Europe, Headlines, Human Rights

EUROPE: Bosnia Progresses to a New Mess

Apostolis Fotiadis

SARAJEVO, Oct 5 2010 (IPS) - Elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina last Sunday have passed without changing much. Bosnian voters had a difficult political scene to tackle.

Bosnia’s political system arising from the Dayton agreement of 1995 is the most complicated in Europe, if not the world. It maintains strong entities, namely the almost exclusively Serbian Republica Serpska (RS) and the Bosniak-Croat Federation.

Declared moderates Bakir Izetbegovic, son of Bosnia’s wartime leader Alija Izetbegovic, and Croat Zeljko Komsic were heading the polls for the Bosniak and Croat presidency seats respectively. Separatist Nebojsa Radmanovic was being re-elected to the Serb post.

Bosnia is a state in endless limbo. Unemployment rose to 42.7 percent at the beginning of this summer. Despite going into debt to limit the effects of recession, it’s unlikely that economic prospects will improve as long as corruption is not tamed.

Ivana Korajlic from Transparency International in Bosnia and Herzegovina told IPS there is evidence of widespread corruption. “There have been many cases of conflict of interest involving highly placed officials, misuse of public funds, irregularities in public procurement, and many other forms of political corruption.”

This is in a situation when the media are not free, he says. “The media are still exposed to political pressure and, especially in RS.” In the Federation, he said, one of the candidates for presidency is the owner of a TV station and newspapers, and another TV station (TV1) is owned by representatives of another political party (Stranka za BiH). “Therefore, it is evident that media are commonly used for party purposes.”

In the months preceding the elections, media have inflated ethnic animosity and political polarisation. This is a result of mutual mistrust but also of abuse of the public’s insecurities by politicians, says Florian Bieber, professor at the University of Graz and a specialist on Bosnia.

“There has been pressure in the first half of the 2000s to reduce the power of the RS, and Milorad Dodik (leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats and current PM of RS) used this pressure as a means to consolidate his power and justify his policies.”

Dodik is becoming the premier of RS again after this election, and his secessionist politics do not offer much hope for compromise. Last winter he threatened to call a referendum on independence if RS was pressured to concede powers to central institutions.

Haris Silajdzic, Bosniak representative to the presidency during the last four years has not refrained from extreme statements during his campaign either. He has called for replacement of the ethnic voting system established by Dayton with a more civic oriented one, something that Serbs consider an existential threat.

Underdevelopment and recession are looming, but neither side seems willing to compromise on ethnic priorities for a better future. On the contrary “identity politics is often cloaked in social and economic policies,” says Bieber.

“While clearly many citizens are economically badly off and Bosnia continues to lag behind its neighbours in terms of reform, not even the Social Democrats have been able to develop a cross-ethnic and cross-entity strategy to draw on this latent dissatisfaction. As nearly all parties campaign only for one ethnic constituency, all politics is first ethnic and only then also economic.”

Given that the stalemate is going to remain in the long run, new developments in the region may lead to changes in Bosnia. Following the International Court of Justice opinion last July that Kosovo’s declaration of independence did not violate international law, Dodik said there would be repercussions in Bosnia, and the issue would be discussed in depth after the elections. Riots subsequently broke out in Sanjak in Serbia, with the Bosniak Muslim minority confronting the Serbian police.

The best solution is to quickly open the way to Europe, says Bieber. “The international community should push Bosnia to work enough to join the EU, not to any particular institutional solution. What needs to happen is to make institutions functional and build a consensus on certain types of governance, especially in regard to EU integration.”

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