In an interview for ‘Sarajevo Times’, Ambassador of Brazil to B&H HE Jose Augusto Lindren Alves spoke of the various areas in which the Embassy of Brazil is engaged since it opened in June 2011. He emphasized that the Embassy has been strenuously working in the area of culture, especially through the promotion of Brazilian films in B&H as a way for Bosnians to find out more about Brazil, as well as participation in all the major film, music and artistic festivals here. Since there is no B&H Embassy or Consulate in Brazil, the opening of one or the other would be the most significant and crucial step in a firmer establishment of relations between the two countries. Until that happens, the Ambassador noted that the staff of the Embassy is doing all they can with their current limited resources. Trade is very limited between the two countries, but the potential for improvement is there. Lastly, he spoke of the upcoming World Cup 2014 and what B&H fans who plan to go to Brazil to watch the matches could expect, and he offered some words of advice on how people could prepare for their trip.
By: Medina Malagić
Can you provide us with a brief introduction of the Embassy of Brazil in B&H to our readers?
The Embassy of Brazil in B&H opened in June 2011. Besides me, we have two other members of the Brazilian diplomatic career who work here as my assistants, plus three consular and administrative officers from Brazil. Two Bosnians also work as administrative assistants and interpreters. There is also a personnel staff at the Brazilian residency and our drivers.
Recently, the week of Brazilian movies was held at meeting point in Sarajevo. Do you have any estimates on the number of people that attended? Was this the first cultural event with a focus on Brazilian films in B&H? Does the Embassy plan to initiate more of these types of artistic and cultural events in B&H?
One of the main areas of our developmental activities is in the cultural arena. This year, we had at least 800 people who watched Brazilian films at Kino Meeting Point during the week of Brazilian films. One film was shown every day. This is a good sample of what we do in the area of cinema, and it is a good way of giving an idea of what Brazil looks like to the Bosnian public. And this was the second week of this kind,which was started in 2012.
Besides this, since the embassy was opened, we have taken part in all the most important festivals in Sarajevo. We are also starting to have some activities, in Banja Luka. We took part last year and this year in the Sarajevo Film Festival. We take part in the Jazz Festival, and there will be a Brazilian musician who will perform at the Jazz Fest.
We have Brazilians participating in the Winter Festival of Sarajevo with musicians. There was a ballerina that came for the Ballet Fest last year.
The Brazilian Embassy organized all of this. However, direct relations are still rather new. There is no B&H Embassy in Brazil, so we are doing the best that we can to disseminate information about Bosnia in Brazil as well. We have tried to inform Brazilian journalists about B&H, and I provide information to various media agencies. So, I can say that the flow of tourism from Brazil to B&H has been increasing reasonably and people are starting to discover B&H. The main newspaper in Rio de Janeiro has published in its tourism section a special reportage on B&H.
I cannot say that all of this is the result of the work of our Embassy. Brazilians have already discovered B&H. There have been programs on Brazilian TV about Sevdalinka, Bosnian films and Bosnian cultural activities. Thus, this is an area that can be easily exploited by Bosnians if they are willing and really organized.
I can say that most people who visit your country go out with a very good impression, and this happened to myself. Before I came here as Ambassador, I was in Sarajevo in December 2009 to attend an international conference. It was a big surprise for me to see how lively Sarajevo could be. The old Center has a very lively atmosphere that attracts anybody. I was impressed. At these moments, you forget the question about war and all other difficulties.
It is a bit difficult to speak about the level of trade between B&H and Brazil for several reasons. The main one is that most Brazilian products that come to B&H are still imported by Bosnia through third countries.
I have been trying to stimulate Bosnians to buy directly and establish direct contact with Brazil. There is one B&H Company that works together with Volkswagen in Germany that produces leather seats for cars in Brazil. If you look at the bilateral statistics between B&H and Brazil, they are very low. The estimates are a few million dollars, which is not so much. With the information I have, the main trade products are coffee, sugar and beef.
We are aware that there are large opportunities in the trade sector between Brazil and B&H. However, the countries do not know each other well. I hope that a B&H delegation will be sent to Brazil soon. Not only because of the World Cup, but also to see the type of commercial development that could take place. There is no Embassy or Consulate of B&H in Brazil and it is difficult for people to learn about the other country. They receive their information mainly from the Internet, but that is not enough. If there is a mixed commercial and governmental mission to Brazil, new opportunities will come up.
Thus, I believe that the important thing is to have a mission of B&H in Brazil. If Brazil knows very little about B&H, most Bosnians know nothing about Brazil except for soap operas and football. Brazil is the sixth economy in the world. We have been growing very steadily over the last 10-12 years. So it is time that B&H also starts to discover Brazil.
Since B&H citizens will not need a visa for the upcoming 2014 World Cup, in what ways will their travel to Brazil specifically for the World Cup be facilitated? Is there anything important that fans should know before departing for Brazil, and in what ways will the Embassy be engaged in this?
B&H citizens do not need a visa to go to Brazil since a treaty on this has been signed and is in force. Thus, B&H citizens can be in Brazil for up to 90 days without a visa.
Since the distance is very big, the cost of going to Brazil will be high. It takes 12 hours by plane from Munich to Sao Paolo, so the airfare is quite expensive. Then, within Brazil, the distances are huge as well from one city to the next. People have asked whether it would be possible to travel by bus. We do have the list of the 12 cities in which the matches will take place, but we still do not know in which cities the B&H team will play. For example, it takes 8 hours to get from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo by bus, but there are other cities in which the distance is so huge that it could take up to several days by bus. It is difficult for a lot of people to comprehend this, but Brazil is about the size of the continent of Europe. Based on the last official statistics, the population in Brazil is around 190 million. Just in the city of Rio de Janeiro the population is more than twice that of B&H.
How have you become accustomed to life in B&H? How different is it living here in comparison to your home country, and are there any similarities that have made it easier to acclimate in B&H?
My general impression is very positive. People are very nice in every corner of the country and I feel at ease and am well received. I notice that people here like Brazil and they want to learn more about the country.
As an individual I like being here. I was very impressed by the liveliness of downtown Sarajevo. I like to walk around the streets in Sarajevo and to see the movement of the town. It is beautiful to see the cathedral along with the mosque and synagogue. This is something invaluable that has to be appreciated by everybody.
However, I would like to point out that the problem is internal, regarding how Bosnians see themselves. For me there is only one nationality if you are born and raised in B&H. You are all Bosnians. In Brazil, we don’t pay any attention to ethnicity. You can be Muslim, Orthodox Christian, and Catholic, black or white—that does not matter since we are all Brazilians. Normally, Brazilians still declare themselves as only Brazilians. However, there are some questions on the census now that causes problems, since people have invented this term Afro-descendant, an expression that does not fit into Brazil. This is what we all are, so what does it mean to be Afro-descendant. What makes Brazil Brazilian is the mixture of cultures, especially Portuguese, African and Indigenous. And we are very proud of this. We don’t pay attention to artificial labels.
I saw the match between B&H and Lithuania on the streets of Sarajevo. We, from the Embassy, celebrated along with the B&H fans and felt the emotions that pervaded throughout the country. It is the exact same thing we do in Brazil in the celebration of a match. There were also Brazilian flags being waved around after the match along with B&H flags,which was very moving to me.
I would like to wish success to the B&H football team at the upcoming World Cup. Brazilians will be ready to receive Bosnians who come for the matches. As for the prices, people should come to Brazil well prepared, but I would also like to say that since Brazilian cities that will have football matches of the World Cup are big cities, so there would be a lot of variety in terms of prices.