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Doboj Fortress
Doboj Fortress. Photo: Nescho, tipura.com

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. 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.

The dismantling of the town's war-time police structures, however, 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.

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.

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.

During the war, the coal mine in Stanari, a small village near Doboj, worked at a third of its capacity, producing less than 200,000 tonnes of coal per year. Things did not improve after 1995. In 2001, output collapsed to 38,251 tonnes.

The depressed state of the Stanari mine started to affect the whole region when in September 2004, the RS government announced that the Stanari coalmine was looking for a private partner. The energy trading company EFT (Energy Financing Team) responded to a public tender and a deal was concluded. In May 2005 EFT acquired 72 percent of the Stanari mine and a 30 year concession. The following year, the company bought the remainder of the shares.

The granting of a concession to a private investor was a novelty in the Western Balkans, where most coalmines are still owned by public companies. Things started to change almost immediately. A new director was hired and the company took on more qualified personnel. EFT made investments in machinery totalling € 5 million in 2005. Production methods changed as a result. In 2004, annual output of coal had been less than 200,000 tonnes. In 2006, it was able to extract about 1,600 tonnes of coal per worker, compared to an average figure across Bosnian coalmines of 500 tonnes. In 2007, output was 800,000 tonnes of coal.

The conclusion 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.

March 2008

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