Nationalism seems to have become the mainstay of political rhetoric everywhere these days, but nowhere has it become more entrenched and, above all, more harmful than in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The recent elections provided new confirmation that there can be no inter-ethnic cooperation and multiculturalism while three constituent nations lead political parties that are based on pure nationalism, instead of on political programmes and ideas.
Dayton Agreement focused solely on ending the war, but the power-sharing agreement has given birth to a political reality no state should want. Since it aimed to appease the waring sides, no one is entirely happy with what they got.
This, combined with an entrenched quota system that bureaucratizes ethnic belonging at every level of government, has created an environment in which ethno-nationalist parties rule the day, where playing the politics of fear against the “other(s)” is the dominant political tactic.
Bosniak, Serb and Croat leaders are ready – purely for the sake of ensuring their survival in power – to prolong the disastrous, and dangerous, situation that has made Bosnia-Herzegovina a dysfunctional country with a mammoth administration and has cat a shadow over its European integration prospects.
It has once again been confirmed that the extent to which national parties are capable of selling ethnic patriotism is only matched by their inability to offer citizens tangible solutions to their problems. An opportunity for a mandate to be given to reforms has again been missed.
From the Bosniak-Croat Federation to Republika Srpska, the echelons of candidates in this theatre of the absurd competed in mutual accusations, espousing corny phrases about the European future and speaking about continuity. It is sad that only one candidate made the economy a priority of his campaign.
Voters wondered if there can be an end to this continuity in a country where corruption, disrespect for the rule of law, poverty and a lack of political interest in improving citizens’ standard of living are the raw reality in a country that was abandoned last year alone by 60,000 people (Bosniaks and Serbs), leading to their diaspora becoming the largest in Europe.
The new three-member Presidency of B-H is a bleak announcement of the extension of the status quo, and – given the degree of animosity – a question arises as to whether the Bosniak, Serb and Croat who represent the collective presidency can even get together for coffee.
The threesome selected serve to grotesquely suggest that Bosnia will not have a place in the EU for a long time, and that life will not be better for its citizens for a long time. Bosniaks have no eyes to see the Serb member, who to date served as the President of Republika Srpska and who has for years, with the strong support of Moscow, issued separatist threats. Dodik is a kind of one-man Serb-nationalist machine widely seen as the most hate-mongering politician of the post-Yugoslav era.
Zagreb is angry with the new Croat member of the Presidency – which it alleges was elected by the votes of Bosniaks – because he has announced that B-H will file a lawsuit against Croatia over a disputed bridge in the border region. Croatian daily Vecernji List ran the headline: “The Wahhabis Voted for Atheist Komsic to Finally Remove a Croatian Catholic.”
The Serb member of the Presidency is encouraging his Croatian colleague on the idea of his Herceg-Bosna becoming a third entity, and thus further destroying Bosniak dreams of a powerful unitary state, and applauding him for the lawsuit, but everything comes undone when the Croat considers that B-H should recognise the independence of Kosovo.
All combinations are in play, just as they were during the 1992-95 war, when at certain times and in different locations Bosniaks and Croats were against Serbs, Serbs and Bosniaks were against Croats, and Serbs and Croats were against Bosniaks.
The endless nationalist posturing is not stopping, while there are no political reforms, the parliament is marginalised, and a new blockade of federal institutions is being threatened. Nationalist’s reinforce one another.
The echoes of unresolved ethnic conflicts are spreading throughout the region and beyond, with each player finding allies beyond the borders of B-H: enchanted by the pan-Erdogan movement, Bosniak leaders see their salvation in Ankara, while Bosnian Serbs see theirs in Belgrade and Moscow, and Bosnian-Croats look to Zagreb.
The B-H elections confirmed the existence of conflicting interests of foreign powers in the Western Balkans, which is turning into a “crawling Cold War” in which, unlike the previous one, there are more than two stakeholders.
However, Bosnia has a solution: kick out the nationalists, replace them with politicians who have policies – leftist, rightist, centrist, whatever. Multipolarity will ensure more effective interethnic cooperation and multiculturalism.
How much can the EU help Bosnia, and the whole of the Western Balkans? For now, only a little. Well-intentioned foreigners should finally recognize that they are not better at resolving Bosnia’s problems than the Bosnians themselves.
Brussels will first have to redefine what the EU is, on which principles and values it is based. For now we have two proposals: a liberal and a illiberal Union. I’m afraid that the second option has more followers among the region’s nationalists and populists.
Vienna Nov 22, 2018
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