A Bosnian Spring?

By Jan Lieb­nitzky.


20 years after the Day­ton Agree­ment there is some­thing going wrong in Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina (BiH). Despite the imple­men­ta­tion of a remark­able recon­struc­tion and devel­op­ment pro­gram after the war until today, cor­rupt and incom­pe­tent polit­i­cal elites rein the coun­try. Unem­ploy­ment rate is at min­i­mum 40 per cent and young peo­ple and rur­al areas are even worse off. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, espe­cial­ly these groups express their dis­sat­is­fac­tion in the last days: stu­dents and unem­ployed went protest­ing first in the provin­cial cap­i­tal Tuzla, where the shut­down of sev­er­al fac­to­ries trig­gered the protests. After a week these protests enlarged to Sara­je­vo, too.

Sur­pris­ing­ly, pro­tes­tors burnt down a gov­ern­ment build­ing in Sara­je­vo already the sec­ond day of the demon­stra­tions. Peace­ful forms of protests such as ban­ners and shout­ing slo­gans were miss­ing. Peo­ple say that clas­si­cal forms of polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion, such as polit­i­cal par­ty par­tic­i­pa­tion and elec­tions are not enough for change in this coun­try, because par­ties stay with­in their eth­no-polit­i­cal bound­aries. Ask­ing why there have not been peace­ful protests on the first hand, peo­ple often reply that this is “not use­ful for real progress” and has been done already in last year’s sum­mer when peo­ple went protest­ing against the bureau­crat­ic reg­is­tra­tion of new-borns.

After the ini­tial rag­ing protests, peo­ple gath­er more peace­ful­ly now but also less fre­quent­ed. Cit­i­zen assem­blies and coun­cils for dif­fer­ent pol­i­cy issues are set up to draft polit­i­cal demands. In Tuzla some of these demands have been accept­ed already by the gov­ern­ment. Inter alia the ongo­ing pay­ment for resigned politi­cians has been can­celled. Fur­ther, many politi­cians resigned due to the protests. How­ev­er, the broad pub­lic seems not to par­tic­i­pate in the demon­stra­tions – at most a cou­ple of hun­dred maybe few thou­sand pro­test­ers filled the streets. This is why the legit­i­ma­cy of the demands by the cit­i­zen coun­cils is questionable.

And protests are not tak­ing place every­where in BIH: the Day­ton Agree­ment divid­ed the coun­try in two inde­pen­dent enti­ties fos­ter­ing eth­ni­cal divi­sion. In Repub­li­ka Srp­s­ka (RS) Ser­bians are in the major­i­ty. Bosni­aks (Bosn­ian Mus­lims) and Croats are liv­ing espe­cial­ly in the Fed­er­a­tion of Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina. As small dis­trict called Brčko has a spe­cial sta­tus and is gov­erned by both enti­ties. Protests are occur­ring main­ly int he Fed­er­a­tion of Bosnia and Herze­gov­ina and are not like­ly to expand to RS. On the con­trary, Ser­bian politi­cians put effort in under­lin­ing the eth­nic root of the protests. Mr. Dodik, the RS pres­i­dent, point­ed out that “pro­test­ers are main­ly Bosni­aks” and that pol­i­tics in RS is doing much bet­ter than in the Fed­er­a­tion. How­ev­er, pro­test­ers have all kinds of eth­nic back­ground, which is not a mat­ter for dis­crim­i­na­tion with­in the demonstrations.

The rhetoric of Ser­bian politi­cians seems suc­cess­ful. In RS only small and infre­quent protests occurred, often con­front­ed with counter-demon­stra­tions. This should be quite in the inter­est of neigh­bor­ing states Croa­t­ia and Ser­bia. As much as the Day­ton Agree­ment divid­ed BiH in the inside, it still found­ed a sov­er­eign and sta­ble state in the Balkan region. Ser­bia and Croa­t­ia have lit­tle inter­est in a polit­i­cal­ly unsteady neigh­bor, since both of them are doing com­par­a­tive­ly well eco­nom­i­cal­ly and polit­i­cal­ly. Croa­t­ia is the youngest mem­ber state of the Euro­pean Union (EU) and Ser­bia has tak­en up acces­sion nego­ti­a­tions. What is BiH doing wrong, that it seems to float away from EU?


The Euro­pean Progress Report 2013 to BiH about the eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion con­cern­ing EU rap­proche­ment is dis­il­lu­sion­ing in almost every point: Bosn­ian politi­cians have failed to imple­ment impor­tant changes to the con­sti­tu­tion with regard to equal­i­ty and dis­crim­i­na­tion in polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion. After the Euro­pean Court of Human Rights Sejdic-Fin­ci rul­ing, BiH failed to allow Jews and Roma e.g. to get vot­ed for pres­i­den­cy. Fur­ther, a com­mon con­tact per­son for EU relat­ed issues in the gov­ern­ment has not been cre­at­ed. The rea­son for these polit­i­cal short­com­ings can be found in the self-block­ade of the nation­al gov­ern­ment of BiH. Every eight months anoth­er of the total three pres­i­dents, rep­re­sent­ing an eth­nic group respec­tive­ly, rotates into office anew. Long-term sus­tain­able and coher­ent polit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tion­al reforms are thus obstruct­ed from.

In sum, the protests show that of many peo­ple are dis­sat­is­fied with the polit­i­cal elites and their eco­nom­ic sit­u­a­tion. This cumu­lat­ed to vio­lent actions dur­ing the demon­stra­tions two weeks ago. It is ques­tion­able if this will bring deci­sive polit­i­cal change to the coun­try. The country’s path to the EU will be blocked, if eth­ni­cal bound­aries are not over­come to fight polit­i­cal stand­still. There­fore, it is under­stand­able that young and well-edu­cat­ed Bosni­ans try to leave the coun­try or express their rage in the streets.

Jan Lieb­nitzky cur­rent­ly stud­ies psy­chol­o­gy and eco­nom­ics at TU Dres­den. At the moment he finalis­es his the­sis of diplo­ma with the top­ic of mor­al­iz­ing process­es and atti­tudes con­cern­ing human­i­tar­i­an interventions.


The views and opin­ions expressed in this arti­cle are those of the author.

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