“I respect those who want a civic state, but a civic state in today's Bosnia and Herzegovina means a classic centralism, in some form, in theory, which basically means an Islamic state.”
The remark by Dragan Čović, the Croat member of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Presidency, cited by media in February 2018, is noteworthy: A rejection of the civic principle with the justification that – in BiH – it would lead to an Islamic state. A crude thesis. Why should the civic principle in a country with a majority Muslim society – and this is what Čović is hinting at – automatically lead to centralism? The civic state model, after all, constitutes the exact opposite.
To contextualize these crude claims, it must be stated that it is precisely Čović and his right-wing nationalist HDZ that are at this point doing everything to prevent the strengthening of the civic principle. Time after time, the Croat representative has turned against the secular polity, in which the dominance of ethnic groups and parties is neutralized and the citizens have a say regardless of which religious group they belong to.
In such a state, as evidenced by the case of Croatia, the legal principle is strengthened and corrupt and criminal political stakeholders have to count on facing legal consequences. It is evident that this is precisely what Čović fears – the loss of power and control over state institutions.
Certainly, the narrative that Islamism is gaining ground is being used extensively both by the HDZ in BiH and in the neighbouring country Croatia – it is perfectly suitable for vitalising enemy-images which can be used for one’s own politics, one’s own radicalisation. That the Federal Government, referring to the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), reacting to a minor enquiry by Die Linke in the Bundestag, established at about the same time that there was no concrete evidence of a progressing Islamisation, confirms how void of facts an atmosphere and politics can be created in the Balkans.
Likewise, the President of the Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik invokes the topic of “radical Islam” – “Teheran,“ as he likes to call the Bosnian-Herzegovinian capital, allegedly constitutes a threat to the Serbs. For this reason, Dodik even wanted to initiate, together with the Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, a Declaration on the “Survival of the Serb People“ – a sad travesty given the fact that the RS is the product of ethnic cleansing committed during the Bosnian War: The non-Serb population was systematically displaced, raped, killed. In Srebrenica alone, 8000 boys and men were killed. Dodik is denying the genocide to this day.
Misrepresentations and reinterpretations like this represent a typical pattern of narratives, with which political actors have been keeping the societies of the former Yugoslavia on their toes since the end of the Balkan wars: Facts are denied, in order to circulate one’s own interpretations. In order to manipulate, to exert power, to cement power. In this way, the societies are kept frozen in combat mode.
Sometimes it is claimed that the formerly common language is actually composed of three different languages: Enormous amounts are being spent to “translate” the three variants (Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian) between one another. A costly endeavour for the already Kafkaesquely inflated Bosnian-Herzegovinian state apparatus. When in fall 2017, an initiative of more than 200 linguists established that it is one language with different variants, politics intervened promptly to reply to the scholars not to get involved. Language politics is power politics. Thus, the three-language myth is cultivated and it is suggested to the population that, together with their language, their own identity is “in jeopardy“. It is propaganda that is showing a lasting impact – in the fear of the presumed threat, support is given to those who loudly promise to save their own (ethnic) group from the “enemies“ allegedly surrounding the nation.
History is being reinterpreted with calculation. For instance, a defamation campaign is being orchestrated specifically against the anti-fascist movement during World War II. The partisans, who triumphed against Nazi-Germany and fascist Croatia, are being reduced solely to their criminal machinations. Streets and squares named after Tito are, like in Zagreb, renamed, cemeteries, like in Mostar, regularly devastated.
The memory of the victorious partisans is supposed to be eliminated from the public awareness – the remembrance of the resistance to fascism is too much of an obstacle to nationalist forces. Fascism as an ideology and its radical nature is too close to what happened during the Balkan wars of the 90's and has been glorified to this date: The extinction of life, because it stood in the way of one’s own ethnic group.
One’s own deeds, the crimes of one’s own group are still hailed as heroic deeds to this day – notably the minutes of silence in the Parliament in Zagreb – in an EU country! – honouring Praljak, the Croat-Bosnian military officer found guilty in the second instance. Or the award of honour for already sentenced war criminals Plavšić, Karadžić and Krajišnik in the National Assembly of Republika Srpska. In Serbia, the sentenced war criminal Vladimir Lazarević is allowed to pass on his knowledge to students at the Military Academy in Belgrade. A country aiming to enter the EU has been relying on the "expertise" of a war criminal to train future military personnel.
In public discourse, in the largely politicised media, all these leitmotifs have been used in order to constantly fuel tensions. The division in the heads, the dichotomy of “us“ against “them“ is thus orchestrated in a continuous loop of a kind; even the most banal affairs – such as chocolate for school children – are politicised and tied to ethnic categories.
In such an environment of a cemented state of emergency, human and individual rights are systematically negated. The individual is only a cog in the collective power structures standing above all – above common law as well. The rule of law is systematically underdeveloped in all Western Balkan countries for a reason.
Likewise, the Churches are also getting enthusiastically involved, in order to sow discord: dissolution of stereotypical roles, as diagnosed recently by Berlin-based playwright and author Ivana Sajko referring to the hysterical countermovement against the Istanbul Convention for the protection of women, initiated by the Catholic Church and its supporters in Croatia, is interpreted as an attack on cultural values and religious worldview.
In the region, patriarchal, homophobic and exclusive tendencies are dominating, shaping a climate of intolerance, of exclusion, of the radical negation of all things humane and rational. The consequences are rigid defence mechanisms against progressive and secular approaches. Instead of modernity, instead of establishing welfare for all, the citizens are kept in a perpetual combat zone, from which hundreds of thousands are fleeing – without war – in order to find their happiness in work and life elsewhere, beyond the continuing radicalisations.
Everything that is abnormal, that extinguishes life, endangers or threatens it, is considered normal, even heroic – as long as it is useful to one's own group, one's own interest. By contrast, people or lifestyles not corresponding to these strictly patriarchal stereotypes are deemed to be “sick“ or "abnormal", or stigmatised as traitors.
An atmosphere prevails in which a brutal devaluation of individuals and their rights is underway: In Bosnia and Herzegovina, not all citizens possess passive electoral rights even 23 years after the war, only the three so-called constituent peoples, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. All other citizens, for instance the Jews and Roma, are denied the right to be an equal part of the political system and to help shape it – in the Presidency for instance. The three ethnic oligarchies have power-hungrily captured the political system, as Slovenian political scientist Zlatko Hadžidedić puts it, and are defending it vehemently. That this practice is contrary to European standards was established by the European Court of Human Rights already in 2009 – but with no consequences.
What constitutes right and order is being determined by a small and corrupt class – this approach has for decades blocked the formation of functional democratic systems, in which everyone would have the opportunity to claim their rights in court. The absence of institutions of the rule of law is making it easy for nepotistic elites to maintain a vacuum, in which a few clans are in charge of distributing state funds among themselves and their favourites, to allocate jobs in a feudal manner: The phenomenon of state capture is closely connected to the narratives of manipulation and abuse of power described in this edition.
In this manner, the Southeast periphery of Europe is constantly kept in crisis mode, not least due to the poor stance of the EU. This likewise constitutes an often used narrative to throw sand in the face of the representatives of the international community: They are, political representatives of all persuasions in the Balkans like to assure, evidently on the “European path“. Shake hands, a cheering: “Keep up the good work!“ And afterwards, they return to their combat zone.
Marion Kraske, Leiterin Büro Sarajevo
The German Intelligence Service
See: Kleine Anfrage der Fraktion Die Linke/Auswärtiges Amt, Drucksache 19/520, 17 January 2018
See: Documentation of the Heinrich Böll Foundation: The Quiet Revolution, Sarajevo 2017
See: Captured states in the Balkans, Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Perspectives, 2017
The EU´s Failing Policy Initiative for Bosnia and Hercegovina, DCP Policy Paper, Bodo Weber, May 2018