After a long series of attempts, the first McDonald’s of Bosnia and Herzegovina opens in Sarajevo. What follows are the declarations from the American Ambassador, the reactions from Sarajevans and the welcome by the ćevapčići chain “Mrkva”
Tuesday, 19 July: the first McDonald’s opens in Sarajevo. Whether we like it or not, Bosnia and Herzegovina has ceased to be a “No Macs’ land”, following at least 10 years of negotiations.
The opening of the first McDonald’s was a headline. Cutting the ribbon were no less than the President in charge of the Tri-Party Presidency, Željko Komšić, and the United States Ambassador, Patrick Moon. They were joined by 300 VIPs, among whom was Zlatko Lagumdžija, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), all gathered for a special evening at McDonald’s.
Ambassador Moon stated that McDonald’s story is a the story of a successful entrepreneur that can serve as an inspiration to Bosnian entrepreneurs. The next day, the Mayor of Sarajevo, Alija Behmen, was among the first to be served at McDonald’s, along with the swarm of customers. The Mayor underlined how the arrival of McDonald's represents another ‘pearl that widens the gastronomic offer’ of the city, which will not endanger the traditional cuisine. It is, most of all, a positive signal for foreign investors, as he pointed out.
With perfect timing, though, the article of a local portal reports that the part-owner of McDonald’s, Haris Ihtijarević, is under investigation from the Revenue Service for a series of embezzlements while he was chairman of a branch of the administration of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Is this the usual Bosnian envy (‘may your neighbor’s cow drop dead’) or something more concrete? It may be the start of a new sapunica (soap opera), on the pages of local newspapers.
What would Tito have said?
News details aside, it is to be underlin
ed that the timing of the opening of McDonald’s is perfect: the Sarajevo Film Festival starts today and the city will be filled with guests from the world over. McDonald’s right in downtown Sarajevo, on the Titova, the city’s main street. A modern times paradox: Sarajevo is one of the few cities of former Yugoslavia to have kept a street (and what a street!) named after Tito, but it is right here that a McDonald’s has opened: one of the symbols, for better or worse, of modern capitalism and globalization. What would Tito have said of all this? Historical paradoxes aside, McDonald’s is going to open in Bihać, Zenica, Mostar and Banja Luka, together with a Drive Through in the same Sarajevo.
In short, a failure on all fronts for “No Macs’ land”: Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the last Countries of former Yugoslavia, apart from Kosovo, to see the arrival of a McDonald’s. It was opened in Belgrade as early as 1988, then in the other Countries right after the conflicts: in Slovenia in 1993, Croatia in 1996, Macedonia in 1997 and Montenegro in 2004. Albania and Iceland are up to now the only Countries in Europe not to have a McDonald’s: it has never opened in Albania, while in Iceland it closed because of the prohibitive prices for importing meat.
10 years of attempts
In the end, the McDonald’s arch will stand against the Sarajevo sky again. The first time dates back to 1997 when, during their legendary concert in Sarajevo, U2 installed it on stage in Koševo Stadium. Decidedly ironically. It was not easy for McDonald’s to open in Sarajevo. Talks about it had already started in 2000, when McDonald’s was due to open in front of the catholic cathedral, in the place of the then Gradska Kafana, but it came to nothing.
During the years that followed, rumors went around every once in a while about McDonald’s intending to open, but it would always drop. The last time was in April of 2010, when the restaurant was to open in the new shopping center built in front of Bosnia’s Parliament, but that too came to nothing.
Many interpreted these attempts as a negative signal on the part of international investors towards the Bosnian market, and thought the multinational itself was discouraged by the level of corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Where there is a McDonald’s, there is no war
Oddly enough, the presence of McDonald’s is seen as quite significant for Countries in transition and Tom Friedman’s theory on conflict prevention is often quoted: no two countries with a McDonald's franchise have ever gone to war with one another. The theory is based on that when a Country has reached a level of wealth that is enough to support a McDonald’s network, it will no longer be interested in fighting wars. The theory was actually proved wrong when NATO bombed Serbia, but Friedman immediately argued that it was a brief exception and the war ended quickly. Who knows if Friedman’s theory also applies to cases of potential secessions….
Reactions from Sarajevans
Reactions from Sarajevans to the news of McDonald’s opening were definitely positive: McDonald’s was literally stormed. The Sarajevo McDonald’s Facebook page got over 22.000 fans in just a few days, and people started making remarks, seriously or half-seriously, about the arrival of McDonald’s, the impact on the local market and the fact that the “privilege” of eating there is only reserved to Sarajevans, for now.
The nicest gesture, though, came from the owner of Mrkva, one of the most renowned ćevabžinice in Sarajevo. In fact, during the inauguration, he drove the Mrkva truck just outside McDonald’s, delivering 200 steaming-hot cevapi. As the owner of Mrkva explained, it was a welcome gesture in line with the traditional Bosnian hospitality: when someone moves to a new neighborhood, the komšiluk, the other neighbors, bring them gifts as a sign of welcome. The owner of MrkvaI thus explained that this competition is positive and welcome and he does not think Bosnians will eat less ćevapi because a McDonald’s has opened. There is room for everybody, in Bosnia….