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feature 25 Dec 17

"Brotherlove" Bridge Meets Bosnia's Troubled Political Waters

The newly opened bridge between Bosnia and Serbia fails to connect the two countries due to discords between Bosnia's different administrative levels.

Danijel Kovacevic
Banja Luka
The "Bratoljub" bridge. Photo: Beta.

From one of the most eagerly-awaited projects in eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, the unfortunate "Bratoljub" (Brother-love) bridge has turned into the latest symbol of country's political quarrels and absurdities.

Agreed in 2015, this viaduct across the Drina River was supposed to connect the town of Bratunac in eastern part of Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska (RS) with the Serbian town of Ljubovija, shortening the trip between the two countries in this area by some 80 kilometers.

Yet despite the great expectations, this bridge's opening - which apparently took place some weeks ago - passed without a single public notification, let alone ribbon-cutting ceremony and pomp.

In early November local media briefly reported that official delegations of the two countries have finalized the technical acceptance of the project, and that was it.

The reason for this deafening silence about the "Brothers-love" bridge is the fact that this 227 meter-long viaduct - with two-way road, cycling lane and pedestrian trail - starts from Ljubovija but leads nowhere.

The story starts few years ago.

In 2013 ministers of traffic of Serbia and Republika Srpska signed the Protocol of Cooperation, according to which a new eur 13 million-worth bridge and joint border crossing between Bosnia and Serbia.

The name of the bridge was constructed from the first few letters of the two cities that bridge was supposed to connect – BRATunac in Bosnia and LJUBovija in Serbia - which when put together made “Bratoljub”, which was translated as a “Brother-love”.

The bridge offered a new hope to the entire region of eastern Bosnia, which gradually became deprived of most businesses and many of its residents, who were leaving seeking better perspective elsewhere.

In addition to opening up opportunities for economic development of the impoverished region, the bridge was also supposed to improve the lives of local people and other travelers as well by creating a shorter connection between the two countries in that area.
The construction works started in October 2015 and their completion were expected by the end of September 2017.

According to the agreement, Serbia financed and built the entire bridge as well as the access road from the side of Ljubovija.

Bosnia's state authorities were responsible for the construction of a joint border crossing in the municipality of Bratunac, while RS's authority was supposed to build the access road to that border crossing.

While Serbia finished its part, RS has only started to work on an access road while the joint border crossing is still nowhere in sight.

To make the absurd bigger, the money was not a problem. Funds for the construction of this project were provided from the money which Bosnia received from Russie, which recently repaid Bosnia's share of Russian pre-war debt to former Yugoslavia in cash.

The problem was the growing discord, disunity even quarrels between Bosnia's different administrative levels.

Bosnia's border crossings come under jurisdiction country's state agency, the Indirect Taxation Authority of Bosnia and Herzegovina, while the land on which the border crossing and access roads should be built belongs to RS.

RS government offered to allow the state to use the land for as long as there is the need for a border crossing there, but refused to give the land to the permanent ownership of the state.

"Everything is stalled because of property relations," Mirko Sarovic, a Bosnian state Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations told media last week.

RS officials, however, said they were still expecting a reply from the state government to their offer.

As the state and entity governments stubbornly held to their positions, the bridge was finished but instead of a great business and infrastructure benefit, it became a symbol of Bosnia's political absurdities.

“The bridge is done. It is beautiful, wide and long. It is just nice to see it. And it could mean so much to me”, Dragomir Stanic, a Bratunac resident, told BIRN sadly.

Like most of the farmers from that area, he owns a land on both side of the river Drina.

“My land is just across the river, but to get there now I need to go around for almost 15 kilometers. But with this bridge, I could be there in a matter of minutes”, he said.

"We did not have a bridge before, and we got along without it. Now we have a bridge, we're looking at it, but we're still going around," Dragomir says.

"The authorities should at least decorate the bridge for the New Year’s Eve so that we at least have some benefit from it," he concluded bitterly.


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