Post-election Bosnia and Herzegovina: Power to the citizens!
They lined up again: Those who believed in their ideals, with their posters of Josip Broz Tito in their youth; the old men, who had then been bursting with their youth and irresistible desire for action, now bowed their heads; those who had stood so defensively against fascism. Full of pride, they quickly set caps with a red five-pointed star and walked into the old Bosnian royal city of Jajce to meet their old comrades.
A group of several hundred antifascists who came from all sides; they gathered in memory of the historic session of the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ) in November 1943, which paved way for the country's establishment after the end of the German occupation. As a reminder of this event, old flags flashed again. A young partisan woman from Carinthia explained why this had not been a mere gathering of nostalgic people: in view of the growing number of nationalist movements around the world, with regard to racist and anti-liberal forces, the anti-fascist ideology was more important than ever before. Especially here, in the Balkans.
However, it is extremely questionable whether these messages reach the political actors in the region, because it seems that the devastating ideologies that led to the wars in the Balkans in the 1990s and took hundreds of thousands of human lives are as powerful today as they were when the wars began.
General elections in BiH: political clowns and destructivists
This is most obvious in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nationalist parties continue to dominate the political scene with their hate paradigms, as if the last 23 years since the end of the war never happened. Even the October General Elections failed to bring about any major changes in terms of this issue: the tripartite BiH Presidency has never been more divisive since the end of the war. With the former President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, the highest state position was assumed by an actor who announced a fierce fight against the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its current structure formulated by the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995.
Among other things, the newly elected Presidency Chairman refused in a clown-like manner to accept even that the flag of BiH is displayed beside him. As a sign of protest, Dodik organizes receptions in East Sarajevo, which are dominated by Serbs. Recently, on January 9th, he celebrated in Banja Luka a "holiday", which was characterized as an anti-constitutional. The guest of honour this time was the Prime Minister of Serbia, Ana Brnabić, who had previously stated that the borders in the region were "on the table". The anti-constitutional celebration was also attended by: a Serb war criminal and two Croat like-minded individuals – HDZ head Dragan Čović and Croatian ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Ivan Del Vechio, who was immediately summoned to Zagreb and recalled.
Former President of Croatia, Stipe Mesić, who made efforts during his mandate to calm the relations between the countries after the war, was shocked by Croatia's presence at the celebration of a banned holiday: Čović has been on the same road as Dodik for a long time - both are planning the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mesić said. The 9th of January is indeed a day of special importance in the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On this date, leaders of Serb nationalists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, three months before the beginning of the war, proclaimed the "Srpska Republika" - its establishment triggered ethnic cleansing and killing of everything that was non-Serb. The fact that Serb and Croat extremists are now openly celebrating this day shows malicious parallels in relation to the political situation that was present on the eve of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It remains to be seen how far Dodik will go in his undermining of this country of which he is the President. One may raise the doubt, with good reason, that the High Representative, who was initially set up by the International Community, will act to secure peace and prevent damage - whether he wants it and whether he can. The signatories to the Dayton Agreement have been allowing the actions of Dodik and other destructivists for a long time. In this way, the long-term trust in hardly achieved peace is suffering – the peace that, after three years of war, ended the violent demise of the B&H state that Croat Tuđman and Serb Milošević had wanted to divide up among themselves.
HDZ’s propaganda: A Croat who may not be one
This time a Presidency member position is filled by Šefik Džaferović as a representative of Bosniaks. He is a person of trust of the once powerful head of clan, Bakir Izetbegović, whose SDA, with its open partnership with Turkey and Arab investments, does not make all Muslims happy. The SDA is deeply involved in corruption and nepotism. In the end, many Bosniaks voted out of fear for the party whose rating decreased, as it promised them security and, above all, secured jobs for them.
Demoratic Front’s Željko Komšić, who had already been member of BiH Presidency twice, was elected as the third representative in the Presidency. Komšić is certainly one, no matter how small, bright point in politics, which still has a strong nationalistic character. During the election campaign, he announced that his intention to strengthen the civic principle in the country. If during his mandate he really contributes to every citizen‘s better understanding and fulfillment of their rights and obligations, it would be an important step in the right direction, a step towards membership in the European Union. However, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been so far a state without citizens, without any permanent and long-term movement of emancipation in relation to power clans and their leaders.
Whether those few liberal, democratically-minded actors will be able to weaken the dominance of the ethnonational principle, depends largely on the extent to which they are able to confront the hatred narratives that are circling around. It is peculiar that the representatives of the Croat-nationalist HDZ complain about Komšić being elected in an illegitimate manner. This is an absurd theory that is seen by law experts as unfounded. It can easily be seen through why the HDZ rejects to accept this Croat: Komšić’s problem is the fact that, even though he is a Croat, he is not a member of the powerful, nationalist HDZ, which, actually, considers that Bosnia and Herzegovina - at least its one-third parity- should permanently remain under its influence. Croats tried to ethnically clean one part of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to join the Croat state in the war through the Herzeg-Bosnia, a criminal parastate. The War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague has convicted the protagonists of this “greater Croatian” intent to more than 100 years in prison, among other for crimes against humanity.
The HDZ apparently did not give up on these old goals. The party that gathers Croats wants at all costs to create its own, third entity, de facto a state within the state. Its sister party in neighboring Croatia supports this radical Croat party, whose president Dragan Čović always openly opposed the civic principle. The Croatian Government led by the HDZ has not missed a single opportunity since the elections to interfere in the internal affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Obviously, its problem lies in the fact that without hardliner Dragan Čović in high positions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, HDZ would lose its influence in the fragile neighboring country - which would result in loss of influence of the Government headed by the HDZ in Zagreb.
Croatia's interference – former High Representatives wrote a protest letter
At the end of the year, alarmed by the constant interference of Zagreb, three former top peace keepers, Carl Bildt, Paddy Ashdown and Christian Schwarz-Schilling expressed their reactions to the situation. The three diplomats criticized the interference in an open letter sent to the EU Commissioner Federica Mogherini, arguing that the constant interference of Croatia poses a danger that the EU should eventually address.
The extremists’ propaganda is indeed transmitting messages that are dangerous for Bosnia and Herzegovina: the ethnically-oriented parties declare that one candidate is not a "genuine" representative of his group. These ideologies – definitions that determine who is the alleged full member of certain people and who is not – are exactly the same ideologies that led to ethnic cleansing, war crimes and genocide in the 1990s. The international community, primarily the European Union, must vigorously oppose these ideologies if they want to avoid the danger of launching the centrifugal forces and pushing Bosnia and Herzegovina back into a catastrophe.
One thing is certain: As a state in which nationalists are on all sides, led by Serbs and Croats who openly glorify their acts committed during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnia and Herzegovina is now under such strong attacks that have not been seen for a long time. Dodik and Čović show their partnership in a demonstrative manner - not only this evil alliance is a renewed threat to peace and order established by Dayton.
In addition, while Dodik is fully openly advocating for his dream of merging with Serbia, Croats mask their plans on a unified state with the concept of federalism and equality. The former High Representative of the International Community Schwarz-Schilling made it quite clear: a persistent discourse on even greater decentralization, i.e. the federalization of Bosnia and Herzegovina, does not mean anything other than the way towards the emergence of Greater Croatia and Greater Serbia.
Instead of politics being the key to dealing with increasingly difficult economic and environmental problems, nationalists are continuously suppressing any positive development. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, for many years, the democratic system has stagnated (Economist Democracy Index). Within the region, Bosnia and Herzegovina takes the last position on its path towards the EU integration.
New constellations bring hope
Coalition at the state level is still under the process of establishment and they are dominated by the hard-line parties – SNSD, HDZ, and SDA. On the other side, the establishment of alternative alliances beyond the ruling nationalist structures at the local level shows aspirations towards a positive development in the future. For example, a new canton government in Sarajevo Canton may be established without the Bosniak SDA – new coalition consists of six parties, a bloc of civil-liberal leftists and social democrats. They are joined by the party of President Željko Komšić and the multi-ethnic Naša stranka (Our Party) which is one of few forces in the country that rely on genuine policy solutions.
In addition to the education sector which is marked by strong segregation and which is used by parties to breed a new generation of convinced ethnonationalists, serious problems of ecology and energy must be addressed. Sanela Klarić, a university professor and newly elected MP in the Federation Parliament, a member of Our Party, sketches her idea: "We really want to tackle the problems and build a policy for citizens." Klarić, who has been engaged for years with a non-governmental organization in combating climate change, is a good example of the fact that in the recent elections the citizens voted for renewing the system.
This principle is also followed by Mirsad Hadžikadić, a university professor of BiH origin from the USA. As an independent candidate for a member of the Presidency without his own party apparatus, he won about ten percent of votes in the elections. Significant success for a newcomer in BiH politics, who, unlike many other actors, says that he follows a clear reform strategy for Bosnia and Herzegovina which he wants to modernize.
Through his newly established "Platform for Change", Hadžikadić and his young supporters want to create new perspectives and oppose mass exodus that has already become alarming. While the nationalist elites have so far used the state for their own benefit and enrichment as well as providing for their relatives and party supporters, Hadžikadić wants to take positive steps that everyone will benefit from. One of his priorities is making the education depoliticised and professional.
Hadžikadić is aware of his role of a person who brings hope, the role detected by all those who are fed up with nationalism, system corruption and nepotism. He explains that it is clear that those who want change must go through the process of change themselves.
Civic awareness awakes
Undoubtedly, a part of voters in BiH launched a small, modest change - despite the rhetoric of hatred of nationalist parties, which, according to Belgrade philosopher Ivan Čolović, politicians use to keep the region in a sort of "mental state of war". It should be emphasized that, in spite of numerous attempts of manipulation and in spite of strong dependence, many voters have shown that the future they are desiring for themselves and for their children is beyond the blinded national madness.
The fact that many BiH citizens are realising what it means to be a citizen is proven by a current initiative from Mostar: a representative of Our Party, Irma Baralija, who lives in this city marked with segregation, filed a lawsuit before the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg. Since 2008, the people in the city on Neretva River have not had the opportunity vote - without the parliamentary control, the nationalist powers of the HDZ and the SDA can decide and rule at their own discretion.
According to the young politician Baralija, this should be stopped. For this purpose, a civic initiative has been established to fight for this basic human right - to elect and to be elected. Whoever in politics fears elections will show that they are afraid of the power of the citizens, the initiators claim.
It is currently being demonstrated in the Republika Srpska how the nationalists rigorously defend their power – a civic protest has been formed in Banja Luka for ten months and it should be taken seriously. After the murder of a student, the “Justice for David” movement was launched, led by the parents of the murdered young man. It rallied the citizens against the judiciary that is not doing its job and that is completely intertwined with politics. Instead of working on the case, the high-ranking politicians have tried from the very beginning to criminalize the family of the murdered young man.
Still, the protesters gathered on the main city square on a daily basis, occasionally there were tens of thousands of them expressing their solidarity with the Dragičević family.
And then, at the end of the year, the system stroke with a counter blow: pressure was made, many organisers were threatened, and arrest warrants were issued. This is not the first time that the regime in Banja Luka shows that it does not care much about human rights. The father of the murdered David avoided arrest and took shelter away from the public. In one message, he addressed the public: he does not want to give the authorities an opportunity to kill him too.