Nicola Minasi, current ambassador of Italy to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), entered the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the end of 1999 and then served in the United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan and the Permanent Mission of Italy to the European Union (EU) in Brussels.
Sarajevo Times: Since March this year, you have been serving as the ambassador of Italy to BiH, did you get used to life in Sarajevo? Have you visited some mountains, cities and important sites in BiH?
“I have been very happy to slowly discovering the city and there is much more to do. I have been around the country a lot, doing some business and these days I have my friends visiting and they saw more things in Sarajevo than I have seen so far.”
Speaking about tourism and the possibility of its expansion, Ambassador Minasi said to be convinced there is a room for expansion and that he is positively surprised by the fact that very often, when he walks on the streets of Sarajevo, he finds Italian tourists who come on their own, rather than in organized groups. The Ambassador adds that Italians love this area and take road trips across the country., Sometimes they come to the cities on the coast and decide to visit inner Bosnia as well.
“Here there is a very genuine atmosphere, but traveling is still quite adventurous and self-made, so there are great possibilities for BiH to market itself better and present its amazing sites to the foreign public. Moreover, better roads and better flying connections would help and the potential is huge. People who go to ski on the Alps may decide to come to Igman, Bjelasnica or Jahorina Mountain. People of BiH are very welcoming, food is delicious, hospitality is warm.”
When asked about the possible direct flight from Sarajevo to Rome or another city in Italy. H.E. Minasi answered that there is a direct line from the Mostar International Airport and other Italian cities with Mistral Air that is taking pilgrims to Medjugorje.
However, this is a seasonal flight and the Ambassador would like to explore new possibilities with institutions of BiH and government of Canton Sarajevo. Moreover, he adds that if the government manages to upgrade the airport and at the same reduce the airport taxes, there will probably be many more flights.
Sarajevo Times: Can you tell us more about the Italian investments in BiH, the number of companies and amount of investments? How can the future economic cooperation between BiH and Italy be enhanced?
“There are around 70 Italian officially registered companies, few of them are big and others are Small and Medium Size Enterprises (SME), but I keep meeting new investors who operate through local subsidiaries, so the actual number of Italian entrepreneurs on the ground is much higher. In some cases, Italian investors have completely closed their businesses in Italy and transferred them to BiH and there are amazing stories, such as one about a furniture plant which is producing furniture for IKEA. Bilateral trade is 1,5 billion Euros, and Italy is the second trade partner of BiH, after Germany. Every three bank accounts in BiH, one of them is open at an Italian bank and we have estimated that around 10, 000 people work for Italian companies here. I think that the most promising sectors are in the wood industry, clothing, light machinery, electricity production and agroindustry,” the Ambassador explained.
The bilateral relations between BiH and Italy in political terms are very good: from the war years onwards and especially because of proximity, Italy has always been a sincere friend and has a genuine interest in the stability of the region.
“There are a lot of human exchanges, pilgrims coming from Italy and students going to Italy or studying Italian language here. There is a genuine interest to share the common heritage.”
“In May this year, there was a visit of the Committee of Foreign Affairs of Republic of Italy and the parliamentarians were impressed by the improvement of the country and decided it was important to carry this message back to Italy. So they deliberated to hold an exhibition of the ArsAevi collection from Sarajevo in the Italian Parliament, which was realized in July. It was a huge success!”. So, “economy, culture and politics come together in quite a natural way”.
Asked about the Bosnian Diaspora in Italy, Minasi comments that is very well integrated, located all over the Italy, but mostly in the North East. It is a 30 000 people strong community, keeping good relations with BiH, and there is a constant stream of people going in and out of Italy. Next to the Diaspora, there is a large number of Italians and organizations who have been having a long term interest in BiH and running activities since many years, such as one association which has been inviting Bosnian children for holidays in Italy and which so far has welcomed 18 000 children throughout the last 25 years. This is an example of how genuine and strong the exchanges are.
Sarajevo Times: Speaking about football in Italy, one can say that the best footballers in the world play in Italian clubs. Bosnians such as Edin Dzeko (FC Roma) and Miralem Pjalic (FC Juventus) play there as well. How can the cooperation between BiH and Italy in terms of football be enhanced? Is it possible for Italian clubs to invest in BiH’s talents?
“One project we have is to organize friendly tournaments with clubs from Bosnia and clubs from Italy. I can tell you that I am reading the news that come out from Italy where the key words are “BiH” and “Sarajevo” and one third of those news are about football, so there is a lot of attention about it in Italy. It is a promising sector and I think it could be used by BiH authorities to improve tourism. There are certainly many Italian clubs keeping a close eye on the local matches to spot the young talents”
“Dzeko and Pjanic are big names, but there are quite a few more who play in smaller clubs and yet make difference for their teams, so it is very promising and will be further developed”, Minasi adds.
“From the previous experience, I have realized that the international football market is highly technical and complex. For Italian clubs to have more interest in BiH clubs and possibly invest here, more regulations need to be approved by BiH authorities in order to attract funds. By the way, I am very happy to announce that the City of Rome and the City of Sarajevo have jointly been awarded a European project to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome that created the European Community and I hope that, among other things, we will promote sports in this twinning as well”.
Asked about the general prospects for the country, Minasi concludes with an overall view of the last few years and relations with the EU. “BiH has a huge political potential. This is not always seen very clearly but we must remember that the war here started in 1992, at the same moment when the European Union was launched with the Maastricht Treaty. It is ironic and tragic that, at the very moment Europe decided to further integration, divisions in the Balkans exploded. Yet, exactly because of that, if people and parties here manage to cooperate together for the best future of the entire population, this will be good, not only for the country but for the neighbors and the EU itself. This would offer the best example of coexistence and cooperation and turn a tragic heritage into a golden opportunity to attract investements, support and create political capital. There are not many other countries where you have this possibility. “
Interview by Zejna SY