Connect to share and comment

Sarajevo's memories of Olympics past

Skiing in the war-battered country is slowly coming back.

But Obucina, an ethnic Serb whose family has roots in Jahorina that stretch back more than 100 years, is as disappointed by the failure of Bosnia to capitalize on its winter sports potential as he is by his own near-miss at Olympics glory. Although Jahorina stayed open throughout the war — then catering primarily to soldiers and international peacekeepers — most of its facilities were destroyed in the fighting.

“What God gave to us here, at Bjelasnica and Jahorina, is very good,” he says. “But what we’ve done with it …”

His voice trails off and he shakes his head.

Obucina wants to see the two resorts reunited and again run as a single company that could market Sarajevo’s skiing to the world. As it stands now, Obucina says, the resorts are run by politicians rather than tourism or sporting experts and many Bosniak Muslims from Sarajevo feel uncomfortable coming to Jahorina because it’s Serb-run and located in the Republika Srpska.

He gives as an example the new, modern six-seat lift that Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik came to inaugurate earlier this month. The government of the Republika Srpska invested $12.7 million in the new lift, intended to replace a shaky two-seater built for the Olympics, but Obucina says its too big for the slope it serves. It was political, he said. Instead, the funds would have been better invested in a snowmaking machine or by opening new trails.

“We have smart people here — Croats, Bosniaks, Serbs — who know what needs to be done here, but no one asks them,” he says. “That’s democracy in Bosnia.”

On the other side of Sarajevo, at the city’s other Olympic ski resort, Bjelasnica, Ramiz Mulaomerovic too is frustrated at the slow pace of development. Built specifically for the Olympics, Bjelasnica was almost completely destroyed during the war, its trails land-mined and facilities intentionally burned and razed by Serb forces. The ski jumping facilities at Igman Mountain, near Bjelasnica, are still closed.

About 20 percent of Bjelasnica has reopened since 1997 when the resort resumed operation and here too, apartments and hotels are proliferating. Mulaomerovic and two partners, all parents of young skiers, invested $3.1 million in a stylish new hotel and restaurant complex that opened earlier this season. There’s a plan to expand and improve the trails. But so far, there’s no legal framework to allow private investment and the Sarajevo government, which owns the resort, doesn’t have enough funds to implement the plan itself. Right now, a new snowmaking machine is sitting in customs awaiting payment.

“We’re still not back at the level we were at before the war,” admits Mulaomerovic. But he insists there’s potential and customers who want to come to Bjelasnica and ski. It’s raining and the lifts are closed, but his restaurant is still buzzing.

“Maybe one day, because of sentimental reasons, the world will have another Sarajevo Olympics,” says Mulaomerovic. “But we’re a long way from that and we have to work really hard to rebuild.”