Tuesday

24th Jan 2017

Analysis

Bosnia: Dangerous referendum ignores real problems

  • The Bosnian parliament in Sarajevo. "Until today, the primary task for the local political elites has been to maintain the status quo," says an anti-corruptio activist (Photo: Jennifer Boyer)

War rhetoric and threats of break-up are the most powerful campaign tool for politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) before local elections scheduled for 2 October.

Local issues, like the fact that citizens of Sarajevo do not have 24-hour supply of water, have been eclipsed by a referendum organised in the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska (RS) that has reignited ethnic and political divisions.


Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

On 25 September, Bosnian Serb president Milorad Dodik is seeking public support for the Day of Republika Srpska to continue to be celebrated on 9 January, the day when in 1992 the RS was declared. It is often considered as the forerunner to the four-year war in the country.

The Republika Srpska is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina's two entities, with the federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is mainly populated by Bosniaks and Croats.

Bosnia's constitutional court ruled that the referendum was illegal because it was discriminatory against non-Serbs living in RS.

The Peace and Implementation Council (PIC), an ad hoc body of 55 countries and agencies that supports the peace process, “urged RS authorities not to hold the referendum."

"Asking voters to declare themselves on a matter already decided by the Constitutional Court is destabilising, and is creating political tensions which are an unhelpful distraction from the very serious economic and social challenges," in the country, the PIC said in a statement.

Bosnia's peace guarantors added that they "will not tolerate any violation of the peace agreement … There will be no redrawing of the map of BiH."

The statement was not signed by Russia, a traditional supporter of Serbs.

Threat to the peace

On Monday (5 September), after a meeting in Brussels with Bosnia's current leader, Denis Zvizdic, EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn insisted that decisions taken by the Constitutional court are binding.

In Sarajevo, Bosniak politicians see the vote, which will cost the deeply indebted RS over €700,000, as a prelude to another one, this time on the entity's secession, which Dodik wants to be held in 2018.

Dodik, who has run the entity for 10 years as prime minister then president, is seen by many as the most serious threat to Bosnia's fragile peace.

It the third time that he has threatened a referendum on questions that undermine the existence of the state, on independence, or on the authority of Bosnia's judiciary.

Each time the international community issued warnings, neighbouring countries refused to interfere, and referendums were never held.

Meanwhile, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which formally applied for EU membership in February, remains in a difficult socio-economic situation.

Since the end of the war in 1995, and despite enormous international help, the country has become one of the poorest countries in Europe. The unemployment rate is more than 27 percent, and over 60 percent for young people.

Maintaining the status-quo

Politicians claim that their goal is to bring the country closer to the EU, but the level of corruption remains high among them.

"Until today, the primary task for the local political elites has been to maintain the status quo," Srdjan Blagovcanin, chair of the board of Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina, told EUobserver.

"Implementation of reforms could endanger their position and took away the almost limitless power they gained, and which they use entirely for their personal benefit," he said.

He added that since "the establishment of a functional state and of the rule of law will put them at risk of prosecution … their main strategy is to pretend they want reforms” without actually making them.

Srdan Puhalo, a sociologist and activist from Banja Luka, wrote on his blog that politicians who are inciting war should be sanctioned. But he deplored that there is nobody to sanction them.

"The judiciary, the police and all security agencies are controlled by them … We only have people who are doing their job more or less well, but they are all the time available to serve their ethnic groups. Or, better to say, to serve the political option that brought them to that position,” he said.

Most of the media are controlled by political parties and rarely cover topics relevant for citizens at the local level.

Quarrels over the Republika Srpska referendum and war rhetoric often cover the voices of citizens. Except on social networks, these voices - that are not lonely - are unheard by the wider public.

'It is time for you to retire'

In recent open letter published by the online magazine Buka, based in RS's capital Banja Luka, columnist Dragan Bursac called on Dodik to resign.

Bursac wrote that Dodik's referendum was unacceptable. He pointed out that politicians who dragged the country into war in 1992 did not have to fight or loose their children in war.

“It is time for you to retire," he wrote to the Bosnian Serb leader.

"You are saying that you still can do a lot in politics, and I trust you. But, please, don’t. I can tolerate what have you done in the past and what are you doing in the present, but the future, please don’t. And we will start everything from the very beginning. Without you.”

In Sarajevo, a citizen called Eldin Kurbasic posted a text on Facebook where he described the war as he saw it as a young soldier, with all its horrors. His post had such an impact that in was republished by several newspapers.

“To anybody who is inciting war, do not do that if you are not ready to go through all this, maybe even something 10 times more difficult, you and your sons,” he wrote.

This article is the third in a series about the situation in Western Balkan countries. The first one was from Croatia, and the second one from Serbia.

EU offers Denmark backdoor to Europol

Denmark's government and political parties are examining a draft agreement that would secure links with Europol starting May 2017, in a follow-up to a referendum last year that rejected full membership into the EU law enforcement agency.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Influence of Turkish Politics in Europe After the Coup Attempt
  2. World VisionEU Urged to do Better Ahead of Helsinki Conference on Syria
  3. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  4. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  5. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  6. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  7. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  9. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  10. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  11. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism
  12. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London

Latest News

  1. EU says milk protest 'difficult to understand'
  2. Future of euro on EU agenda This WEEK
  3. Pope warns populism could lead to 'saviours' like Hitler
  4. How the EU can protect the world’s forest by tackling corruption
  5. Leftist newcomer takes lead in French Socialist primary
  6. Far-right groups pledge allegiance ahead of elections
  7. Trump pledges US-first foreign policy
  8. GMO opt-out plan remains in waiting room

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhDs Across Europe on the Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU - Apply Now!
  2. Dialogue PlatformInterview: Fethullah Gulen Condemns Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey
  3. Zero Waste EuropePublic Support Needed to Promote Zero Waste in More Municipalities
  4. Belgrade Security ForumEU Cannot Afford to Ignore the Western Balkans as Populism Surges
  5. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen Calls for an Investigation on the Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey
  6. World VisionAmid EU Talks on Migration, Children on the Move Remain Forgotten and Unprotected
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersAlex Salmond Receives Coppieters Award for His Service to Scotland and Europe
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsStrong Support for Hamburg Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
  9. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Use Bioenergy Coming From Forests in a Sustainable Way?
  10. Counter BalanceReport Reveals Corrupt but Legal Practices in Development Finance
  11. Swedish EnterprisesMEPs and Business Representatives Debate on the Future of the EU at Winter Mingle
  12. ACCAFifty Key Factors in the Public Sector Accountants Need to Prepare for