Why Brčko?

Brčko is a unique place in Bosnia, which adds to the significance of work of Svitac.

To understand why, we must first understand some aspects of the Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnian war in 1995. Dayton signified the end of the civil war, but divided Bosnia into two separate regions based upon ethnicity: a Bosnian-Croat Federation and the Republic Srpska.

At that time the status of Brčko District could not be settled upon. Finally in 1999, the district was given a special multi-ethnic status. Called the “Brčko District of Bosnia and Herzegovina” it operated on a self-governing basis, distinct from either of the two separate regions and characterised by having a multi-ethnic local government.

At first the United Nations remained in control of Brčko’s government through the Office of the High Representative with an international supervisor who had power over local government, enforcing the Dayton Agreement and making sure political and economic reforms were implemented. As of today, though, Brčko’s District Government is independent of UN supervision.

In this map, you can see how the country was divided. The Brčko District is in a slightly darker grey.

Picture of a Divided Bosnia

Because of this special status, Brčko District is the most ethnically mixed region of Bosnia. Unlike the rest of Bosnia, its school system is integrated and young people of different ethnicities are educated together.

Before the war the town of Brčko was home to an estimated 41,000 people, with a plurality of Bosniaks, significant Serb and Croat populations, but many people identifying simply as Yugoslav (no specific ethnicity). Serb army forces seized the town of Brčko early in the war on 7th May 1992. Many men were detained in a concentration camp situated outside the town during the war, while women and children were able to leave to Muslim or Croat controlled areas. A series of mass graves have since been found in the area.

At the same time, many Serbs who had been forcibly displaced from areas such as the Krajina or Sarajevo (after Dayton) moved to Brčko. As a result of all this displacement, the town’s current inhabitants are majority Serb, even though many of the inhabitants who left during the war have returned. The population stands again roughly 40,000 today, and the total district population 100,000.

Brčko’s outlying districts have different ethnic breakdowns, For example, Rahic is Bosniak, Broduša is largely Bosniak with a Roma minority, and Dizdaruša is almost equally Bosniak and Serb.

Although the economic, infrastructure and political situation in Brčko has been slowly improving for years, there is still a long way to go and much work to be done between the different communities before any kind of multi-ethnic society can develop. Bosnia and Herzegovina overall, though, suffers from deep and long-standing post-war economic problems that have been threatening the stability of its peace process. Svitac, along with other organisations in the region aim to counter any trends that can threaten it.

In May 2014 journalist visited Brčko and wrote both about the city in this Guardian article.