An Ex-Patriot Returns With A Vision
An Ex-Patriot Returns With A Vision
Jovica Stevanovic is a restless man with a vision for his hometown.
His drawings of a new Arizona Market, with wide green malls and glass stalls to replace the wooden shanties that line the gravel streets of the current market, are everywhere in the top floor offices of Italproject in downtown Brcko.
Trained as a civil engineer, Stevanovic also designed the building that houses the Italproject office with its Italian green marble floors and bathrooms. A couple blocks away is another of his office buildings. His work stands out in a town that still has the face of its communist past on its building facades.
Stevanovic has been hovering in his office while his Italian partner Alessandro Lucchetta defends their project to reporters from the criticisms of the current market’s private landowners who oppose the project.
Now the tall lanky Stevanovic comes out of his office and forces his way into the conversation. Obviously, for Stevanovic this project is a plan for his hometown that needs no defense.
“We believe in our project and no one can question it”, Stevanovic says. “We are going to construct the best market in southeast Europe and we do not expect any irresolvable obstacles.”
The civil engineer, who will only admit he is in his late 50s, is accustomed to persuading people in and out of the Balkans that his way is best.
He was born in Brcko and educated in Sarajevo at the School of Civil Engineering. After school he came back to Brcko and worked in the government Urban Planning Office before starting his own project company, Delta Inzenjering. The company soon expanded into a full service commercial and residential development company with projects on both sides of the Sava River in northeast Bosnia and the Slavonija district of Croatia.
The war in ex-Yugoslavia was just another engineering problem for the restless Stevanovic.
“I saw that the war is going to last too long,” Stevanovic said. “My evaluation was that I couldn’t waste the time here because the war is not a situation in which I can function and prove myself.”
Stevanovic’s decision to leave the Balkans for Australia in 1993, where he eventually started another successful development company, came at a high price. He was forced to leave behind a successful company, two office building projects incomplete in Brcko and his own homes in Belgrade and on the Croatian island of Losianj.
By 1997, the unfinished projects for his hometown began to weigh on his mind and Stevanovic came home.
“I started too many things and did not finish them,” Stevanovic said. “I cannot leave just like that all the things I invested a lot of money in."
For some of the businessmen, forced by the new market contract to seek a deal with Italproject, Stevanovic’s passion for his work and his home town have been persuasive.
“He is so nice even if you want to strangle him, you can’t,” said Niko Maric, one of the Arizona businessmen, who was at first unhappy with the Italproject but later signed a contract with them.
But not everyone was hearing Stevanovic’s message.
Market kiosk owners have been openly grumbling and speculating about the motives of Italproject’s Italian “partners” in the Agua D’Oro company, who Lucchetta and Stevanovic refuse to identify.
Some private landowners see Stevanovic as more interested in cashing in on Italproject with his foreign partners than helping his hometown and the struggling economy in the Brcko District. The landowners claim the deal Stevanovic offers come with exorbitant lease and utility fees.
Marijan Petrovic, a 33 year-old landowner said he is not taken in by Stevanovic’s passion for the project.
“If he offers me a low price for the land, and if he tells me that the government will deprive me of the land unless I accept the agreement, then that means he is ready to see our dead bodies to get our land,” Petrovic said.
The landowners’ opposition comes from shortsightedness, according to Stevanovic.
“We first tried to think how to make a big market without excluding anyone,” he said. “But I know these people and I can tell you they would rather stay in the small kiosks without sanitary conditions than have a real market.”
Stevanovic also dismisses his critics’ question about the identity of the Italian partners.
“Is it necessary that a man like me has someone behind him?” Stevanovic says, waving his hand at the project plans he designed. “It is our knowledge, our work and our money.”
Stevanovic said his travels taught him how the rest of the world does business and, by contrast, made it easier for him to understand “our Balkan mentality."
”You spend some time trying to figure out what a man is doing, how he sees his future and to reach a solution with him,” Stevanovic said. “And when you go to the market where he sits drinking his coffee with ten more people there, he gives you a completely different answer."
Stevanovic said that his vision for Brcko would triumph. He will not give up because in the end he simply “knows” that his neighbors will come to him to make an agreement.