Ulrike Hartmann, the Ambassador of Austria to Bosnia and Herzegovina, returned in January last year to the country she has lived in for six years, this time in the challenging role of the official representative of her country. The Ambassador who enjoys hiking, exploring the country and is fascinated by its rich and complex history spoke about her first impressions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, of Sarajevo and of her favorite places to visit.
“When I returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina last year in my new position I could already revert to several years of professional and personal experience in this amazing country. From 2010-2016, I had worked for the Office of the High Representative (OHR), spending three years in Sarajevo, followed by three years in OHR’s Banja Luka Office. It makes me proud to be back here as the first female Austrian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina”, H.E. Hartmann says.
Ambassador Hartmann says that the attraction of Bosnia and Herzegovina is not just its beauty and variety; it is also the numerous connections with Austria, from strong historical links to close economic, cultural and, in particular, human ties.
The geographic vicinity deepens these ties and active cooperation between the two countries and their citizens.
“For me personally, it’s difficult to pick just a few favourite places in Bosnia and Herzegovina as the country has so much to offer; I am, however, particularly attracted to its mountains, from the Sutjeska national park, over the Bijelašnica range with the Rakitnica canyon, to the Čvrsnica mountains in Herzegovina. When chatting with locals during my hiking tours I get a feeling of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s true nature. In that sense, my view of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country with open, warm-hearted and hospitable people has not changed at all”, H. E. Hartmann explained.
H.E. Hartmann adds that at the same time, it is also appalling to see the continued neglect of nature and the environment and the indifference by many individuals and authorities. Protection of the country’s nature – its landscape, its rivers, its air – is not just essential to develop serious tourism; it is an investment in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future, its young generation.
“The heavily polluted air in Sarajevo and other towns in BiH, which we are all exposed to, should be a clear warning. Apart from decisive measures by the authorities, every citizen can make a contribution by changing his/her behavior in many daily routines”, H.E. Hartmann adds.
Sarajevo Times: It is estimated that close to 200,000 Bosnians live in Austria, and according to Eurostat data from February last year, 10.9 percent of new Austrian nationals come from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Can you tell us how the Bosnian Diaspora is welcomed in Austria? How are they integrated and assimilated? What kind of jobs do they mainly have?
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s diaspora in Austria plays a very important role in Austrian society and is therefore well received. As our countries and peoples are so close and have a lot in common, Bosnians and Herzegowinians as well as people from the entire region quickly integrate into and adapt to Austrian society. Usually, they already speak German when they come or learn the language in a short period; they respect the Austrian way of life, our values and rules; and Bosnians and Herzegowinians are usually ambitious to secure for themselves a good education and a personal career. Which better example could I give here than our new Federal Minister for Justice, Alma Zadić, who is orginally a “tuzlanka” and is now politically responsible for the well-functioning Austrian justice system”, H. E. concludes.
Sarajevo Times: Growth of exports from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Austria over the past three years have been steadily rising, and coverage of exported imports has reached a record 155 percent. Last year, Bosnia and Herzegovina exported goods worth more than one billion BAM. Can you tell the Sarajevo Times audience more about Austrian companies here and what they produce? Are there plans to expand the cooperation in other economic areas?
H.E. Hartmann says that trade ties between Austria and Bosnia and Herzegovina have become even stronger over recent years. Both bilateral trade as well as Austrian investments in the country have grown. In 2018, the bilateral trade exceeded BAM 2 billion for the first time. Over the first ten months of 2019, the value of imported goods from Bosnia and Herzegovina was BAM 1,1 billion. Over the same time, Austrian exports to Bosnia and Herzegovina were worth BAM 729 million.
“Bosnia and Herzegovina exports to Austria mainly include electrical equipment such as wire, iron and steel, as well as shoes, plastic products, firewood and furniture. The majority of Austrian companies in Bosnia and Herzegovina operate in the financial sector, thus providing various services (mostly in the banking and insurance sector). Several Austrian companies are also involved in metal, electronics and timber production, as well as services such as trade and logistics.
There are definitely more opportunities for Austrian investors in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the future, especially in the fields of infrastructure and energy, as well as in the environmental sector. In 2020, the economic development between Austria and BiH will, of course, also depend on the international economic climate, especially in the Eurozone”, H. E. Hartmann concludes.
Sarajevo Times: In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the expectations towards the Austrian Ambassador are particularly high, mainly due to our historical, economic, human and geographical links. What are your expectations and plans in your mandate?
As the Austrian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I see my mission as two-fold: On the one hand, I will devote my energy to further developing and improving the traditionally good bilateral relations between our countries in all aspects. On the other hand, my aim is to support the progress of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards European integration. For example, Austria has been very active in providing expertise in Bosnia and Herzegovina through so-called twinning projects of the European Commission. For Austria, supporting the Western Balkan countries’ path towards EU membership remains one of our key foreign policy priorities”, H. E. Hartmann explained.
She added that she cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is for Bosnia and Herzegovina to improve the rule of law and meet the criteria set out by the European Commission if it is to have realistic prospects of EU accession. The necessary – although often difficult– reforms are worth the effort, for the sake of economic and social improvements and the overall growth of living standards.
“We still witness a strong trend of young people to leaving the country, also to Austria. So, a clear political will for new policies, new approaches is required”, Ambassador added.
The Ambassador added that Austria is supporting measures to reverse this trend, such as strengthening educational training, as well as bringing education and economic needs closer together.
“Apart from that, in my daily work I also try to focus on other important areas – also in the European context – including environmental protection, women’s rights, youth perspectives, civil society and the non-governmental sector, as well as the protection of human rights in general. Austria has valuable experience in these areas and we are ready to share lessons-learnt with our Bosnian and Herzegovinian partners”, Ambassador concludes.
Interview by Zejna Yesilyurt