Great interests of small people

At that time, in May 2006, a renowned architect from Sarajevo Lidumil Braco Alikalfić published a significant text – an expert analysis – on the shortcomings identified by that moment and the “tragedy” that was unfolding primarily in Igman and Bjelašnica in terms of the natural degradation and lack of awareness of this issue, the wrong orientation towards “cementing” the mountains in favour of apartments, hotels and parking lots.

Vrelo Bosne - voda nije za piće
Teaser Image Caption
Spring of river Bosna - Water not for drinking


In the past decades there have been very few examples in Bosnia and Herzegovina were the evil side of the construction lobbies’ greed, in conjunction with the political upstarts, ignorance, bargaining with the profession and the insatiability with corruption and bullying, managed in less than thirty years to seriously bring into question the value of the unique ecosystem and sources of drinking water that Sarajevo is supplied from - like the example of complete destruction of the environment in which Sarajevo rose with its entire natural setting.  And also, there are few examples where even sporadic answers to this fact end up as undefeated. This is noticed both by the older generations who nostalgically remember the period which is known today as “Belle epoque” and by the few people from younger generations who are ready to do something to save the city and its surroundings.

Of course, in order to meet the conditions to start the crime-like devastation of nature and legalisation of today’s crime against mountains, forests, rivers and water sources, valleys and their flora and fauna in the vicinity of Sarajevo, it was first necessary to fundamentally change the mindset of the society and the perception of the foundations that the society rested on. This includes forgetting many elements within the value system of the individuals and the society, within the priorities of the state and its institutions, the public opinion and its possible influence on the population and its perception. Many battles have been lost in this field, which created an appropriate environment for the destruction of what used to be considered as general social good and historical, natural and cultural value.

Sarajevo Olympic mountains – Bjelašnica, Jahorina, Igman, Trebević, but also the beauties of the then preserved Treskavica, Zelengora, Prenj, Vranica, Čvrsnica and many other nature reserves were fully discovered by the whole world when Bosnia and Herzegovina submitted its candidacy for the 14th Winter Olympic Games. A lot was done during the four years preceding the Games in order to create optimum conditions for the Games, but also to preserve the natural values of the mountains surrounding Sarajevo and its entire nature to the greatest possible extent while meeting the needs of the Olympics. 

An enormous worldwide success of the 1984 Winter Olympics shoved aside the analyses and the long-term post-Olympic plans for further development of this area, the spatial plans, the search for the best solutions for the future, and even the analytical question of whether everything that had been done for the Olympic Games only was the best option for tourism along with the preservation of nature in the future. The war that followed soon after the Olympics created a new reality in this sense. Except for Jahorina where hotels and sport facilities and infrastructure were preserved, almost all other facilities in Bjelašnica, Igman and Trebević were completely destroyed and devastated. Notwithstanding the extent of the damage, this situation opened a possibility to design new winter tourism plans, concepts and strategy in accordance with the new objectives and plans for winter tourism on the well-known sites - all this on the basis of expert analyses, extensive public debates, long-term economic plans, experience from the past years, experience of other countries, etc. 

However, not much has been done besides sporadic reconstructions of the pre-existing facilities. At that time, as a result of hasty reactions and lack of planning, the winning theory was the one that fit into the stories of the tourism “development project” which opened “the biggest construction site in Bosnia and Herzegovina...” There were no studies on the protection of the unique, enormous natural wealth of Sarajevo mountains, no concepts based on the assessment of the kind of tourism we are dedicated to, no consultations with the professionals and the experiences of others. To satisfy many different interests and the profit-oriented ambitions, the excavators were sent to Bjelašnica, Igman and other sites in many numbers – usually against the nature.

At that time, in May 2006, a renowned architect from Sarajevo Lidumil Braco Alikalfić published a significant text – an expert analysis – on the shortcomings identified by that moment and the “tragedy” that was unfolding primarily in Igman and Bjelašnica in terms of the natural degradation and lack of awareness of this issue, the wrong orientation towards “cementing” the mountains in favour of apartments, hotels and parking lots. In short, the text dealt with the question of the direction and the devastating consequences of the degradation of the unique environment resulting from the badly calculated “marketing logics” that is not applicable to these sites. The conclusions of the text, which, actually, represents an excellent study of what politics, combined with ignorance and the worst profit-oriented ambitions of the privileged ones ventured into – were proven dramatically accurate and are more than confirmed in today’s reality of the destruction of the sites concerned. The hunches expressed fifteen years ago, announcing that such orientation and insatiability would backfire both on our nature and economy, are being realised in a brutal way and much earlier than Alikalfić estimated they would. 

“The new class” of political owners of the sky and the ground made a clear choice between the unique nature and the valuable common good that may be capitalised even beyond ski slopes and other tourist areas and relaxation facilities and the pure profit. The horrible greed for bare short-term profit from construction, renting, taxing, shares, resale has triumphed. Of course, this “class” that laid claim to the nature, positioning itself as legally elected authorities, made an effort to make it all formally or even roguishly “transparent” and covered by legal procedures in which they themselves are the law.

The spatial plans of the Federation, cantons, the legal protection of the drinking water sources, the legalisation of the illegal – everything could be done in a way that served their interests. It has been a while since this became possible in the politically and institutionally destroyed system. This created a logical space for conducting retroactive legalisations of the illegally constructed facilities through different subsequent “amendments” and modifications of what was voted for in the past. Group interests were the basis for the adjustment and the construction of infrastructure, introduction of gas and water installations depending on when and which “legislator” needed this to be done. The same was done in the context of deforestation and opening space for new and bigger facilities until Bjelašnica and Igman were turned into “a new Alipašino polje...”, as many annoyed observers comment in the media.

The logical concept of ski centres in accordance with the existing relation between mountains and the city – which means focusing on equipping ski slopes, appropriate ski lifts, small catering points for refreshment by the slopes or at the foot of the slopes and the accompanying service facilities on the snow and, besides hotels and accommodation sites, restaurants and entertainment in the city which is only fifteen kilometres away –  was defeated by the megalomanic and mass construction of apartments, parking spaces, and hotels that overlook only the walls of other apartments. However, those apartments became “business” for their owners and especially for powerful construction lobbies as well as a confirmation of belonging to the privileged ones and a sign of social status.

The concept of preserving the natural environment that would accommodate acceptable sports courts while leaving accommodation facilities, restaurants, night clubs and shopping activities to the city at the foot of the mountain, therefore strengthening the city’s winter offer – was not very interesting to the mountain “owners” and the construction cartels. The fact that the buyers of the apartments, the number of which has already exceeded two thousand and keeps growing in spite of the prices that range from 70 to half a million Euros per apartment, will soon wonder what they are doing in the concrete area surrounded by another concrete area in the middle of a destroyed mountain is now only perceived as a worse option for the future. It is no wonder that many people who were among the first to buy apartments overlooking the mountain some fifteen years ago have already started raising the bitter questions regarding the authorities allowing this mass construction without any concept and permits. A while back, an answer was arrogantly and hastily provided by the “owner” of Trnovo Municipality during the discussions about grand plans of his empire, who said, just to avoid any dilemma, that Bjelašnica and Igman “are first the property of the Municipality, and only then the property of canton, Federation and the state”! 

Already in 2006, in the abovementioned study exceptionally titled “Igman and Bjelašnica – mountains eaten by grasshoppers”, architect Braco Alikalfić went one step further in the analysis of the full degradation with respect to all this. He said that this is a new prevailing step. He continues: “Why is this happening to us? We can only speculate. Is it the voluntarism of the political figures, the monopolisation of planning, petty individual interests of local self-government or maybe, which is probably the case, the rules of market philosophy have become so dominant in the current value judgements that we are consenting to the principle that everything is for sale. How much do the mountains cost? How much does the National Park cost? How much does Sarajevo cost? How much Bosnia and Herzegovina cost? In fact, it is obvious that the real politics has found its place in spatial planning and established its own valuation system...”

Of course, in this region the opinion of the environmental professionals has not meant anything for a long time now – the opinion that the construction in the mountains has long surpassed a sustainable level and that we have to supress our appetites for construction. And how can we stop it if these mountains, canyons and forests have not been fully cemented and stuffed into the pockets of private individuals yet.

The extent of appetites in this area can be seen by just taking a glimpse at spatial plans of Trnovo Municipality published three years ago for different sites in the mountains which “primarily belong to them”. Therefore, building on what had already been constructed: Bukova ravan – 84 weekend facilities, apartments, hotel, social infrastructure facilities with accommodation capacities... Prečko Polje Regulatory Plan – area of 137 hectares, planned construction of hotels, apartments, villas, shopping centre, healthcare centre, infrastructure (contracts have already been signed and 59 zoning permits have been issued). Gornja Grkarica – horse farms, mini golf, playgrounds for football, handball, bowling, tennis. Children’s playgrounds, cycle lanes, riding lanes. Donja Grkavica, Prečko Polje, Kolijevka Regulatory Plan - “integrated tourist town”. Igman Urban Planning - residential zone... Not even to mention sports halls, stadiums, and pools. All this was done without any serious studies, analyses, comprehensive projections regarding water supply, climate characteristics, traffic, energy capacities, etc. No one seems to care about the parallel reality in which less than ten pupils enrolled in primary school in the past two years in Trnovo nor does anyone bring this into connection with the rising of the overall expansion to major dimensions.

The ambitions are huge, but what is counted on is the “understanding” of those political figures who already have apartments, but might still need something, so it is possible to get their approval through small infrastructure benefits. At the state’s expense. Even though these are private apartments and their accompanying facilities, the “community” will, of course, settle the logistics. This is how three years ago the construction of a special water supply line for Bjelašnica started - for water which was pumped from Sarajevo from the Olympics until now. Nevertheless, a new, special water supply line was constructed for the apartment complex in Babin Do. Two million KM has been allocated for this purpose from the budget of the Canton, but in the end the entire procedure will cost more than five million KM. Crystal clear water, that the people of Sarajevo can only dream of, is supplied to the apartments from the source of Rakitnica River. More than two million KM from the budget has also been spent for Sarajevo-Bjelašnica gas line. Funds for the reconstruction of Bjelašnica-Hadžići sewage was provided from the Environmental Fund of the FBiH. Eighteen million KM spent for new ski lifts and artificial snow was provided through a commercial loan – 12 millions and six millions from the Canton budget. Last year, an underground garage was constructed in Babin Do, parallelly with the construction of the first underground city garage in Sarajevo, across the street from the City Hall, which was paid with public money.

These are, of course, benefits for the ones that the state takes diligent care for in the apartment complexes in the Olympic mountains. The water-related case clearly shows how much Trnovo Municipality, which mostly decides on who is going to get a parcel or a building permit, fails to take the citizens of Sarajevo into account.  With the current dynamics of the de facto uncontrolled construction on the subsequently “legalised”, drastically reduced water supply zone which is now convenient for constructors and owners of the facilities, it is only a matter of time when we will hear another news on different bacterial or faecal elements present in the water that the citizens of Sarajevo drink. Namely, it is a well-known fact that due to the composition of the ground of Bjelašnica and Igman the rainwater does not remain on the surface, but quickly works its way down and runs toward the sources at the periphery and under the Sarajevo field from which most of Sarajevo is supplied with drinking water. During the past years the assumptions of ecologists and other professionals related to this issue have been confirmed on several occasions by mixing coloured water with rainwater in these mountains. In every experiment, the coloured water appeared in the Bosnia River source and other water sources in the Sarajevo field. No one dealt with this problem in more details. The contaminated water from sewage that takes waste water from Bjelašnica to Hadžići and numerous septic tanks in the mountains regularly ends up in the water of Bosnia River source. Moreover, it is well known that in May 2010 faecal bacteria were detected in the water of Bosnia River source for the first time and that ever since it has been forbidden to drink water from this source. Media coverage showed clearly that in the period from 1998 to 2010 water on these sources was “bacteriologically loaded”, but that nothing has been done in that regard. Even though it was well known that the source of this contamination was in the Bjelašnica apartments, the competent authorities kept issuing building permits on the ground of pressure and interests that they shared with the construction lobby.  Millions of KM have been spent for collector repair that is still ongoing and the “Strategic assessment of environmental impact” the urgent elaboration of which was requested by the public enterprise in charge of water supply and sewage (“Vodovod i kanalizacija”) has never been prepared.

The “background” calculations related to long-term development planning of this area are also shown in the failure of the idea on the establishment of a National park that would include Igman and Bjelašnica along with some other sites that could and should have been enlisted as protected areas. It is also a well-known fact that with only 2.2% of protected territory, Bosnia and Herzegovina is the last in Europe and among ten lowest-ranking countries in the world.  By comparison, in the EU member states 25% of territory in average is under some kind of protection. Due to its great diversity of flora and fauna and the value of the overall scenery, the protection of the area of Igman, Bjelašnica, Treskavica and Visočica was planned more than 40 years ago. Many studies have been elaborated and in 2008 the World Bank started a 6-million-dollar-worth five-year project focused on establishing new protected areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And then, instead of establishing the “Igman, Bjelašnica, Visočica, Treskavica” National Park as the end result of this plan, a stampede-like mass construction of residential facilities was started - both legal and illegal ones which, sooner or later, got legalised. 

No one in the Federation or Canton who deals with this issue has any doubts that the key role in ignoring all the laws, plans and programs is played by the construction lobby that many political and state officials have direct ownership connections with. The arrogance in violating the law is also proven by the fact that the 2003-2023 Canton Sarajevo Spatial Plan allows the construction on the vast areas of Igman and Bjelašnica, which is contrary to the provisions of a higher-ranked spatial plan - the FBiH Spatial Plan.

A similar scandal happened in 2016 regarding the Proposal of the Law on the Amendments of the Law on Waters of Canton Sarajevo, which was put to the debate under an urgent procedure, meaning that there was no right to propose amendments. In simple terms, the sense of the Proposal was creating the preconditions for a drastic reduction of water protection zone (which was already significantly reduced “in the field”), i.e. to increase the free construction zones in these areas. Everything was based on the “Sarajevsko polje” elaborate on the protection of drinking water sources which was aligned with the Federation Rulebook adopted in 2012. The Rulebook regulates water protection zones which are several times smaller than the ones regulated by the previous rulebook from 2002 and the rulebooks regulating this area in the countries in the region and the EU.

With all this in mind, the Eco Action Association urged the members of the Canton Assembly to prevent this from happening and to finally re-examine the role of the construction-investment lobby in the continued violation of the letter and the spirit of the law. The task of “re-examining the role” of the construction lobby has not even been placed on the agenda of the Assembly session, let alone started or completed.

A transparent example showing not only that nothing has been “re-examined” in this regard, but also that the criminal activities are getting the outlines of utter arrogance, was recently researched and precisely documented by the Centre for Investigative Reporting (CIN). The research deals with the case of illegal logging - around one thousand cubic metres of wood of mostly unmarked trees were cleared - on at least 4.4 hectares of forest at the entrance to the Olympic Ski-Centre “Bjelašnica”. The logging was organised by Trnovo Municipality, mostly without the approval of canton authorities and without environmental study on the reasons and level of logging. It is difficult to find out where all the logged wood was taken to from the area on which the Municipality planned and practically already cleaned the land for the construction of sports fields, apartments, and hotels. The entire operation with the partners, covered up by frauds and thefts, was run under the arrogant and already well-known moto of Trnovo Municipality Mayor and the Municipal Council: “This is my land, I will construct and then I will legalise the construction...”  Such mockery of the law based on the strong belief that no one could or would do anything to him, is complemented by another statement of the Mayor of Trnovo Municipality, Ibro Berilo, to the CIN reporter:  “...It is not my job to watch over if the forest was being cut down according to the regulations. I’m not the one protecting the forest...”

Urbicid na Bjelašnici

Apart from such criminal activities for the benefit of different lobbies and their sponsors in the politics, the story of the action and operation strategy of winter centres in Bosnia and Herzegovina that was inappropriate for long-term implementation and even badly designed for short-term profit generation, includes another very unusual element: a complete disregard of the global warming phenomenon that has been knocking on the doors of all winter centres in the world for decades now. This has been recognised by major banks that decided to stop providing loans to the centres threatened by the warming phenomenon. And while majority of ski centres is trying to seriously adapt to this this fact, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is as if it has not even been registered. The moves taken by the ones in charge of the operation of winter centres, especially Jahorina, Bjelašnica and Igman, show either complete absence of business-oriented way of thinking or – which would be really scandalous – their belief that this issue would not befall them, at least not while they are on their current positions.

In its short, but completely clear and documented analysis of this phenomenon, Eco Action provided a data according to which 10-year average annual mean temperature at the top of Bjelašnica, compared to the period between 1904 and 1913, rose by 1.8 degrees for the period between 2007 and  2016 Celsius. Practically speaking, if the temperature growth projections in the middle of global warming prove correct, by the end of this century only six cities that hosted Winter Olympic Games will have a cold enough climate to host the Games again without any problems. Sarajevo will fall into a risk group already in 2050, and maybe even much earlier if we take into consideration winters in the past ten years.

From this perspective, many moves taken towards investing in entire “cities” in the mountains that depend on snow and skiing may be considered misleading. Especially when nature that can attract tourists even beyond skiing season is radically destroyed for the purpose of the construction of those “cities”. Another fact is investing in the equipment and facilities that require optimum conditions, i.e. climate including snow, but without fog and wind. Both Jahorina and Bjelašnica invested so much in the 6-seater and 4-seater ski lifts, snow grooming machinery, artificial snow for some parts of the slopes, that the new conditions are bringing about dark financial clouds over these centres. For example, four out of last ten skiing seasons were unsuccessful in Jahorina. In the analysis performed by Eco Action it is mentioned that according to the international standards, a skiing centre is considered to be “snow reliable if there is snow covering of at least 30-50 cm on at least 100 days between December 1 and April 15 in seven out of ten winters. 


With this regard, it is already obvious that the so-called stationary guests will not flock in big numbers to the mountains that have already gained a reputation of a destination with unreliable skiing conditions. Actually, all this leads us to a conclusion which is similar to the already confirmed assertions related to the way “investments” are made in the beautiful mountains in Bosnia and Herzegovina that are being taken their beauty away each day as they are being turned into concrete settlements, even though it is clear that soon enough there will be no skiing or any other reasons to stay there for pleasure. However, for now it seems that construction and showing-off constitute sufficient grounds for taking part in all this for the ones who only care about construction and a quick sale of their buildings as well as satisfying their upstart ego since the apartment owners are the “elite” of the new society.

Lastly, here is the final quote from the visionary text by Braco Alikalfić, published in May 2006, when it was still possible to think from a different perspective, beyond today’s perspective that includes exclusivity, corruption, crime for the benefit of interests, satisfying the interests of political career, amateurism and incompetence:  

“And, in how many decades? Time will do its part and until then the contemporaries of today’s developments will fade out from the public scene. The ones who made the wrong decisions within a single generation and the ones who witnessed their wrongdoings will be gone. The only surviving witnesses will be Igman and Bjelašnica, barren and devastated mountains, to testify that we had a chance to do both - to become a famous and profitable world-class tourist destination and, at the same time, to preserve the nature closest to its original form.”

All about this question has already been written on many places, but it was all for nothing. The estimates are gloomy. Year after year, these sites will keep becoming urban areas that will provide excellent profit to the construction lobby and their political sponsors, while mountains will keep losing their identity and features of natural environment. This will bring into question the basic need and desire of the citizens to find gateways in nature that offers a therapy for urban diseases, pollution, traffic noise and everyday worries present in the city. And when snow, ski slopes, nature, forest, animals, even clean drinking water that Sarajevo was supplied with are gone from these mountains, the concrete city will start resembling the devastation that was left just after the war. With one major difference - with the still existing nature there used to be a chance for the future.