Saudi Investors and ‘Sex and the City’ Combine in Sarajevo

The Sarajevo City Center is on a plot of land that was once reserved for a monument to Tito. The mall now features brands like Nike, Levi and U.S. Polo.

Supported by a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant, I’ve been exploring Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital that was besieged during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War. It took nearly four years to end the violence, a feat that was achieved through a power sharing agreement between Bosnia’s ethnic groups know as the Dayton Peace Accord. As we approach the 20th anniversary of Dayton, I’m learning how ethnic divides have affected the reconstruction of the city, as residents try to shape a new multicultural Bosnia. (Read all posts in this series.)

The Sarajevo City Center is on a plot of land that was once reserved for a monument to Tito. The mall now features brands like Nike, Levi, and U.S. Polo. (Photo by Amanda Rivkin)

“The best things in life are free. The second best are very expensive,” instructs Coco Chanel.

“Shopping is my CARDIO!” exclaims Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex in the City.”

The walls at the Sarajevo City Center, a 70,000-square-meter mall that opened in 2014, are bedecked with maxims in Bosnian and English from the West’s great pop-culture icons. One might expect to see the mall’s flashing billboards in Times Square, not downtown Sarajevo.

The stores are in search of an audience, with prices too high for most local consumers. But Sarajevo City Center seems to clash with reality in more than one way. The mall is funded by the Saudi-based Al-Shiddi group, and is part of a slew of new Gulf-funded projects whose policies reflect a conservative religious norm not previously known in Sarajevo. Women can expose their hair, but try to order a beer, and you will only be offered a non-alcoholic option. That sets the City Center’s eateries in stark contrast with most other downtown venues, where Sarajevans gather to imbibe on Rakija, a fruit brandy considered a regional specialty.

Bosniak Muslims —> Read More

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