Novi Travnik was once known as the "Town of Youth". In 1949, Marshal Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia's Communist leader, wanted to turn his vision of an independent multi-ethnic Communist Yugoslav state of "brotherhood and unity" into bricks and mortar. It was a year after the split with Moscow, and Yugoslavia needed the means to defend itself.
To serve a new armaments factory, which he named "Bratstvo" (Brotherhood), Tito ordered the construction of a new town, called Novi (New) Travnik. To make it secure from potential invaders, the new town was located in a distant valley of Central Bosnia, 20 km from the historic town of Travnik. It was to become the embodiment of the socialist dream. “From the first moment that the picks and shovels struck the hard ground," begins the factory's official history, written in 1989,
"the voices of past times were overcome, Socialism and Self-management were born within my bosom; a time proud and new. Proud is what my favourite guest and friend was, too: Josip Broz Tito. When he came to see me, I turned into a town of youth, and that's what they named me."
Bratstvo factory gates
Qualified workers came from all over Yugoslavia to build the town and to work in the Bratstvo factory. At its height, 7,000 workers produced military equipment like cannons and rocket launchers, as well as tractors. Wages were among the highest in the country. The municipality was multi-ethnic – in 1991 there were 37 % Croats, 38% Bosniaks, and 13% Serbs. A big part of the remainder, the strongest believers in Tito's multi-ethnic vision, declared themselves to be Yugoslavs.
Novi Travnik in the 1950's
The socialist poet Mladen Oljaca wrote in 1960:
"This is a town without grey hairs. There are no pensioners. This is a town without beggars and unemployed. This is a town without churches and mosques, without differences in faith."
No religious buildings were included in the original plan for Novi Travnik. All the other essential facilities for the town's working class were provided, however: a cultural centre, hospitals, kindergartens, and schools. The German geographer Herbert Büschenfeld haswritten:
"Novi Travnik is the exponent of the `socialist town´ of the Soviet type, probably the most explicit example of this type in Yugoslavia."
(Herbert Büschenfeld, Jugoslawien, Klett, 1981, p. 245)
The export markets for Bratstvo's products included Libya, Egypt, India, and many African countries. Tractors, for example, went to Ghana. Weapons were sold mostly to friendly non-aligned countries. Of particular importance were big orders from Iraq during the late 1970s and the 1980s. A new hotel, Hotel Novi Travnik, was specially built for guests from the oil-rich countries of the non-aligned bloc. In the 1980s Iraqi residents were a part of the town's social life.
The lifestyle in pre-war Novi Travnik was good, recalls Mirjana Mehicic. She was born and grew up in the town. Her parents had come from Serbia to work at the factory. Her husband, a Bosniak, was also employed in the factory when they first met.
"Novi Travnik was a real town. We are longing for the Novi Travnik which was once a centre of culture and fashion. We had many cultural events here. We had a discotheque, "Monaco" – it was known all over Bosnia and Herzegovina. We were in love, we saw life positively."
Hotel Novi Travnik in 2003
By the 1980's, however, Bratstvo – the original reason for the town's construction – was in trouble. "Even without a war, this industry would have collapsed," says Zeljko Rados, the local head of the Privatisation Agency: "We lost markets. The East no longer needed these types of weapons. Then came the fall of the Soviet Union."
When the war broke out in 1992, the factory – and the town itself – became a target. The Yugoslav Air Force bombed Bratstvo, destroying large parts of the production complex. The conflict between Croats and Bosniaks literally divided the town in half. Several hundred people died in the fighting.
At the end of the war Novi Travnik was still divided. The secure domestic market for arms, i.e., that provided the Yugoslav National Army, was gone. Exports were impossible. De-industrialisation, an overall Bosnian post-war phenomenon, hit Novi Travnik particularly hard. By 2006 Bratstvo was producing at a mere 3 percent of pre-war capacity. Of the 1,500 people officially on its payroll around 850 came to work, but only half of them actually received regular salaries.
Part of the Bratstvo Novi Travnik factory destroyed in the war
Workers leaving the factory
The collapse of the factory has devastated the town’s economy. Nowadays only about 3,000 citizens in Novi Travnik have regular jobs. Many young people have left Tito's Town of Youth to look for better opportunities elsewhere. Those who remain now confront major social problems, such as drug abuse. Mario Lucic from the Galerija youth organisation says:
"It is a fact that many young people and not only young people – I know a lot of older people – are consuming drugs…"
As one extremely young drug addict told us:
"There are many drug addicts here at our place. … Because people have no work, no employment, they have nothing … there is too much [drugs] here. Drugs are causing havoc throughout Bosnia. … Most of them want to forget their problems here. To find relief. I know that is not right, but …we constantly try, to let it be the last time. But in the end we are disappointed and … I know that I should not seek comfort this way.”
Mirjana Mehicichas worked at the Centre for Social Aid in Novi Travnik for 24 years and is now its director. She and her six colleagues try to address the town's growing social needs, a product of unemployment, poverty and old age, and the consequences of the war. "Despite the lack of staff and funding, we try to do our best,” says Mirjana. Only 65 households receive monthly social assistance payments – this, in a municipality with an estimated 25,000 inhabitants. Every day 20 people come to beg for assistance, Mirjana says.
"We help them as much as we can, but due to limited resources many of them have to be turned down.”
View of the centre of Novi Travnik
Unlike in booming Vitez, also bitterly divided during the war, no common vision of the future has taken root in Novi Travnik. As Galerija’s Mario Lucic says:
"Urban-minded people have all left. A lot of people from the villages have come to town. They think in strictly national terms. … I don't see how this will ever change. The parents are under the influence of the national parties, and the children are under the influence of the parents. And the school only reinforces the national divisions."
Vitez is located on a main road. Novi Travnik's remote location, on the other hand, the very reason the site was selected by Tito in the first place, is likely to be the cause of its continuing decline. "We were in a hole, at the end of a dead-end road," says Mirjana. "Only now a new road to Bugojno has opened."
Marijo Lucic adds:
"All young people who want to make something of their lives go abroad – or stay abroad, if they've already left. We have no qualified, creative young people here. I am afraid that Novi Travnik will become a town of old people."