On the slopes of the Vlašić Mountain, between the Ilovska, Ugra, and Cvrcka Rivers, some fifty kilometers southeast from Banjaluka, Kneževo is located – a town and county in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of Srpska.
One of the most detrimental changes that happened, just like in most other smaller and underdeveloped counties in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and which mercilessly affected Kneževo, is its demographical problem. Before the war, more than 19,000 people lived here, while today, according to the latest census, this number is below 10,000, mostly comprised of people living in rural areas. Aside from that, the Kneževo County belongs to an array of extremely underdeveloped counties in the Republic of Srpska, while the census from 2013 showed that it is one of the two or three municipalities with the highest numbers of illiterate citizens.
The industrial situation in Kneževo was very bad. In the recent years, several factories where people in this county had the opportunity to work have been closed or bankrupted. Thus in MTK “Metalotehna”, a company which used to produce railway parts, the bankruptcy procedure was finalized a long time ago, while in Drvna industrija “Omar” a.d. Kneževo, the process is ongoing.
A rare example of somewhat larger industrial successes is the shoe factory “Dermal” from Kotor Varoš, which opened a production facility in Kneževo and employed 90 workers last year. Aside from that, one of these days the “Iron Tech” company from Čelnica, which produces construction and security system equipment, is expected to open a factory in Kneževo and employ 10 workers.
A little over 1,400 residents of Kneževo are currently employed, out of which 600 work in public companies, and a little over 800 in the private sector. When it comes to investments, the county administration gave us no information regarding the amounts in the last 10 years.
Such overall state of affairs has had an effect on how eager the youth of Kneževo is to dedicate some of its time to cultural activities. This was most accurately described to us by Mirjana Keleman, the president of the organization “Mladi aktivisti – Kneževo”.
Emphasizing that the Organization is currently dormant, and that it hasn’t renewed its membership this year, Keleman says: “Around ten of us get together when there is a project to do. We used to do a lot of those, but this year we fell behind. We simply lost the will and directed our energy toward fighting with our own lives”.
On the other hand, it is interesting to note, our second interviewee, president of the association SPKD “Prosvjeta” Kneževo Mrđan Mitrović is satisfied with the support from the county that his association is receiving. “Our local authorities are currently very supportive and helpful, unlike the ones before them, and we are looking forward to an even better cooperation in the future”, said Mitrović, whose association has 100 members divided into several groups, such as the female singers group and the accordion section.
“Difficulties are, as with most associations in our field of work, of financial nature”, Mitrović emphasized after all.
Given that, on average, they will have to wait for their opportunity to work for more than seven years, the generation growing up in Kneževo will have to be patient. Otherwise, unless things change rapidly, a little over 700 elementary school children, and almost two hundred high schoolers who are being educated in Kneževo will leave this county.