Growth and violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Words:
Mirna Pedalo

How the Dayton peace accord, foreign funds and real-estate development fuel environmental damage

Poljine Hills, April 2018
Poljine Hills, April 2018 Credit: Mirna Pedalo

This project was conceived as a response to rapidly changing (sub)urban and architectural landscape of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This change was instigated by the surge in foreign real-estate investment in the post-1990s-war period. The research project focuses on the influx of money from the Gulf States directed into residential developments, tourist resorts and commercial buildings. But primarily it scrutinises the Dayton Peace Agreement in its role as a state-building mechanism; a distinct and crucial element that sets the change here apart from its global counterparts.

The peace agreement has instituted the division of the country into two entities and one district, as well as put in place a constitution that has legitimised this division and engendered structural violence (such as racism, sexism, economic inequality) through several levels of government and their affiliated institutions.

Throughout this research I have tried to demonstrate how the framework of the Dayton Peace Agreement has emerged as an instrument of finance and the key architect of the new Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of my main aims was to uncover the ways in which structural violence inherent to the Dayton Peace Agreement, navigated by the force of capital and mediated through urban development, has gradually started to affect the natural environment by instigating the process of 'slow violence'. Slow violence is a concept developed by Rob Nixon, Rachel Carson Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to describe the gradual and often out of sight effects of climate change and other manmade disasters such as large scale deforestations, oil spills and the environmental  aftermath of armed conflict. Furthermore, I investigated how this new milieu has been conducive to the influx of foreign capital, thus resulting in the emergence of new architectural and urban templates in the country.

  • Osenik Sarajevo Resort, April 2018.
    Osenik Sarajevo Resort, April 2018. Credit: Mirna Pedalo
  • Map illustrating position of Buroj Ozone development in relation to the Safeguard Zones in “Sarajevsko polje” basin as per Spatial Plan for Sarajevo Canton 2003-2023 from 2006.
    Map illustrating position of Buroj Ozone development in relation to the Safeguard Zones in “Sarajevsko polje” basin as per Spatial Plan for Sarajevo Canton 2003-2023 from 2006. Credit: Mirna Pedalo
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Due to the project’s complexity and the need to continuously shift between global and local scales, while also taking into account the Western Balkan region, I have used various methodologies to obtain material to formulate my arguments. Historical research was essential to fully grasp and understand the legacy I was working with, but also to scrutinise the current phenomenon within a global context, particularly in relation to the origins and history of circulation of the oil capital.

The local scale was addressed through the investigation of the transformations in the urban and sub-urban environment of Sarajevo Canton. The key element of this investigation has been the analysis of past, existing and newly amended plans, regulations, policies and legislations, primarily in the realm of urban planning. This approach was further reinforced by observing correlation between the planning documents and the actual built environment / elements encountered on the ground, now, almost ten years into the real estate boom.

Ethnographic research in the form of fieldwork eventually emerged as one of my key methodologies. Since very little prior research has been done in the realm of post-1990s-war architecture in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the data had to be gathered on the ground, by conducting interviews with professionals in related fields and visiting the development sites.

My map-making practice developed into a main method of analysis and subsequently synthesis of the obtained data, with the aim to articulate the relationship between the existing, the envisaged and that which is in the process of becoming. Although a growing network of new tourist resorts and developments has been in the process of permeating and weaving itself into the urban and suburban fabric of the capital for almost a decade now, there had been no comprehensive map that gave an overview of its scope, nor an insight into its relationship with the existing urban and architectural formations. The information related to these newly built developments, as well as those at the various stages of planning or under construction, is dispersed and most often limited to either the affiliated real-estate agencies and / or local authorities. Therefore, creating a map that would assemble and visualise the relevant information relating to this emerging built fabric became one of the key aspects of my practice. The production of maps was a layered process, resulting in visualisation of data gathered through ethnographic research (fieldwork and interviews) combined with information found in current and previous planning documents. This was further supplemented with the maps retrieved through sourcing information that offer a historical cross-section through the process of change.

Such approach has helped establish a direct correlation between the real estate development, Dayton-instituted governmental bodies and proliferation of slow violence. The shift in priorities that have been driving the decision-making process in urban planning and development has been significantly influenced by the influx of foreign investment. The process of map-making helped pinpoint the ways in which mechanisms generated through the framework of the Dayton Peace Agreement facilitate real-estate development, thus directly impacting natural and social environment.  


Delineating the contested landscape of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s post-war urban development was category winner of the RIBA President’s Awards for Research cities and community

See the other winners of President’s Medals and President’s Awards

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