Letter: Tuzla: a beacon of hope in Bosnia

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Sir: I have just returned from a road journey to the north-east Bosnian industrial town of Tuzla, a journey that took three hours before the war and now takes a tortuous 15, involving as it does detours over pontoon bridges and along dirt roads which pass through remote villages where women still wear Turkish trousers and head scarves.

Throughout the journey, despite the recently formed federation, there are separate Bosnian and Croat checkpoints, whose sheer number illustrates the madness of trying to create ethnically pure states in this ethnic mosaic of a country.

When you finally reach Tuzla, you find an oasis of sanity and courageous engagement that symbolises the hope for civilised values in former Yugoslavia. It is under the control of a non-nationalist municipal authority and is home to the non-political Citizens Forum of Tuzla, which has 10,000 members and struggles to preserve multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-confessional life ('multi-multi', as they call it for short).

The citizens of Tuzla have preserved an independent local media and have tried to organise non-political events, such as rock concerts and the wartime Olympic games. They have struggled with terrible shortages and a huge influx of refugees from Serbian-controlled parts. If they are to be helped, it is urgent to reopen their airport, the largest in Bosnia-Herzegovina. From Tuzla airport it would be possible to undertake helicopter lifts to the so-called safe havens in eastern Bosnia to mitigate their desperate plight.

Tuzla needs material and moral help from like-minded municipalities and citizens groups in the rest of Europe. Tuzla Citizens Forum plans to hold a seminar, together with the Helsinki Citizens Assembly and the Council of Europe, in Tuzla in November to discuss building local democracy and reconstruction needs. They want participants to come with concrete offers of help to build an alternative future based on local democracy and self-organised reconstruction.

Yours sincerely,


Sussex European Institute

University of Sussex



19 September