local authorities. In response, the municipality parcelled out plots of municipal land. According to Jotic, once the municipality allocated the land plots to the displaced Serbs, tensions dropped and return became much easier. In Poljice, there are today 200 households of Bosniaks who returned after the war, 500 households of Serbs who lived here already before the war and another 182 Serb households who were given land plots. Across Doboj some 2,000 Serbs live on 636 plots they were given. Only in the village of Kotorsko did this lead to tensions. Even here, however, the return of almost 1,500 Bosniaks to their homes has taken place without incident. Property disputes have been resolved in local courts. There has been no violence.

Elsewhere in the municipality, interethnic relations are relaxed. Out of 589 pupils of the Dositej Obradovic school – one of three primary schools in Doboj town – 342 are Serbs, 237 Bosniaks and 10 Croats. As director Lazo Pejcic, an ethnic Serb, explains, "it would have been possible to create classes only made up of Bosniaks. We discussed this with the parents and the overwhelming opinion was that mixed classed were preferable. Nobody wanted ethnic segregation." Recently, a Bosniak student won a regional school competition in maths. "Jasmin's school mates were cheering, throwing him in the air when he came back," said Pejcic." There are no ethnic tensions between the children." Bosniak community leaders living in the old town confirmed this to ESI: there are "no problems whatsoever for Bosniaks to use the RS health system", Bosniak children go to local schools "without any problems" and the local police are "professional."

A clear sign of just how much things have changed in Doboj is the demilitarisation of the region – there are no international troops to be seen. Checkpoints and controls have long been abandoned. The former SFOR camp near Sevarlije on the Bosna river is vacant. In 2006, the three military forces in BiH were merged into one small, professional force. In the garrison in Miljkovac, once occupied by SFOR to control the area, the Joint Defence Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina are stationed today.

3. Citizens of Republika Srpska

Nusret Delic, 39, is president of the Sevarlije association of agricultural producers. On 18 June 1992, the day his village was attacked by paramilitaries, Nusret Delic was hiding in the forest above Sevarlije. He later crossed the river Bosna and spent the rest of the war as a soldier on the frontline along the river, in sight of his home. In 2002 he returned. He shows his confidence in the future in the most tangible way – he has planted more than 300 apple trees.

The Sevarlije agricultural association has over 200 members and has recently been joined by 18 Serb farmers. The milk produced by members of the association is sold to a Serb-owned dairy in Teslic. Although the price is higher in some dairies in the Federation, the villagers trust this particular RS-based company. Some members of the association produce cucumbers to sell to a specialised cooperative in the neighbouring municipality of Gracanica, in the Federation. Next year Nusret Delic plans to sell his apples to a supermarket chain in Tesanj, also in the Federation.

As a result of large scale return to Doboj, the inter entity boundary line means very little in the daily life of people living in this region. Trade across the entity boundary has been common for years. The open market near the Bosna river in the outskirts of Doboj is frequented by customers from both entities. Retailers in Doboj town buy from wholesalers in Doboj South in the Federation. A trader from Sevarlije owns a paint store with outlets in Doboj South, Tesanj, Maglaj (all in the Federation) and in Doboj town. Another entrepreneur from Sevarlije owns a glass-cutting workshop in Maglaj (Federation). Yet another one bought the Maglaj bus station, where he employs 10 people from Sevarlije.

The reintegration of Bosniaks from Sevarlije into the public institutions of Doboj has also come a long way: five people from Sevarlije serve in the Doboj police, another police officer commutes to work in East Sarajevo (RS). One Sevarlijan is an inspector of communal services, two villagers are employees of the local health centre of Sevarlije and five are employed by the primary school.

One sees a similar pattern across the municipality. In the Doboj municipal administration, 18 Bosniaks work today (and 2 communal inspectors are in the process of being hired). On the managing boards of public companies there is usually a Bosniak or Croat. In the regional prosecutor's office there are 9 Serbs and 5 non-Serbs (Bosniaks and Croats), with a vacancy for another Croat. In the Doboj district court one finds 11 Serb and 7 non-Serb judges (see table). Of 800 police officers in the Doboj district, some 125 (16 percent) are today Bosniaks and Croats.

Sometimes it is hard to attract qualified Bosniaks to work in public sector jobs in RS. Enes Suljkanovic, the municipal assembly president, remembers the case of a vacant position of director of the health centre (Dom zdravlja). He tried to find Bosniak candidates but failed. The main reason is the fact that the salaries of those working in the public sector are sometimes several hundred KM higher in the Federation. Teachers also earn more in the Federation – in the RS they earn around 500 KM, while in the Federation they earn around 600 to 700 KM, depending on the Canton.

Table 2: Ethnic make-up of the judiciary in Doboj 2007




District Prosecutor's Office




Judges Basic Court




Judges District Court




Milenko Boskovic, deputy head of the public security centre Doboj, notes that cooperation with police officers from the Federation is "excellent". Of 55 cars stolen in the Doboj police district and adjacent Federation areas in 2006, 34 have been retrieved thanks to cooperation across the inter-entity boundary line. The cars were usually found in the other entity – as a rule, Bosnian car thieves tend to take stolen cars across the entity boundary line in the hope that they will not be discovered. Boskovic also says the police has not received any reports of ethnically based incidents for years. Enes Suljkanovic confirmed that "since 2000 there has not been a single ethnically based incident." He chairs a "Commission for the safety of citizens" and a "Commission for the safety of returnees to the municipality of Doboj" with representatives of all the public bodies involved in ensuring safety. Dozens of returnees interviewed by ESI about the security situation across the municipality confirmed the absence of inter-ethnic tensions.

Services provided by the municipality are limited, but it is difficult to find a pattern of discrimination. Sixteen mosques have been rebuilt with financial support from the municipality. In November 2007, work started on the sewage system in the old town of Doboj below the fortress, to the value of 100,000 KM. Bosniaks in the village of Kotorsko have also received both direct and indirect support from the municipality. It includes substantial funds to build a new community centre and buy a ferry to help villagers reach their agricultural fields on the other side of the Bosna river, and the successful encouragement of an Italian investor to open a shoe factory in Kotorsko that will employ some 50 Bosniak returnees. According to the head of the municipal department for reconstruction, Eldina Mehinagic (a Bosniak), overall there are currently some 500 citizens who have applied for reconstruction assistance and have not been able to return yet due to lack of funds.

Bosniak and Serb village leaders told ESI that campaigning for next year's municipal elections has already started. One award for electoral support is infrastructure development. Given that there is one polling station in each village and two in the bigger ones, the political parties can see who voted for them where. What counts is not ethnicity, but votes. The mayor is elected directly and mayor Petrovic told ESI that he won the 2004 elections with 13,000 votes including 3,000 from Bosniaks. "This was an acknowledgement, and I will continue to fight for as many Bosniak votes as possible," he said. Several Bosniak leaders told ESI that he has indeed promoted investments in their neighbourhoods and villages.

In the higher education sector, ethnic re-integration has been striking. Today there is a technical college, a university faculty and branches of a number of new private universities (see table). In total, nearly 2,500 students attend these institutions today. Remarkably, more than a third of these are non-Serbs, many of them coming from the Federation.

Table 3: Number of students in institutions of higher learning in Doboj 2007

College or university




Total students

Technical College, Doboj





Transport Faculty (University East Sarajevo)





Branch of Slobomir Pavlovic University Bijeljina (private)





Branch of FUMA, Faculty for Service Management, Novi Sad (private)





Branch of APEIRON University Gradiska (private)










Asked about what it means to live in RS as a Bosniak, most interviewees displayed attitudes that are rarely reflected in political discussions. Edin Hodzic, the secretary of the local community Sevarlije, when asked how he felt about Republika Srpska told ESI: "Of course Republika Srpska is also mine. I am at home here. Another home, I do not have." And Nusret Delic from Sevarlije explained:

"All through the war, I was determined to return to my home village. Later I understood that it is hard to gain anything by war. We liberated our Sevarlije through the Dayton Agreement, not through war. We did not have to fight with weapons for it as we had thought. In the beginning I thought it was unfair, because I had fought for a unified state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Then I had to accept to live in Republika Sprska. But I accepted that. And slowly I realised that it is not so terrible after all. I do not feel anything bad about Republika Srpska if I compare it with the Federation. What I need is my freedom to go everywhere, that no door is closed to me, and that I can live from my work."


Doboj in 2007 is a very different place from Doboj in 1997. Return, ethnic reintegration, reconstruction are all local success stories. However, while most of the problems of the immediate post-war period – ethnically motivated violence, lack of freedom of movement, mass violation of property rights – have been addressed, the situation on the local labour market remains disastrous. On this everybody interviewed in Doboj agrees.

Lazo Pejcic, director of the Dositej Obradovic primary school, told ESI that "most of the parents of his pupils are unemployed." Bosniak leaders in the old town consider unemployment the number one problem of returnees. Among Bosniak returnees, few people have found jobs in Republika Srpska. Some 200 returnees to the old town still commute to work in the Federation. The same is true for most Serbs who have resettled in Doboj. As for displaced Croats, the alternative of living in Croatia (Bosnian Croats have the right to Croatian citizenship) has kept the vast majority from returning to their pre-war homes in Doboj.

Some 9,700 persons in Doboj municipality are registered as unemployed. According to health insurance data from September 2007, only 19,953 of an estimated 82,500 inhabitants today are formally employed. Of these, 4,286 are farmers and 758 work in the Federation. Thus the local non-farming sector employs fewer than 15,000 persons. To understand the development challenge facing Doboj, it is sufficient to visit the local industrial zones. In 2001, the industrial zones east and west of the river Bosna employed 2,455 workers. In 2007, employment in the industrial zones has shrunk to under 800.

The company Trudbenik employs today 310 people. In the late 1980s, Trudbenik employed 1,300 people. It belonged to the large Energoinvest holding and was once defined by socialist planners as "the carrier of Doboj's development." It started out in 1949 as a repair shop for army vehicles, and then began to produce compressors and pneumatic tools for industrial use. According to the director, Vojko Sujic, 80 percent of the compressors it produced in the past were sold to companies in the former Yugoslavia. Now these clients no longer exist, or have switched to new suppliers in China and Europe. "Before the war, we were world class," Sujic claims. Today, the company is in a desperate state. The average age of the workforce is 45.6 years. Company operations have been reduced to servicing old compressors. The roof of the biggest production hall (7,000m) is leaking. From 2005 to 2006, turnover dropped from 4 million KM to 1.6 million KM. Trudbenik has growing debts, including 1 million KM to the local heating plant and 1.5 million KM to the RS pension fund. Privatisation has been mishandled. The RS government declared Trudbenik "a company of strategic value". As a result of this decision, transformation has been delayed.

Another formerly proud company, across from Trudbenik, is Bosanka, founded in 1947. It was one of the five biggest juice producers in socialist Yugoslavia, producing 18,000 tonnes of juices and other non-alcoholic beverages and 8,500 tonnes of tinned products (jams, pickled cucumbers, peppers, mixed salad, tomato paste). In 2000, Bosanka ceased production. The following year it was sold, with 752 small shareholders with no investment capital becoming the new owners. Part of the production and storage facilities were rented out to a private beer producer. In June 2006, the remaining 123 workers started a strike, demanding wages that were months in arrears. In April 2007, a court initiated bankruptcy proceedings.

In fact, of all socially owned companies active in industry and mining in Doboj municipality, only three have managed to increase employment after privatisation: RKTK Doboj, a limestone mine and lime factory in Sevarlije; TKS Dalekovod, a producer of electricity transmission lines and pylons; and a coal mine in Stanari west of Doboj town (see next chapter). All three cases involved foreign direct investment. All three also involve business relations with companies based in the Federation.

In the past, sixty percent of the lime produced by RKTK Doboj (Rudnik Krečnjaka i Tvornica Kreča, which means limestone mine and lime factory) went to the Zenica steel factory. Before the war the company had 350 employees. Production stopped in spring 1992. After the war, only the production of limestone for civil engineering resumed. The current director, Zdravko Kalaba, came to Sevarlije two years ago. He had worked for USAID after the war, and then joined a company near Banja Luka which purchased RKTK in April 2005. Since 2006, it has invested 1 million KM in the quarry every year. Output is increasing and sold mainly to companies in the Federation. Before privatisation, there were 45 active workers and salaries were many months late. Currently, there are 155 employees and everybody is paid on time. 25 of them are Bosniak returnees to Sevarlije.

In addition to mining and milling limestone, preparations are underway to restart lime production in a joint venture with Carmeuse from Belgium, a global lime producer. This requires an investment of 50 million KM in new equipment, machines and filters. Some 10 million KM have been invested so far, and a completely revamped factory is scheduled to start working in early 2008. Its main client will be Mittal Steel in Zenica, as it was in the pre-war period. Mittal and Carmeuse already have a long-standing cooperation, and for the Sevarlije company this provides a stable local market. Zdravko Kalaba is optimistic: "This will be one of the most modern lime factories in Europe. We have everything here: the stone, the railways, the market and soon the new highway."

Another successful privatisation story is that of TKS Dalekovod Doboj. Created in 1972 as part of the Energoinvest conglomerate, like Trudbenik, the company has produced pylons for power transmission lines and street lightning and metal constructions such as substations, GSM stations and ski lifts. Before the war it had 800 employees. Production ceased during the war and resumed only at a minimal level afterwards. In 2003, the Croatian company Dalekovod from Zagreb bought 42 per cent of the company. It now owns 86 percent of the Doboj factory.

Dalekovod Zagreb has 1,600 employees and exports to 80 countries. The current director of Dalekovod Doboj, Mato Majstorovic, a Bosnian Croat, spent the war in Slovenia. So far, Zagreb has invested 4 million KM in new machines in Doboj. It has renovated the building and bought and installed a new conveyer belt. When it received an order for 5,000 tonnes of pylons for a GSM network in Uganda, half of it was produced in Zagreb and the other half in Doboj. There are plans for expansion, some linked to Mittal Steel in Zenica. Majstorovic explains that "we are waiting for Zenica to start producing steel profiles." Having a supplier that close would make the company more competitive.

When Mato Majstorovic arrived in the company in 2004, everything was overgrown with weeds but the machines were still there, as were 260 workers. 132 were sent home with compensation packages. Today the company has again 265 employees. Whenever Dalekovod Doboj advertises vacancies, it receives a huge number of applications.  Mato Majstorovic recalls people crying on the phone, begging him for a job and influential people trying to intervene on behalf of applicants:

"I am aware that many people really, really need the advertised job – but there is only one job and there are so many families to which it would mean so much."

Success stories such as RKTK and Dalekovod are exceptional. The largest employer in Doboj today is the RS Railways, which are headquartered in Doboj and employ some 1,200 workers in the municipality. The second largest is the Regional Hospital with 700 workers. However, the public sector is unlikely to expand employment in the near future. The problem of employment is even worse in rural areas. The former agricultural cooperatives have collapsed. An ESI survey showed that there are no more than 250 farmers with more than 5 hectares of land in Doboj municipality.

In the cafés in the centre of Doboj in the autumn of 2007, young and old openly discuss their limited options, mostly related to migration. They exchange their experiences: some work as waiters on American cruise ships; others have discovered how to get to Malta illegally. Some work on the Montenegrin coast during the tourist season or for Serb firms that build oil processing plants in Romania; others are investigating a new temporary work program in the Czech Republic (which advertises long-term work permits in the Bosnian press and on the internet). Few see their future in Doboj.

The lack of job opportunities is the main reason why the return of Croats, in contrast to that of Bosniaks, has been so disappointing. From 2000 to 2004, Mato Majstorovic, the director of Dalekovod Doboj, was deputy minister for return in the RS government in Banja Luka. He saw his appointment as a chance to help Croats return to RS. He visited Croat refugees in Croatia, Sweden and Germany and tried to convince them to come home. The experience left him bitterly disappointed: they did not want to return. "They all say that their living standards elsewhere are better," Majstorovic says. Majstorovic even organised donors to rebuild the Croats' houses. "We offered to hand them the keys to a fully renovated house and on top give them a cow, a pig, a fully furbished kitchen: and yet they still did not want to return. Most continue to live in Croatia and use their houses here as weekend homes." It is the absence of jobs, particularly in rural areas, that constitutes the largest obstacle to further return in Republika Srpska today.


There have been dramatic changes in Doboj in the past decade. Disarmament, return and reconstruction are successes whose magnitude few outsiders fully appreciate. Peace reigns today along the former frontline. This in turn has brought the beginnings of new economic life to the municipality.

The virtual erasure of the inter-entity boundary line has been a precondition for almost every business success in recent years: most of Stanari's current customers are in the Federation; both Dalekovod Doboj and the lime factory in Sevarlije look to Zenica for new development prospects; farmers in Doboj are selling their products both in the Federation and in Republika Srpska; private universities in Doboj town welcome students from the Federation. Everywhere old linkages are being revived, to mutual benefit. In this new context, Doboj's diversity – and its strategic position as a potential regional transport, education and energy hub – provide it with a path out of its current economic malaise.

It is also striking that every significant development success story that we came across in Doboj today involves a foreign investor. Dalekovod Zagreb invests in Dalekovod Doboj, EFT invests in Stanari, the Belgium lime producer Carmeuse invests in Sevarlije, Norwegian energy companies invest in hydropower along the river Bosna. Sisecam and Hayat, two of the large customers of the Stanari mine, have been revived by Turkish investors. All these projects are examples of linking local resources to developments that transcend the municipality, the entity and indeed Bosnia and Herzegovina. The influence of Zenica Steel (Mittal) can be felt throughout the whole country.

The conclusion from this report is thus simple: the current and future prosperity of Doboj depends on the wider economic success of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its ability to integrate into regional and European markets. Functional integration becomes a force for change when the EU itself is proactive, as it has been in the field of energy. It is very much in keeping with European history that the regional Energy Treaty signed in 2005 is the first ever binding agreement between Bosnia and the European Union.

For this process of economic integration to succeed, Bosnia needs a positive international image. Unlocking Bosnia's economic potential is first and foremost about investor confidence. In this respect, the atmosphere of political crisis built up in international rhetoric in recent times has been highly disruptive. During interviews in November 2007 in Doboj, we encountered intense anxiety among economic actors on all sides. Mato Majstorovic, director of Dalekovod, received a phone call from the management of Dalekovod Zagreb who, having read numerous reports on a political crisis in BiH, expressed concern about its investments. Obren Petrovic, Doboj's mayor, told ESI

"the economy does not do well with political tensions. The sooner these tensions stop, the sooner the political obstacles are overcome, the quicker the economic situation will improve… Some people from here living in the USA are buying flats in Doboj, including a friend of mine. He has called and asked me: 'Will there be war again?' Who wants to come to Bosnia if there is a threat of war here? Nobody."

While dealing with the economic legacies of the past the people of Doboj (and the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina) are also fighting Bosnia's ghosts. Yet, as we have argued elsewhere, this political crisis was an artefact of misconceived international strategies and opportunism on the part of regional politicians over the Kosovo war. It was entirely divorced from the real Bosnian story, found here in Doboj and across the country.