A wine register and clean drinking water: Czech development projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the six countries which the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently focussing on in its development cooperation programmes. Due to its linguistic and cultural proximity to the Balkan state, Czechia has been developing close partnerships there since the 1990s and has also been supporting it in its preparations for EU accession.
The partnership between the Czech Republic and Bosnia and Herzegovina began during the war of 1992–1995, which erupted as a result of the collapse and breakup of the socialist multi-ethnic state of Yugoslavia. At that time, Prague provided humanitarian aid to the region of south-eastern Europe, says Štěpán Šantrůček, the Czech Consul in Sarajevo:
“At first it was just individual charitable activities during the war. In fact, the delivery of humanitarian aid to Bosnia and Herzegovina was one of the first activities carried out by the humanitarian organization People in Need, at that time outside the official framework of foreign development cooperation. Then, in the second half of the 1990s, immediately after the end of the war in 1995 and onwards throughout the early 2000s, Bosnia and Herzegovina was included as one of the priorities for foreign development cooperation.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina has a total population of 3.3 million and with a net annual national income of USD 5160 (EUR 4,730) per capita, is considered an upper-middle income country. It ranked 74th in the Human Development Index in 2021. Almost 16 per cent of its population lives below the poverty line. This is one of the reasons that Bosnia and Herzegovina numbers among the priority countries for Czechia’s development cooperation. But what does this mean concretely?
In the village of Teslić, which is located almost 150 kilometres northwest of Sarajevo, a water treatment plant that is over 50 years old is being reconstructed and expanded with Czech help. Milan Miličević is the mayor of Teslić:
“Through the implementation of this project, the municipality of Teslić will gain safe and high-quality water supply for the next 50 years. A sufficient amount of drinking water will be provided for a total of 30 000 inhabitants, which represents about 75% of the total population of our municipality. The project will create conditions for supplying drinking water to neighbouring municipalities, which will give the project regional importance.”
Miličević further explains that work on the system is conducted bilaterally. The construction work is carried out by a local company while the Brno company Arko Technology is responsible for the technological side. The expansion, which is due to finish this year, is largely financed by the Czech Development Agency, says Miličević:
“The total value of the project is 4.2 million euros, of which the Czech Development Agency provided 2.7 million euros and the rest was provided by our municipality through a loan from the European Investment Bank.”
The mayor considers the bilateral project to be the most important of the projects currently being implemented in the area. Preparations for it began in 2014 with a feasibility study, and Miličević expects continued cooperation even after the end of the project, for example in the area of water quality controls.
Agriculture and EU alignment
Another project focussing on quality control is about food safety. Since 2012, the Central Institute for Supervising and Testing in Agriculture (ÚKZÚZ) in Prague has participated in it as a partner organization of the Czech Development Agency. The institute’s international cooperation is coordinated by Petr Vaculík.
“One of the main goals is to reduce the consumption of fertilizers and pesticides in order to move towards sustainable agriculture. So not only to reduce the consumption of pesticides and fertilizers, but also to ensure that those fertilizers and pesticides are used properly, that only those that are registered are used, and that the registration actually took place according to the EU common procedure.”
Alignment with EU regulations plays a big role in development cooperation because Bosnia and Herzegovina has held candidate status for EU membership since the end of last year. Therefore, legislation must be amended accordingly. Another project Petr Vaculík is currently working on also focuses on this:
“The second project is completely focused on wine. We are trying to create a new wine and viticulture law that will be fully in line with the EU. We are also creating a vineyard register, which will be the same or similar to the one we have in the Czech Republic. This means that all winemakers, winegrowers and wine merchants will be registered and will file an annual statement. This will ensure the traceability of the grapes in the wines, so we can know exactly which bottle contains which grapes of which varieties from which region.”
Vaculík admits that enforcing new laws is always a politically sensitive matter. Due to the Dayton Agreement, which ended the Bosnian war in 1995, the organisational structure of the state is quite complicated. The country is divided into two federal entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska.
“Working with institutions is a bit complicated in Bosnia, as they do not have a centralised Ministry of Agriculture. Its function is partially substituted by the Ministry of Foreign Trade, MOVTER, which partially deals with things such as phytosanitary issues, but the greater part is precisely at the level of entities, so we cooperate both at the state level and at the entity level.”
Both claim the field of agriculture is their domain, Vaculík says, and as a result, implementation is not always easy. However, since uniform legislation is important – both for the country’s population and for companies, as well as for the country’s anticipated entry into the EU – bilateral projects have this goal in mind.
Through its development cooperation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Czech Republic also helps achieve other sustainability goals. According to Consul Štěpán Šantrůček, these include climate protection measures:
“Climate change mitigation is one of the fundamental principles underpinning all of our development cooperation projects, not only in Bosnia and Herzegovina but also elsewhere. We look at all the projects we cooperate on from the point of view of whether they contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change. We also have projects that directly respond to climate change, for example in the field of energy, where most projects are focused on renewable energy sources. Here in Bosnia and Herzegovina specifically, these might be for example the heating systems of public buildings, such as schools, kindergartens, hospitals, etc., where we are trying to get them to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Typically, this is biomass, but in some areas of the country there is also potential for the use of geothermal energy.”
This is an example of how development projects are adapted to local conditions on the ground. Šantrůček emphasizes that the guiding principle of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs is that ideas should not be dreamt up in a meeting room in Prague, but rather exchanged and discussed with Bosnian institutions, who can provide a better idea of their needs. This is also how Petr Vaculík likes to operate:
“Our advantage is that we at least partially understand their mentality. That means that we try to approach development from the angle of cooperation rather than telling them what to do – we give them a number of options to choose from but say that in the end, it is up to them how they implement it because they are the ones who live there – they have to set it up themselves. We try not to be too directive like some Western countries are, but rather to give recommendations in the form of how we would do it. We try to treat them like partners and I think that is something that will help quite a lot in the future as well.”
This approach is very much appreciated by their partners in the country, says Vaculík. He believes that Czech experts have made a good name for the Czech Republic in Bosnia and Herzegovina, thanks to their many years of cooperation. Consul Šantrůček emphasises that this is also due to the reliability of Czech donors:
“We don't have the exact figures yet but as an estimate for 2022, through various programs either through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or through the Ministry of the Interior, the Czech Republic invested approximately EUR 3.7 - 3.8 million in development projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Compared to other donors here in the country, like Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States, our contribution is lower. However, if we compare the Czech Republic with other countries of similar size, our contribution is clearly the largest. So we are definitely visible and we manage to do a lot of good work with the money we have.”
This is confirmed by Milan Miličević, mayor of the town of Teslić:
“This cooperation is extremely important because it provides us with significant financial resources for the realisation of our strategic priorities and also brings us new experiences and knowledge which is transferred between the frameworks of development cooperation. The Czech Republic really has a lot to be proud of in the field of water management and these experiences are valuable to us. The project represents examples of good practice that we share with colleagues from other cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”