The main campus of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s leading tertiary institution, the University of Sarajevo, has long needed an overhaul. Amidst recent steps to develop it, the Saudi Fund for Development has stepped in with a $22 million donation to build the university’s first centralized library. A symbolic foundation stone was laid on July 31 by the SFD’s Ahmed Al-Khateeb, chair of the board of directors.
This is not the first major contribution that Saudi Arabia has made to Bosnia and Herzegovina since the country’s independence from Yugoslavia, and the brutal war and genocide that followed it. The Kingdom and Bosnia have had close relations since the early 1990s.
Diplomatic relations between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Saudi Arabia were established on April 17, 1992. Bosnia and Herzegovina opened its embassy in Riyadh in 1993, while Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Sarajevo was opened in 1998 after the war ended.
Both Saudi Arabia’s and Bosnia’s Muslim population (roughly 51 percent of the latter’s residents) share a rich religious heritage. After the war, Saudi Arabia helped to restore infrastructure in Bosnia, rebuilding mosques, hospitals, and schools that had been destroyed. The Saudi High Commission for the Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina — founded by King Salman — spent $600 million in aid to the nation. However, the recent cooperation has extended beyond mere co-religious experiences.
Saudi Arabia has provided significant financial and humanitarian assistance to Bosnia and Herzegovina since the country’s independence in 1992. In the immediate post-war years, this assistance has helped to rebuild infrastructure, support education and healthcare, and promote economic development. Saudi Arabia has also played a role in promoting peace and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina, being a key supporter of the Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnian War.
In addition to financial and humanitarian assistance, the Kingdom and Bosnia and Herzegovina have also cooperated on cultural and educational exchanges. Saudi Arabia has funded scholarships for Bosnian students to study in Saudi Arabia, and it has organized cultural events and festivals in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The two countries have signed a number of agreements on trade, investment, tourism and education. They have also held regular high-level meetings, including mutual visits by the two nations’ monarchs.
More recently, the focus of Bosniak and Saudi Arabia relations has shifted to trade, in particular tourism. Bosnia is a highly-popular destination for holidaymakers from across the Gulf region. To meet the demands of the tourists flooding in from the Arab world, Saudi Arabia has been a major source of investment in Bosnia’s tourist sector.
Most valued and appreciated by Bosniaks is Saudi Arabia’s vocal support for Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Having played a role in mediating the peace process at the end of the war, Saudi Arabia has made a commitment to support Bosnia’s continued territorial integrity and the rights of all its citizens.
Thirty years of diplomatic relations between the two countries are proof that the close ties between Saudi Arabia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are likely to continue in the years to come.
Most recently, Bosnia and Herzegovina has supported Saudi Arabia’s bid to host World Expo 2030 in Riyadh. This is evidence that both countries share a common interest in promoting peace and stability in the Balkans, and they are committed to working together to achieve this goal.
- Hikmet Karcic is a genocide scholar based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and author of the book “Torture, Humiliate, Kill: Inside the Bosnian Serb Camp System” (University of Michigan Press, 2022). He was the 2017 Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation-Keene State College Global Fellow. X: @hikmet_karcic