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Feature 02 Jan 18

Entrepreneur Bucks Trend Among Business-Shy Bosnians

Many youngsters are unwilling to start a business in Bosnia because of the complex red tape and high taxes – but one woman says the obstacles poses less of problem than people think.

Mladen Lakic
BIRN
Sarajevo
Zvekir Photo: Courtesy of WEB 387

Bureaucratic rules, high taxes but also a lack of initiative are among main reasons impeding entrepreneurship and, in the end, future prosperity, in Bosnia, experts say.

Fortunately,  this has not been the case with Minela Jasar Opardija, an entrepreneur and TV journalist from Sarajevo, who, together with her husband, started a web and graphic design business last year as a side job to supplement their earnings. 

It took them seven days to get all the needed paperwork done. 

“In the beginning, you don't think in advance of every single problem; it is more like jumping in the water: do it and then swim,” Opardija told BIRN. 

She was aware of the bureaucratic procedures hampering opening a business in Bosnia but in the end she did not find them too difficult.

“Some procedures could be made easier, but if you follow the rules, you will have no problems,” she said.

Bosnians wishing to start their own business will need around 65 days to complete all the procedures through 12 steps, according to a report from the World Bank, published in September, “Stories of impact : building back better in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

By comparison, in The Netherlands, it takes half a day to complete such procedures.
The same report ranked Bosnia in 86th place out of 190 countries when it comes to the ease of doing business. Last year, the country was ranked in 79th place, which suggests things are going backwards. 

Some 14,500 new businesses were started this year in Bosnia, according to the tax administration.

One year later, the small business of the Opardija family is going well. They are extremely proud of their last project, called Zvekir, a phone finger ring, named after the metal ring once used on doors as a substitute for a doorbell. Some zvekirs can still be found on traditional Bosnian houses.

“It gives you satisfaction when you see that your product is what people really want and even the short deadlines and hard work all become joyful in the end,” says Minela Jasar Opardija. “We managed to overcome the typical image of Bosnians as people who are not creative or productive,” she added. 

Despite her own example, she is well aware of the tough situation in Bosnia when it comes to starting a business.

“Most people here are afraid to start something, and a lack of knowledge is visible, because it is commonly believed that you need to have huge amounts of money to start with and that you will face lot of problems,” she says.

The lack of entrepreneurial spirit is combined with a high percentage of unemployed people. 

It is hard to find a job in a country where 480,379 people were recorded as jobless in September, and where the unemployment rate among youth is as high as 60 per cent.
Different analysts have pointed out that most unemployed people also seem to want to work in public institutions rather than run their own business.

“There is a very strong perception that you will only have a chance of a decent life if you find a job in the public sector, and most of the young people won’t take any risks,” economic analyst Marko Ristic told BIRN.

Even Jasar Opardija’s parents doubted their daughter’s business could bring her a sustainable livelihood in country such as Bosnia.

But she disagreed. “If you want to work on your own you will find the way in the end. That happened to a co-worker who I contacted to deliver me boxes for the Zvekir project. After he finished his work for us, he started his own business,” Jasar Opardija says.

Moreover, after local media reported extensively on the Zvekir project’s success, she received several offers to give lectures as a motivational speaker.

“I keep telling one thing: if you have an idea, follow your instinct and sooner or later you will find the right way to deal with the whole process,” Jasar Opardija says.

Other problems are that taxes remain high in Bosnia and that few companies are sizeable.
Of the 14,500 new companies registered this year, only 2,574 are registered at the Indirect Taxation Authority of Bosnia as generating an income higher than 25,000 euros.

The World Bank report also noted out that, during one year, a business owner has to pay 33 times different taxes, which deters most prospective entrepreneurs.

“We are constantly trying to get lower taxes but the government keeps on ignoring our demands even though lower taxes would surely encourage more people to start something on their own,” Dragutin Skrebic, president of the Association of Employers of Republika Srpska, told BIRN.

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