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Armoury in titoist times
Armoury in titoist times

The collapse of military industry was a shock to the Bosnian economy at least as severe as the closure of the Welsh coal mines or the decline of traditional industries in Southern Belgium, Northern England or the new German Länder. Yet it has received surprisingly little attention from either Bosnian or international policy makers."

(The Authoritarian Temptation, European Stability Initiative 2004)

Bosnia was one of the main centres of Tito's military-industrial complex. Of the 37 large integrated military companies in Yugoslavia, 11 were located in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As the United Nations Commission of Experts reported:

"Following Yugoslavia's expulsion from Cominform in 1948 and the sharp rise in tensions with the Soviet Bloc, Bosnia became central to Tito's self-defence strategy. Fearing simultaneous attack from the north (Hungary) and east (Bulgaria), and drawing on the experience of Partisan successes in World War Two, Tito turned the remote central Bosnian region, with its rugged mountains, heavily wooded areas and natural caves, into Yugoslavia's fortress and the centre of its military industries."

(M. Cherif Bassiouni, UN Commission of Experts, 28 December 1994)

Military industries had been the driving force behind Bosnia's industrialisation. By 1982 the share of exports from Bosnian factories accounted for $355 million, a fifth of the Yugoslav total. In 1981, the military industrial sector in Bosnia employed 23,310 workers – almost 5 times more (per capita) than in Serbia. That year, the Bosnian military industry delivered products, equipment and services worth $156 million to the Yugoslav National Army (JNA).

The military companies in Bosnia were concentrated in the triangle between Mostar, Sarajevo and Zenica. Outside this triangle there were only two companies, in Gorazde and in Banja Luka.

Weapons production in Central Bosnia in Yugoslav times
Weapons production in Central Bosnia in Yugoslav times

The concentration of arms factories was the highest in the area between Bugojno to Vitez. The gunpowder factory in Vitez employed 780 workers, about a quarter of the industrial workforce. 1,450 workers – a similar share of the local workforce – were employed by the Bratstvo factory in Novi Travnik. 3,450 workers – almost 40 percent of the industrial workforce of Bugojno – worked in the Slavko Rodic grenade and cannon factory.

In addition, Bosnia with its mountainous terrain was a natural depot for weapons, guarded by regular JNA troops. As many as 80,000 troops of the former JNA were deployed in BiH, of which some 35,000 were an effective fighting force. Many of these troops moved in and out of active duty, performing civilian functions when not called upon to engage in military activity.

The supply chain for these troops was organized through a number of co-operatives and food processing companies. Textile companies were busy producing uniforms and other supplies.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capacity to produce armaments, from bullets to cannons, and from gunpowder to helicopters, was one of the reasons for the intense fighting in the war. With the RS Army equipped with the best of the former JNA’s heavy artillery, and with the Bosnian Croatian HVO sitting on supply lines from Croatia, only the Bosnian Army suffered from the UN arms embargo. For the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, access to the weapons factories in central Bosnia was vital, and their enemies were determined to deny it to them…

Little of the military-industrial base which once formed the backbone of the Bosnian economy has survived the war. In Novi Travnik, this has led to the entire town’s slow collapse. In Vitez, it has spelled the end of the old arms factory.

June 2008

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