Amna Popovac2 slika
Amna Popovac2 slika

Amna Popovac: While We Want to Go to Europe, They Are Building the Highway Through Bell Peppers, With European Money

A colleague tells me the other day through laughter that in the Motorways of FBiH, they have my picture on the wall, and they use it to play darts and practice shooting every day. He also tells me that because of our protests, which were not heard by anyone from the BiH authorities, but were heard from the European Union, Adnan Terzić lost his job as the director of the Motorways of FBiH. I do not know if any of this is true, but I know that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has ordered a revision of the chosen route of Corridor Vc Mostar south – Kvanj Tunnel. When they do not want to take us to the EU because they are afraid of the rule of law, a group of activists brought the EU to them. Here’s how it happened:

In January 2020, the residents of the southern settlements of Mostar and I filed a complaint with the Independent Mechanism of Accountability of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) against the method of choosing the route of Corridor Vc Mostar South – Kvanj Tunnel. Compliance audits of this part of the route are currently underway.

The audit should verify that the route selection south of Mostar was conducted in accordance with EBRD regulations. This implies transparency in the choice of route, nature protection and the involvement of people, locals from the settlements through which the highway passes. EBRD regulations are clear, full human involvement and nature protection are required during the selection process.

Single Paper Route

That was not the case here. People got information from the media, while the route was fenced without their knowledge. Pikes were driven into the middle of the vineyard or between fields of bell peppers, so people wondered why someone had the courage to jump over a wall and enter someone else’s vineyard or garden to assess how much land they need for the highway.

Since January 2017, there has been a struggle for the route that went along the edges of Podveležje south of Mostar and which experts say is the best option for the highway, to return to the hill from the fertile valley and not cross the Buna and Bunica, our beautiful rivers.

The route was lowered from Podveležje into the valley in December 2016, with a single paper, an annexe to the earlier decision, for which the delegates in the Parliament of the Federation of BiH raised their hands. It is important to mention that there were also those who were against, who provide support to the people in their struggle for survival all the time.

It never occurred to the delegates who lowered the route from the hill to the valley on the basis of one paper to ask for the opinion of the people whose plots the highway will pass through or those who will remain living in the immediate vicinity of the European corridor. These people live from agriculture and tourism and no one in power cared about their opinion.

The highway, as imagined by the rulers, goes through the untouched rivers Buna and Bunica, fertile land, vineyards, orchards and returnee settlements. Returnees were specifically mentioned in the Dayton Peace Agreement, as a particularly vulnerable category, but even that was not enough for someone to remember and ask them for opinion.

There are people whose house will be three metres from the future European corridor if they accidentally pass where they intended to. No one even jokingly mentioned in the Federal Parliament or Motorways of FBiH that they might need to ask the locals what they think about it.

Fortunately, there are enough loud and brave people among the locals who know that times and regimes have changed and that the opinion of domicile people should and must be respected.

From January 2017, when Adnan Terzić barely managed to get his head out of the crowded hall of the House of Culture in Blagaj, after presenting the route that goes through their properties to people as a “finished thing” until January 2020, when the EBRD decided that further investigation should be done about choosing the route and following the procedures, a lot of good and bad things happened.

It is good that people organized and collected 3200 signatures against the route that was chosen in a very questionable way. It is good that people did not give up on reporting irregularities even when they received rejections from various European institutions. It is good that people have learned that the opinion of every man is important and must be heard and considered. It is good that they have learned that when the local authorities do not want to hear them, the European Ombudsman and the Board of Directors of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will.

It is bad that people who are clear and loud in their demands are constantly under pressure. Some have been taken to a police station for questioning because they do not agree to the expropriation of land that has been owned by their families for centuries.

EU Audit in Mostar

The main thing that distinguishes the citizens of the EU and BiH is the way they accept decisions “from above”. In our country, fatalism is noticeable. Accepting “fate” without questioning whether it could have been otherwise. Our people accept the decisions of various levels of government without discussion.

Do you think that in any of the EU member states, someone would dare to “squeeze” the highway through a settlement or through a vineyard, without prior public discussions, studies of the impact on people and the environment and all other necessary analyses? The French take to the streets and make demonstrations for smaller things as well.

Fortunately, not everyone is the same here. A well-organized group of people was found, led by Vujadin Berberović, and asked officials to hear them and respect their opinion. And they heard, after a full three years of meetings, conversations and sending evidence for everything that was said, but it was not domestic authorities. Instead they were heard by the Board of Directors of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

The EBRD board of directors heard the cries of people determined to stay on their own land, on which they live and work, and decided to start the process of reviewing the compliance of the project, which will last until the end of March 2022, at least.

It was neither easy nor simple to get to this stage. Vujadin’s heart, which was beating for the reconstruction and development of Herzegovina, did not last, and in February 2021 it stopped beating forever. Although shaken by the sudden loss, people continued to fight and now they can already see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In early September 2021, a delegation from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s Independent Accountability Mechanism toured the entire field. They talked to people with whom the local authorities had never spoken. They visited the houses that will remain three metres from the highway and the vineyards that will stop existing if the highway passes there. It seems that the opinion of the local man and the protection of our nature are more important to foreigners than to domestic authorities.

There are high chances that precisely because of this respect for the opinion of the local population, the EBRD will make a decision to return the whole process to the beginning. To start from a multi-criterion analysis when choosing a route, to take good care of the protection of nature, rivers and groundwater, orchards and vineyards, and then the most important survival and life of people in this area. The whole process will need to be conducted transparently, with the constant involvement of people during decision-making.

Because that is how it is done in the European Union and that is how the procedures of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development dictate.

The money (loans) of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development cannot destroy, but build the area in which they are invested and must not fill anyone’s private or party pockets. They don’t care if a party boss wants or doesn’t want to “climb a hill” to get on the highway. They want the development of society, with the prosperity of the individual.

Through this “return the highway to the hill” exercise, I learned a lot.

Every person’s opinion is important, and the protection of human lives and nature is a priority in the European Union.

There is someone to hear (us)

If the local authorities do not want to hear you, the European ones will surely listen to you. Decisions made without public participation are always subject to review. If the local authorities do not want to reconsider the decisions made in this way, find someone outside to “remind” them how to do it.

One rejection does not mean that you are wrong and that you should give up. You may not have filled in some forms well enough. Try again, again and again, until you succeed.

They say that Adnan Terzić lost his job partly due to problems with the construction of this route. I don’t know how much truth there is in this. His tenure was marked more by various scandals than by miles built.

What I know for sure is that those in power are no smarter than those who live from their work. Our people are not ants that rulers can trample on whenever it occurs to them.

We do not have to wait to join the EU to have rights as EU citizens.

We need to get rid of internal brakes, walls in our heads, and demand respect for regulations and our rights at every turn.

The hardest part is skipping the wall in your head. But once skipped, there’s nothing a well-organized group of persistent people can’t do. Just remember how many decisions on the construction of mini hydro power plants have been annulled these days, and how many are still in the process of annulment.

Once you head out to sea via highway and stop above Blagaj to take some good photos, I hope you will remember this story of the perseverance of our people, which will soon have a happy ending.

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