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Ten below in Sarajevo – and no heat

by Keith Flatley

January 8, 2009


On Jan. 2, two teams of six MBA students each from the University of Notre Dame left for the war-torn countries of Bosnia and Lebanon to study first-hand the role of business in rebuilding these post-conflict societies as part of a new course, “Business on the Frontlines.”  Little did the Bosnian team know that just hours after their arrival, they also would be experiencing first-hand a developing international heating crisis as Russia shut off natural gas supplies distributed via the Ukraine.

The team found itself facing temperatures ranging down to 10 degrees below zero, with no electric heaters to be found. Keith Flatley, a 2009 MBA candidate, writes on Jan. 7 about the experience:

The country is a bit strange.  When you see Sarajevo and the rest of Bosnia from a distance it looks beautiful.  Once you get closer, you start to see the scars of the war.  Buildings are still covered with bullet holes and marks from shrapnel.  They filled in craters from artillery with red cement as a reminder of the war.  They call them Sarajevo Roses.  The people are just the opposite.  From afar they look depressed and withdrawn.  Once we meet them and talk to them, they are wonderful.  The moment they find out we are Americans they light up and tell us how happy they are that we are here.  The rebuilding effort is taking a while longer than it should.  The people want to pull themselves out of this, but they continuously get blocked by the politics of the nation, the black and grey markets, and the lack of access to quality opportunities.  This country is beautiful, the forests are pristine; there is rafting and Olympic-caliber skiing. The rest of world just doesn’t know about all of it yet.      

Here’s the deal with the heating situation.  I was on my way back from Srebrenica after reviewing a Catholic Relief Services project and visiting a memorial to the Srebrenica Massacre, where in 1995 during the Bosnian War, 8,372 men and boys were brought out to the woods and shot.  They were then hidden in mass graves in the forest.  Pretty horrific stuff.  We heard over the radio about the gas shut off on the way back to Sarajevo.  I was in the car with our professor, Viva Bartkus, and two representatives of CRS.  I mean, really, what did the people here do to deserve all this?  The mood in the car actually picked up when we got the news.  There is nothing we could do except live with it.  We can’t feel bad for ourselves; we get to fly home on Sunday.  Everyone else here has to stay and freeze.  Their passports can’t get them out of the Balkans.  The worst part is that it was the Orthodox Christmas Eve.  

We are staying in an apartment that used to be heated from the natural gas.  Last night, it was about 10 below, so the place was freezing cold without the gas for heat.  All we can really do is get up with the sun and get moving.  People can’t go into the woods surrounding the city for firewood since the woods are filled with landmines.  There are lines forming at stores selling electric heaters.  The price of an electric heater on Monday was under $100 U.S.; it is now over $200.  The heaters sell out within minutes of the stores opening.  We were told the gas will be turned back on tonight.  That didn’t happen.  The people we talk to think that it is just the Russians and Ukrainians flexing their muscle to the rest of Europe.
 
I think the strangest thing is how calm everyone is.  Outside, it looks like any normal day.  The people here are so used to getting the short end of the stick that they just put their heads down and drive on.  If this happened in Chicago or New York, people would be rioting.

“Business on the Frontlines” is a new MBA course offered by the Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. Taught by Viva O. Bartkus, an associate professor of Management, the course examines the role of business in rebuilding war-torn societies and how the economic engine is re-started post-conflict. The course runs from October 2008 to March 2009 and consists of a two parts: a classroom segment where students study developmental economies and topics related to peace-through-commerce efforts; and a field visit from Jan. 2-11 to explore in detail the activities and impact of local and international business in post-war reconstruction societies.

For this inaugural field visit, Notre Dame sent teams to Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Beirut, Lebanon. Students traveling to Sarajevo include: Keith Flatley, George Cleveland, Ilija Filipov, Derrick Harmon, Tim Rentenbach and Mike Colucci. The Beirut team includes: Matt Whebbe, Margot Woolley, Drew Hill, Michael Powers, Griffin Collins, Chris Wittman and Bo Han. Student Dan Sweet is acting as a “home base” coordinator.

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