Chinese shopping area on the outskirts of Sarajevo—Rajlovac

Posted on April 5, 2012

Fifteen years after the end of the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina is still a country in transition. Corrupt and politically unstable, it is affected by the politics of former war enemies. A country bordering the EU, Bosnia is making an effort to stabilize politically and economically in order to join the EU. As a member of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, the country is taking part in the stabilization of the region, working together with the EU and other Balkan countries where Stabilization and Association Agreements (SAA)1 are being made. Regulated and thought out migration policies and legislation on migration issues are only fragmentary and are determined by these agreements. The country continues to work on regulating its own political system, transitioning from the former communist system and recovering from the consequences of the war in the 1990s. At the same time, it borders the EU and is therefore forced to deal with the migration policies of EU.

About 10,000 to 12,000 (unofficial numbers) migrants from China live in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They have student, work or tourist visas, but their period of residency is limited and they don’t have a settlement permit.

The development of Chinese migration to the countries of the former Yugoslavia is directly related to the EU and its expansion. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Chinese migrants settled in Hungary, mostly in Budapest. With Hungary’s candidacy to the EU, the visa regime was intensified. As a consequence, many Chinese left and settled in Serbia in the mid-1990s. During the NATO intervention in 1999, many of them left Serbia and settled in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.

Rajlovac is located in northeast Sarajevo at one of the main entrances to the city. The main street is full of Chinese shops with red Chinese lanterns hanging above the shop entrances. During the war, this area was the line separating the two different sides. After the war, it was dominated by destroyed and demolished houses. Most of the former house owners left during the war and didn’t return. As a result, these houses remained empty and were left to deteriorate. Today there are newly built three and four story buildings with large parking lots in the front. The ground floors are usually used for shops selling cheap products from China; the windows of other levels are usually boarded up on the street side and the space is used for storage. Satellite antennas and clothes drying in the backyards give away that these houses are multifunctional and also used for living. Located on the outskirts of Sarajevo, Rajlovac is also a ›mid-city‹ as defined by Teddy Cruz and Thomas Sieverts. According to the UNHCR, 800,000 people were displaced in 1998 within Bosnia and Herzegovina,11 and over 100,000 people are still displaced in 2010.12 Only in devastated areas like these migrants from the outside could settle down. Here they also had infinite possibilities for adjusting the space to meet their needs. Simultaneously, an urban quarter is being revitalized without architects and urban planning by migrants. The public space in front of the shops is being occupied and used depending on individual needs with the result that the limits between private and public are blurring. The shopkeepers and distributors and their families play cards inside and outside the shops, drink coffee, eat, study and sell their goods. There is no clear arrangement of functions either on the ground floor or in the vertical space. Where does the business start, where does the storage end and where does the private living space begin? As expressed by Teddy Cruz, this is an example of »three-dimensional zoning, based not on adjacencies but on juxtaposition, as dormant infrastructures are transformed into usable spaces« (Cruz 2004).

*This text is excerpt of the article Disrupting the Visual Paradigm, Amila Sirbegovic published in Space (Re)Solutions, Intervention and Research in Visual Culture, Peter Mörtenböck, Helge Mosshammer (eds.), 2011 trancript Verlag, Bielefeld


Cruz, Teddy (2004): Border Postcards: Chronicles from the Edge,

Sieverts, Thomas (2008): Zwischenstadt. Zwischen Ort und Welt, Raum und Zeit, Stadt und Land, Basel: Birkhäuser.

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