Repairs to a landmark of Sarajevo

During the civil war in Yugoslavia, the international media would emphasize the horrors of war by distributing an image of a burning multistory building in Sarajevo. The Institutions Building was a landmark of Sarajevo before the war. Imposing at 25 stories high, it housed the offices of the federal government of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Above all, it symbolized the idea of Yugoslavia. When the conflict broke out, it became a regular target for the Serbs. During their three-year siege of Sarajevo, the militias of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic lost no opportunity – even when there was no fighting – to fire on it from the surrounding hills in order to frighten those trapped inside and also because they thought its ruins would bury the harmonious coexistence of three ethnic groups. For the 10 years since the end of the war, the building’s empty shell has stood in the center of the city, a witness to the Yugoslavian bloodbath. But it will not be a ruin for much longer. Repair work is to start in early August, with Greek funding. Michalis Vretakis, commercial attache to the Greek Embassy in Sarajevo, told Kathimerini the repairs are expected to wrap up in 18 months. The refurbished building will house the Bosnian government, which includes Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs. Greece has earmarked 135 million euros from the National Plan for Balkan Reconstruction (ESOAB), which is expected to cover 80 percent of the total cost of the project. A Greek construction company has taken on the job, and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Evripidis Stylianidis was in Sarajevo last week to ratify the agreement. This is the first project funded by ESOAB. It shows that Greece, too, wants to help the international community rebuild the former Yugoslavia. Improving relations Apart from that, the Greek initiative of restoring the now-historic Institutions Building, which has been renamed the Greek-Bosnian Friendship Building, is sure to help improve relations between the people of the two countries which suffered when Bosnian Muslims and Croats blamed Greeks for siding with the Serbs. The Bosnian media gave wide coverage to the signing of the agreement and to Stylianidis’s presence both in Sarajevo and at the events in Srebrenica commemorating the 10th anniversary of the massacre of 7,000 Bosnian Muslims by Serb militias. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s President Ivo Miro Jovic and UN High Representative Paddy Ashdown were among those who attended the Greek Embassy’s reception. The icy relations with post-Yugoslav states – due largely to Greece’s unilateral attachment to Belgrade during the war – are gradually thawing. This can only benefit the region, especially Athens, which is laying claim to the role of mediator in simmering ethnic and political disputes. Greece paid a heavy price for its misguided support of Serb nationalism in the Yugoslav crisis and now it is hastening to re-establish relations with the victims. The visit of Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to Kosovo – and, above all, the realistic views he expressed on the issue of the regime – reinstated an atmosphere of trust with the ethnic Albanians. His presence in Zagreb during his visit to the hot triangle of Zagreb-Belgrade-Pristina and the active support of Athens for Croatia’s EU prospects dispelled the suspicions of the Croatians. Now relations with the Bosnians are on the mend.

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