Geopolitics

Meet Benjamina Karic, Sarajevo's New Millennial Mayor

The very first memories of the 30-year-old mayor is when the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina was under siege. But now it's also time to move on.

Sarajevo Mayor Banjamina Karic appears in front of parliament in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Sarajevo Mayor Banjamina Karic appears in front of parliament in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Rémy Ourdan

SARAJEVO — Benjamina Karic makes a discreet entrance at Morica Han, Sarajevo's only remaining caravanserai, a type of roadside inn. The local filmmaker Danis Tanovic is currently shooting the final scene of his next film, "Deset u pola," and a technician turns on a fire hose to spray the actors with artificial rain. Having escaped the sprinkling, Karic chats for an hour with the actors and producers, seemingly amazed by this first film shoot in the city since the outbreak of coronavirus.

Karic never loses the radiant smile that has accompanied her since her election as mayor of Sarajevo. It was on April 8, her 30th birthday, becoming the youngest mayor in the the history of this iconic capital. "And only the second woman!" she adds. A third point of pride is that she was elected "unanimously" by all political parties of the 26-vote city council.

The election of the young academic — a professor of law, with a dual degree in history — was largely the result of an unexpected turn of political events in the city's complicated politics. After the victory of an anti-nationalist movement (composed of several disparate parties) in November's municipal elections, the leaders of the coalition, called "The Four," announced the election of veteran Bogic Bogicevic, who had been the last representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Yugoslav collegiate presidency in Belgrade in 1991. Despite being a member of the Serbian community, he had said No to Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic during a vote on the imposition of martial law. He then moved to Sarajevo, where he lived during the war and the siege of the city (1992-1995), and where he remains extremely popular.

"When people are hungry and not yet vaccinated against COVID-19, why should City Hall have new cars?"

For reasons that are still unclear, Bogicevic withdrew his candidacy. His movement, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), then proposed to the other members of the "Four" the candidacy of Karic, who was then its largely unknown vice president. Not only was she accepted by the other winners of the municipal elections, but she was also elected with the votes of the defeated nationalist parties.

Karic says her membership in the SDP is "a family tradition" going back to the time of her grandparents and the Yugoslav communists. But she only left the party's youth movement to really enter politics two years ago, after her university thesis. The appointment to the post of mayor was "a surprise" and "a great honor." And Bogic Bogicevic behaved like a gentleman.

"My first message of congratulations was from Bogic," Karic says. "And when he came to visit me at the town hall, he brought me all the notes he had prepared for his term as mayor. "

Benjamina Karić at a meeting with Deputy Minister for EU and international trade Martina Tauberová, Prague, 2021 — Photo: Benjamina Karić

The first decisions of the young mayor made her immediately popular with Sarajevans. On the first day, she sold all the company cars in the town hall, except for one, which was kept for protocol purposes. "When people are hungry and not yet vaccinated against COVID-19, why should City Hall have new cars?" she says. Then she ruthlessly dismissed all the consultants paid by the mayor's office and various institutes and surrounded herself with about 20 unpaid consultants.

For years, Sarajevo had been in the grasp of the Party of Democratic Action, led by former president Bakir Izetbegovic. The party was driven by nationalism, which is not the only scourge that has fractured Bosnia for the past 30 years, as well as corruption and clientelism.

Karic is not a revolutionary, however, and continues to support many of the unfinished projects of her predecessors. "I am part of a tradition. Every mayor in Sarajevo has contributed," she says. In addition to her anti-corruption campaign, she says her efforts will be "devoted to the environment and tourism. Her favorite predecessor is Emerik Blum, the only Jewish mayor of the multi-ethnic city, who she says was "a forerunner in culture and the environment" in the 1980s. He was also a builder, just before Sarajevo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1984.

She wants to emphasize what makes Sarajevo special among cities in the Balkans.

However, national politics and the consequences of the war are never far away. "The political atmosphere is bad, and I don't believe that our anti-nationalist coalition can ever be in power in this country," says Karic.

The daughter of a Bosnian Muslim father and a Serbian mother, she says she doesn't think in terms of ethnic origins. She visited both the memorials of Jasenovac, the Croatian Ustasha concentration camp of World War II where hundreds of thousands of Serbs perished; as well as Srebrenica, where the Serbian army carried out the worst killing of the Bosnian Muslims in the war of the 1990s. "It's politics that prevents people from reconciling…" she says. "Normal people do not need to be reconciled, they are ready to live together."

Karic wants to emphasize what makes Sarajevo special among cities in the Balkans: "A European city, cosmopolitan, Olympic, a citizen city, antifascist, libertarian," as she described in her first speech as mayor, paying tribute to the "values' and "bravery" of the Sarajevans throughout their history, and especially during the siege inflicted by the Serbian army, resulting in 11,541 deaths.

Karić speaks with Austrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Schallenberg in Sarajevo, 4 May 2021 — Wikimedia Commons User @Österreichisches Außenministerium

The war, which broke out at the time of her first birthday in spring 1992, is also the mayor's first memory. "It was towards the end of the war, I was about four years old. I was sitting in the living room and my grandmother was preparing breakfast in the kitchen. Bullets went through the house and there was a fire in the hallway. I remember my grandmother pouring a pot of water on the flames. Three out of four rooms burned. My toys burned."

Karic recounts this memory in her stately office in Vijecnica, a former library bombed and burned by the Serbian army in 1992 that was reopened in 2014 as the headquarters of City Hall. She makes no attempt to hide the tears streaming down her face. She isn't scared of her emotions.

Then she dries her tears, adjusts her suit and walks with a determined step toward the room where the city council awaits her. "The important thing is our anti-fascist tradition, that Sarajevans are anti-fascists in their hearts," she concludes. "We must not forget, but now we must move forward."

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ