Safety on Bosnian and Herzegovinian Streets

{gallery}newsletters/12/1{/gallery}Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is often mentioned as a country in which its citizens and visiting foreigners are not safe. Foreigners are advised to be cautious when travelling to the country, while BiH’s citizens are nostalgic for the pre-war days when “one could sleep in a park.” However, our competent institutions, the opinions of experts and comparisons to the global average crime rate indicate that BiH is not a dangerous country.

“BiH is neither safer nor less safe than other countries with large cities. Global trends should be kept in mind and compared to our statistics,” Mirsad Abazović, a Sarajevo University Criminal Studies professor, argues. He says that an objective view and the hard facts are often not taken into consideration when evaluating safety in BiH.  Only fragments of the complete situation are presented. Professor Abazović also believes that BiH’s media too often labels certain crimes as acts of terrorism.

What Do the Facts Say?

“In order to be considered an act of terrorism, a crime has to meet a number of criteria,” Abazović explains.  He notes the groundless accusations against the 3,000 strong Salafi community in BiH who are often referred to by so-called security experts as a well-organized terrorist organization.

In his column ,”Busting Myths on Personal (In)security of Visitors to BiH,” published by  the website of the Association Alumni Center for Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Studies (ACIPS) in Sarajevo, Association member Ardian Adžanela cites the web page Off Plan Property” which states that “there is a continuous threat to western targets in BiH, since terrorist activities are still being conducted in the country.”

The main problem in the prior quotation is the use of the word still because it implies there is a history of terrorist attacks which have continuously occurred in BiH.  Frankly, this statement bears no reality to the situation in BiH.  One must examine the facts.

Early this year, BiH security services were praised for their good work at the European Police Forces Congress in Berlin. The Head of the European Union Police Mission (EUPM), Stefan Feller, stated at the Congress that the security situation in BiH was good. Any variation from this norm is related to an unstable economy.  Although recent political processes have recently brought about the deterioration of communication, this negative development has not influenced the security situation.

According to the BiH Ministry of Security’s data, which Atlantic Initiative has received, the number of felonies is decreasing while the number of solved cases is increasing.  The decrease in felonies related to sexual integrity has been noted, juvenile delinquency is less present, document counterfeiting is declining, and there has also been a downward trend in the illegal possession of weapons and weapon smuggling. The data states this decline is due to thorough police operations against weapon smuggling.

“We should emphasize that the number of drug abuse cases is also declining and amounts of confiscated drugs are increasing. Car thefts are becoming rare, particularly if compared to the first six months of 2009,” states the BiH Ministry of Security. It is also noted that the number of crimes against property is decreasing. An exception to this relates to robberies, where a slight increase has been noted compared to the first half of 2009. The number of economic offences is also increasing.

The Ministry mentions that police structures are dealing with crime within their own forces. An example of this is the recently conducted operation “Taksa” which was aimed at eliminating a smuggling network.  The operation resulted in the detention of fifteen police officers from Stolac and Čapljina.

As in all Global Cities

Despite the aforementioned positive trends, the Foreign Investment Promotion Agency (FIPA) in BiH warns that, besides political stability, creating a satisfactory security environment in the country is one of the prerequisites for foreign investment.

“We have not had any questions on safety so far, and the situation is not such that investors would give up on investing for safety reasons,” FIPA Spokesperson, Jasmina Dževlan, said.

On the other hand, Professor Abazović explains that people of BiH feel less safe because of the broader competencies which the police held prior to the war. During that period, the crime rate was significantly lower. For example, the SFR Yugoslavia used to register one case of drug overdose per week, while this currently happens on daily basis in Sarajevo. It would seem that only the police force has noticed this development.

“People still remember the times when they could spend a night on park benches, and because of that they cannot accept the current situation. However, this does not mean our streets are less safe than those in other major cities,” Professor Abazović concluded.



Photo: SIPA