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Bosnia’s Arizona – Markets Emerging from the Ashes

Nearly seventeen years after the Dayton Accord, which ended a bitter, sectarian war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I returned to Bosnia’s Arizona last week to see how that peace agreement was playing-out. Yes, Bosnia has an Arizona. Well, it has an Arizona Market, which emerged in the Brćko district of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska, soon after the peace agreement.

That market took root and blossomed in a field adjacent to a US Army bivouac. Initially a safe spot to assemble and to exchange rudimentary goods, it quickly evolved into a wild-west kind of place, where desire, money, goods and, ahem, “services,” could buy just about anything. Cleaned-up and now well regulated, the Arizona Market today is teeming with life. It consists of hundreds of stores and shops varying in size and scope, a large produce market, restaurants, a police station, paved roads and monitored parking lots, a model water treatment facility, and so on. Entertainment centers and a planned community with modern housing are in the works.

By some accounts, Arizona has become the largest market and distribution center in the entire country. It also has reintegrated Bosniaks (i.e., Muslim citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina), Croats and Serbs, who again understand that their similarities far outweigh their differences. They also have learned that it is better to trade brands than bullets.

Familiar global brands and knock-offs are ubiquitous in Arizona, as are unique local products. The market draws customers from all corners of the former Yugoslavia, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, and beyond. Investors and traders come from near (e.g., Zagreb and Sarajevo) and far (e.g., Turkey and China).

The upshot: the data from Arizona thus far suggest that an inclusive, well regulated market is a catalyst to sustainable peace and prosperity, even in the smoldering ruins of vicious and brutal conflict. Let’s hope that these positive outcomes can be sustained, and perhaps serve as a model in other recovering/emerging markets. Better yet, here’s to developing inclusive, well regulated markets to avert vicious and brutal conflict.

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