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21st Sep 2019

Bosnia unrest a 'wake-up call' for EU

  • Tear gas canister: Corruption and unemployment in Bosnia have sparked wide-spread protest (Photo: Tilemahos Efthimiadis)

Protests in Bosnia are a “wake-up call” for the European Union, amid the worst civil unrest since end of the 1992-1995 war.

“I think what happened there was a wake-up call for the European Union and to the international community,” UK’s minster for foreign affairs William Hague told reporters in Brussels on Monday (10 February).

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Hague said there is a need to focus more effort on helping Bosnia towards European Union membership, so that stagnation in Bosnian politics and government can come to an end.

“I think this will become a more important issue over the coming months,” he noted.

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in the sixth day of protests and are demanding the resignation of the government, while local politicians in four cantons have already stepped down.

Two government buildings in Sarajevo were ransacked last week following the closure of a factory in Tuzla, a city with a Muslim majority.

Protests also took root in Croat-dominated cities including Mostar and in the Serb capital Banja Luka. Demonstrations have reportedly spread to some 30 towns.

Rampant corruption, political infighting along ethnic lines, and 40 percent unemployment are said to have pushed people to the edge.

One demonstrator told the New York Times that the biggest fear for the politicians is a united people.

For his part, Sweden’s foreign minister Carl Bildt laid the blame on government infighting and neglect of pressing issues, such as economic reform.

“They spend to much time blaming things on each other instead of actually looking at themselves,” he said.

Asked what the EU could do help, Bildt said the solution to Bosnia’s problems is in the hands of their elected officials: “They need to help themselves. At the end of the day, Bosnia is the responsibility of the elected politicians of Bosnia.”

Meanwhile, the European Parliament’s lead negotiator on Bosnia and Herzegovina, German centre-right Doris Pack, said the lack of interest from the country’s political leaders to consolidate and develop a common state has helped fuel unrest.

The EU granted Bosnia potential candidate status in 2003.

But a European Commission progress report last year on Bosnia found it had made “very limited progress” towards EU membership.

“A shared vision by the political representatives on the overall direction and future of the country, or on how it should function, remains absent,” it noted.

Bosnia’s decentralised government and complex political system involves a three-person presidency shared between Bosnia's Serb, Croat and Muslim Bosniak communities.

The country is divided into two entities, with a Bosniak-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Bosnian Serb Republic, or Republika Srpska.

Each has its own president, government, parliament, and police.

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