A co-hosting of the European Youth Olympics by Bosnia's capital Sarajevo and a Serb-run former suburb should foster cooperation across former wartime front lines and help boost a struggling economy, municipal and sports officials said today.
Sarajevo and East Sarajevo won a joint bid at the weekend to hold the European Youth Olympic Winter Festival (EYOWF) in 2017, boosting hopes of rehabilitating negative images of ethnic division lingering from Bosnia's 1992-95 war and reviving the spirit of the 1984 Winter Olympics hosted by Sarajevo.
The Sarajevo Olympics were held when Bosnia was still part of federal Yugoslavia, which broke up violently two decades ago. Most Olympic facilities on nearby mountains were destroyed during the war but many have been rebuilt in recent years.
"It is a good news that we are going to unite again and enable young people to become part of Europe and return to sports (here)," said Izet Radjo, chairman of Bosnia's Olympic Committee.
The 1995 peace deal between Bosnia's Muslims, Serbs and Croats split the Balkan country into two autonomous regions, the Federation dominated by Croats and Muslims, who are also known as Bosniaks, and the Serb Republic dominated by Serbs.
Sarajevo, which survived a 43-month siege by separatist Bosnian Serb forces, was also reorganised along ethnic lines with a new East Sarajevo formed within Serb Republic territory.
The two entities have co-existed peacefully since the war ended, according to their mayors. They said an international sports event would not only thicken their ties but also improve trade and tourism in the economically depressed region.
"It means a lot," said East Sarajevo Mayor Vinko Radovanovic, "primarily to bring back the year of 1984 and the Olympic spirit that has been gradually fading away."
The youth Olympics event, expected to attract some 1,500 athletes from 49 European countries, is estimated to cost around 15 million euros ($19.39 million), including the reconstruction of some sports facilities.
Sarajevo Mayor Alija Behmen said the two autonomous governments and the Bosnian presidency, which have politically supported the event, were now expected to make concrete financial commitments to enable preparations to kick off.