The overall objective for Sweden’s reform cooperation with Bosnia and Herzegovina is democratic, equitable and sustainable development, and improved conditions for EU integration.
The Embassy of Sweden in Sarajevo is located on the main shopping street in the very heart of Sarajevo. Today the Embassy employs seven Swedish and fifteen local staff, of which two Swedes and five locals work with development cooperation. The Swedish presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina is a result of a longstanding engagement in the country and in the region. Initially the focus was on assisting Bosnia and Herzegovina to rebuild after the war but over time it has shifted more towards supporting Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ambitions to eventually become a member of the European Union. This is common goal and seen as a guarantee for stability and peace.
“We have an excellent team here at the Embassy”, notes Ambassador Bosse Hedberg.
Mario Vignjevic, National Programme Officer, says that Sweden and Sida, among other things, have been successful in contributing to development in the municipalities.
“At the municipal level there is less ethnic antagonism and the complicated constitution is not an obstacle. Democracy works at the local level, which gives hope to the country. Services are being delivered in a more efficient and transparent way and the trust of citizens has grown in the municipalities.”
Residents of Bosnia and Herzegovina currently face high unemployment, a neglected infrastructure and a complex political structure with leaders who tend to build their support on ethnic platforms. This has resulted in frequent political blockings, which delay reforms and reduce the confidence of the population regarding the state’s ability to perform its responsibilities. The International Community still has a large degree of influence over the country’s governance, because of internal conflicts. On the state level, Sweden provides support to the justice sector in order to strengthen the rule of law.
“Confidence in the judiciary has been very low, but is slowly increasing”, notes Jonathan Francis from the Embassy. “People are finally starting to believe that disputes can be solved through the courts.”
He also mentions the civil society as an important part of every democratic society. Civil society generates local initiatives and is also functioning as “watch dogs” which keep track of corruption and mismanagement.
Swedish support is also being given to the International Commission for Missing Persons, ICMP, which handles the identification of human remains after Srebrenica and other war time atrocities. This work is important for both the courts and for the relatives, and also because it helps to provide some objective truths about the nature of war crimes that are still contested.
Sweden and the US are jointly working on improving the conditions for small and medium-sized companies in sectors with growth potential, such as wood, metal, agroindustry and tourism.
“The country has raw materials and skilled labour and there is a huge market close by”, says Nedim Bukvic, National Programme Officer. “The purpose is to help companies with a potential to grow. There is a need to overcome bureaucracy and other hurdles for trade, to build necessary institutions and to increase competitiveness of the small and medium-sized companies. This is a good way to increase employment.”
A third sector is environment, more specifically infrastructure for water, wastewater and solid waste. Swedish grants will complement loans from the international development banks. Progress in this sector is a necessary step in the preparation for European integration, but also important for social and economic development.
“Wild dumps and millions of plastic bags destroy this beautiful country”, says Katica Hajrulahovic, National Programme Officer. “There is a need to build up new systems for collection and a new awareness. This is important for health and also for the tourism industry.”
There are a lot of links between Sweden and Bosnia and Herzegovina because of the big diaspora, but trade is low.
“It is important that the Swedish business community is also involved in development cooperation”, adds Anders Hedlund, Counsellor.
The establishment of the business sector in developing markets contributes to economic growth, more jobs, increased tax revenues, reduced poverty and the spread of Swedish values, according to the new strategy for development cooperation.