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Novi Travnik
Marshal Josip Broz Tito in Novi Travnik

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, so Yugoslavia needed the means to defend itself.

To serve a new armaments factory, which he named "Bratstvo" (Brotherhood), he 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. The new town 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 factory Bratstvo. At its height, 7,000 workers produced cannons, rocket launchers, other military equipment and tractors. Wages were among the highest in the country. The municipality was multi-ethnic – in 1991 37 % were Croats, 38% Bosniaks, and 13% Serbs. A big part of the remainder declared themselves to be Yugoslavs – the strongest believers in Tito's multi-ethnic vision.

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: a house of culture, hospitals, kindergartens, and schools. The German geographer Herbert Büschenfeld has written:

"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 went for example to Ghana. The customers of weapons were mostly non-aligned countries, allies of Yugoslavia. 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 inhabitants were a part of the town's social life.

Mirjana Mehicic

The life-style 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

But by the 1980's the original reason for the town's construction, Bratstvo, was getting into troubles. "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 made the town a target. The Yugoslav Air Force bombed the Bratstvo factory and destroyed large parts of the production complex. The conflict between Croats and Bosniaks divided the town literally in half. In the fighting, several hundred people died.

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At the end of the war the town was still divided. The Bratstvo factory was on the Bosniak side of the town. But the old secure domestic arms market for the Yugoslav National Army had gone. Exports were impossible. De-industrialisation, an overall Bosnian post-war phenomenon, hit Novi Travnik particularly hard. By 2006 only 3 percent of Bratstvo's pre-war capacity was in use. Of the 1,500 people officially on the 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. Nowadays only about 3,000 citizens in Novi Travnik have regular jobs. Many young people have left Novi Travnik, Tito's Town of Youth, for better opportunities elsewhere. For those that remain, there are major social problems. Drug abuse is one such problem. Mario Lucic from the youth organisation Galerija says:

"It is a fact that many young people, and not only young people, I know a lot of older people consuming drugs…"

As one very young drug addict told us anonymously:

"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 now is its director. She and her six colleagues try to address the town's growing social needs, which are caused by 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 – in a municipality with an estimated 25,000 inhabitants. Every day 20 people come to beg for assistance, Mirjana says,

"we support them as much as we can, but due to limited resources many of those have to be turned down".

View of the centre of Novi Travnik

Unlike booming Vitez, which was also bitterly split during the war, there is no common vision in Novi Travnik today about its future. Mario Lucic, from Galerija 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."

Mario Lucic

And unlike Vitez, which is located on a main road, Novi Travnik's remote location – the very reason the site was selected by Tito – 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."

June 2008

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