One-way Bosna

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Living in the country of origin, a dream of many Bosnian refugees who were forced to leave their country in the 1990s. Commercial director Damir Avdic moved from the Netherlands to Bosnia at the age of 18. With today’s knowledge, would he do it again? He also shares with us his favourite places and explains what Bosnians mean by the word ‘merak’.

Damir Avdic (1989) left former Yugoslavia at the age of three and fled to the Netherlands with his brother and mother. He first stayed in an asylum seekers' centre, and then ended up in a small village in Overijsel. With his vwo diploma in his pocket, he was making plans with his friends for further studies, and Groningen was at the top of the list. But fate decided otherwise. His parents had been dreaming of returning to Bosnia and Herzegovina for years because they missed their friends and could not quite adjust to life and culture in the Netherlands. His father took the initiative to return and build a new life in the country of origin. Damir decided to go with them and moved to Bosnia when he was 18.

First steps in a new country

‘I decided to study law in Sarajevo. In the beginning it was difficult with the language, I spoke it but my grammar was not at the level of a local. I was used to thinking and writing in Dutch. You don’t know many people yet and then you hear stories from other students who already know each other from high school, so you do miss that basis. Fortunately, I am quite social by nature and quickly made friends, we went out together and that’s how a bond was formed’.

Influence of family on return

‘At home, there was a lot of talk about Bosnia and a possible return and we were very much looking forward to those summer holidays. If we made holiday plans it was to Bosnia, even two or three times a year. A nice picture was painted about my parents’ homeland and at home Bosnian culture was leading’.

Working for a Dutch company

‘At the time (2007), I thought I was the only one who had returned, because who makes this move and I was convinced I would forget my Dutch. A few years later, by chance, I saw a vacancy where they were looking for someone who speaks Dutch. That was a shock to me, I thought; why someone who speaks Dutch in Bosnia (laughs). That was at a company in Sarajevo, now a big player here and specialised in outsourcing services. I went to work there, and that changed my image. I understood that there were many more people who had also taken the step and were working here for Dutch companies. So it was possible. After two and a half years, I switched to a company founded by a Dutchman and a Bosnian, and that’s how I ended up in sales. During an introductory dinner with other colleagues, I sat at the table with seven people who had a similar story to mine, that recognition was nice’.

Emigrating, would you do it again?

‘I think you are more likely to take that step when you are younger. You are then more open-minded and more willing to take bigger steps and changes to a new life. You go from one life in the Netherlands to another life in a country you’ve been to on holiday and heard stories about. That it is beautiful there, that my parents had a life there and that it was once Yugoslavia. For many people, life in the former Yugoslavia was just good. So the only reason you would leave was that war. And when that war stopped, surely many people also wanted to go back to the country where they built something. I think with the knowledge and experience I have now, I would see even more opportunities and I would definitely take that step again’.

We have 22 employees and they have all lived in the Netherlands and even many colleagues were born in the Netherlands


‘What makes the big difference is that I work for a Dutch company and am not in the Bosnian system. Of course, I also hear stories about bad employers where salaries are paid late. Everything that can be arranged simply has to be difficult with us, such as administration and practical matters. A lot of people here work in government institutions, which involves a lot of red tape and bureaucracy, and these are often also the people who vote for the political parties here that maintain that system. I hope young people go for innovation, look beyond just working at a government institution and create opportunities themselves’.

Meeting up and being less obedient

‘When you meet up with someone, we often say, ‘ok around 11 o’clock’. That can be ten to 11 but also ten to 11.30 (laughs). It’s not very strict. Sure it’s not nice to keep your friend waiting for an hour but fifteen minutes we find acceptable. But when it comes to business, I am strict again, so I do keep to the agreed time. In private life, things are a bit looser. Another difference I see is that people in the West are busier, they run from one place to another, they don’t look after each other as much. Because of the turbulent history here, you can’t just tell people anything, we are less obedient. You also saw that during the corona, you can’t tell us so easily that we can’t see our loved ones, for example’.

Working with Bosnian Dutch people

I am commercial director at marketing agency Proleads where I am responsible for new business. We work mainly for the Dutch market, but we also have Dutch clients operating in UK and Germany. So I recently started having colleagues who have lived in Germany or UK and returned to Bosnia. We have 22 employees and all of them have lived in the Netherlands and even many colleagues were born in the Netherlands. One moved because of love and another came on holiday and didn’t want to go back. The great thing about working for Dutch companies is that the Dutch work mentality applies internally but in Bosnia (laughs). You keep your appointments, take good care of your customers and keep both feet on the ground. In the company, we mainly speak Dutch, more out of a kind of convenience I think. After work we go out together, often spontaneously. In the Netherlands you plan a dinner two weeks ahead, here it’s different, you meet up half an hour in advance for a drink or dinner in town’.

Social contacts

‘People are out here a lot, right after work they go into town, have coffee or a bite to eat. Social contacts are important. It seems like the day is longer here and I experience less pressure. The advantage of Sarajevo is that you don’t have to go far for a different setting. Within 15 minutes you are on Trebevic where you can walk or hike, within half an hour you are on Bjelasnica, Jahorina or Vrelo Bosne. Every weekend you are outside and you don’t need a lot of money to go out either. In terms of nature, Bosnia simply has more to offer than the Netherlands, that’s a fact. The Netherlands is more and better organised. I like live music in a good restaurant and going out with friends. But as I get older I do it a little less often, because you also need to recover from it (laughs) .’

“I think the potential is mainly in introducing what works well in the Netherlands, for example, here as well. Take Take Away, I did want to see a Bosnian ordering food from his home (laughs)”

Back to Holland?

I am in Holland two to three times a year often with a colleague for work. Then I also see my friends and we go out for an evening together. What I do miss is that everything is arranged simply. Sometimes I miss the food, good chips, frikandel and sushi. I love Bosnian cuisine but of course you get used to it. Last time I was two weeks in the Netherlands for work and I was surprised myself that after a week I was like: ‘that’s enough, I want to go back’. My brother has opened a bakery here, the Windmill in Vogošća (10 km from Sarajevo). He has had the Dutch ambassador visit and has also tied the Dutch community a bit to the bakery’.


‘I think the potential is mainly in introducing what works well in the Netherlands, for example, here as well. Take ‘Take Away’ I did want to see a Bosnian ordering food from his home, but still it works, you now have two companies here that do the same. Corona did contribute to that as well. Still, it is on a smaller scale here than in the West, people simply prefer to eat out. You see more and more software developers settling here, more remote working, and there are plenty of highly educated people who are used to working within the European culture. Bosnians adapt easily, though with Balkan pride but we work hard. If you have good ideas there are plenty of opportunities here’.

Taking a chance?

‘Take a good look at yourself first, what are you good at? If you want to work for a Dutch company here or start something for yourself, it is interesting to come here. Especially countries that haven’t arranged everything perfectly offer opportunities to set up something new and also to develop yourself. And if your roots are here, yes then totally’.

Lukomir is a village in Konjic municipality, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It consists of two settlements: Donji and Gornji Lukomir.

Favourite places

‘I love hiking and can often be found in nature, fortunately Bosnia has a lot to offer in terms of nature and many places I am just discovering myself. My favourites are Mount Trebevic and Bjelasnica. After a hike, Planinarski Dom on Trebevic is a quiet place to rest where you can enjoy a nice view.

What you should definitely visit is the old village of Lukomir, a recommended way to do this is via the village of Umoljani. For the adventurous, canoeing down the Trebizat River in Capljina is a great experience, so definitely a tip!

When in Sarajevo, at not too busy times I go for a coffee in Carsija (Bascarsija), old part of the city where you can best taste the culture and atmosphere of the city. There is a word we use here that describes enjoyment or pure pleasure – ‘merak’ – and that is what I feel when I am here’.

“Merak is a word used in the Balkans to describe the pleasure, enjoyment or longing for something. At the same time, it can also mean excessive desire for something, a kind of melancholy”.