Bihać: Activism All the Way

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone in Bihać who doesn’t know who Armin Amidžić is. This 33-year-old has been an activist for 8 years in his local community, first through the Association ABC, and for the past three years through his position in Bihać’s City Council.

The Association ABC organized concerts and charity events, initiated amendments to laws, developed the most popular independent portal in Krajina in its time, and implemented a series of local projects. They came to public attention in BiH and beyond in 2014, when members of the rafting club founded by Armin sailed into flooded Doboj as first-responders to help the locals whose lives were in danger. 

– Practically nothing happened in Bihać without us being involved in it. We just did it because we believed we can change the city, change the people, and because it made us feel good, says Armin about the 5 years he spent at the Association ABC.

His desire to change the community even faster and more efficiently led Armin and his friends on a political path in 2016. They had no political backing or background in politics, but being so well known among their fellow citizens, they won the mayoral election and five seats on the city council in one of the biggest surprises of the previous local elections in BiH.

Armin says that political activism was a chance to help the city through using his knowledge about tourism.

– At one point in my life, I got into tourism by accident and fell in love. It’s the kind of job that gives you perfect opportunities to promote your city. What started by chance grew into a hobby and a passion, and then into a source of livelihood.

He used his years of experience in tourism and initiated the founding of the Tourist Community of the City of Bihać. Although funds were scarce, the City Administration decided that a city where over 1000 people earn a living in tourism and the restaurant business needs a tourist community. Armin accepted the position of acting director in this organisation, without any compensation.

His plan is to brand Bihać as a tourist destination through the Tourist Community, and in less than a year he set a good foundation for making this plan a reality. The Tourist Community was behind this year’s impressive Bihać summer – the best ever, they say, despite the significant challenges this town is facing, with youth leaving and the migrant crisis.

Prvobitna ideja je bila da se kroz turističku ponudu objedine sve biciklističke i planinarske staze na području Plješevice, koja je odlična rekreativna zona, objašnjava nam Armin. localworks provided 8909 BAM for the initiative, but then a problem cropped up.

While the action was underway, the Vučjak migrant camp was set up on Plješevica, so the Tourist Community had to find another way to build the trail. That’s when they got the idea to build a hiking trail connecting the Sokolac fort with the urban part of Bihać. The community enthusiastically accepted the idea, especially the locals from Sokolac, many of whom took part in the action.

The works initially planned were valued at a little under 9000 BAM, but the value of everything done ultimately exceeded 40,000, says Armin. As a result, Sokolac is now connected with the city center thanks to a trail with an outdoor gym, two observation decks, and benches. The access path to the fort, which was reconstructed 10 years ago but never used, was also cleared.

Armin explained that the value of this project was multiplied through participation of the locals, numerous associations and sports clubs. Transparency of the action was key to getting citizens so involved and interested, says Armin.

– We constantly kept people informed about our activities on Facebook, and we think this hiking trail, along with Štrbački buk, will be the most popular tourist spot in Bihać next season, says Armin enthusiastically.

What eventually started as a modest effort, gave rise to the idea to allow the Tourist Community to manage the Old Town Sokolac.

The goal is to install electrical wiring and put up a mini-stage so that all summer long we can stage plays, acoustic guitar concerts, we can put up panoramic binoculars on the top so visitors can enjoy the spectacular view, and we can charge a small fee to create a self-sustainable project, said Armin.

After eight years of activism, work and making sacrifices for the good of the community, Armin admits that he does feel tired sometimes. Still, he’s forging forward because activism is not an intrinsic part of his life, and without it he would feel incomplete.

– Maybe it’s selfish of me, but I do it all for me, and indirectly it benefits a lot of people and contributed to the community, but it just makes me feel good and that’s why I do it. Am I headed towards burnout, am I making enemies along the way? I don’t know, but as long as I have my inner circle of friends who share my ideas and celebrate every success, for me it’s all worth it, says this young resident of Bišće, whose work will certainly be remembered by future generations of the city on the river Una.

Construction of the hiking trail leading to the Sokolac fortress was supported by the localworks initiative, implemented by the Institute for Youth Development KULT with the support of USAID. Opinions stated in this text are the sole responsibility of the author, and cannot be considered official opinions od USAID or the Institute for Youth Development KULT

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