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Post-election challenges in Bosnia

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MOSTAR, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: Bosnian soldiers salute to the flag within the 79th Statehood Day celebrations in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina on November 25, 2022. (Samır Jordamovıc - Anadolu Agency)
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Dec 01, 2022 - 12:51 AM

ISTANBUL (AA) – Bosnian elections held on October 2 is one of the most important after independence of the state. The results demonstrate that huge political tensions in the country will not be solved. Moreover, it is clear that Bosnia and Herzegovina entered a turbulent period which will describe its future.

Although electoral process had major lapses, mostly at the level of voting for president of entity Republika Srpska, including opposition Serb parties protesting against the results, significant changes did not occur and Milorad Dodik became president (He was the president of Republika Srpska from 2010 to 2018). On November 2, when results were officially announced political parties were clearly aware of their position within political body and their possibilities during negotiations for establishment of governments at all levels in Bosnia and Herzegovina which are cantonal level in Federation of BiH, entity level and finally state level.

The most sensible situation is within Bosniak political spectrum. Dominant party remained SDA (Party of Democratic Action) with high percentages of support at state and entity level, while for the cantonal assemblies rates are increased in Tuzla, Zenica and Travnik region. Canton Sarajevo, in that sense, represents a sore spot, true Achilles’ heel for SDA especially because crucial political battle within Bosniaks is happening right here.

On the contrary, the Alliance of Three (Social Democrat Party, Our Party and People and Justice) since 2018 managed to be in power in Sarajevo trying and advocating to create similar concept at higher levels. Taking only percentages and numbers into account it is obvious that SDA should be main partner for Serb and Croat parties. But political development in Sarajevo encouraged smaller parties. Most of them started to count on their “piece of power” on the basis of ambiguous election threshold of 3%. It is enough to become parliamentary party in Bosnia for gaining enormous power in the process of establishment of government. That is why the Three is eagerly trying to gather small parties under a new umbrella called the Eight, and expel SDA from power.

This process, as any other, has its own difficulties. Simply it is not easy to firmly hold the actors together who are quite different ideologically, historically, in size or personnel capacity. The Eight is counting on the united voice provided by radical left to radical right political wings -what looks like a mission impossible from the beginning. What is real advantage for the Eight is support and extraordinary commitment of international actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in particular the US Embassy and its Ambassador Murphy who is more like a cowboy in the saloon and out of diplomatic practice.

Engagement of international actors in election processRepublika Srpska

Taking all processes into account one can ask what reason lays behind that sneaky action by representatives of international community. One narration is circulating in Bosnian public saying that Westerners would like to start process of “deradicalization of Bosnian politics” through elimination of strong nationalist political subjects. In that sense comparing to HDZ (Croatian Democratic Community led by Dragan Covic) or SNSD (Union of Independent Social Democrats led by Milorad Dodik), SDA is more moderate. Although SDA has is a strong opposition party, Dodik has strong rule for a long period of time and Covic has no serious challenges within Croatian voters. As such the dominant Bosniak political subject is about to be out of Westerners favor.

That approach has major shortcomings. First of all, there is no respect for the will of the voters supporting a particular political subject. Having in mind that SDA is mostly representative of Bosniak conservative population the message sent to them by Westerners has a negative undertone. SDA was and still is a leader in democratization of the country. This is the main reason why within Bosniak spectrum there exists so many political parties and different ideological concepts. Thus the message is becoming more sinister.

Secondly, High Representative Christian Schmidt intervened in Electoral Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina giving advantageous position to Croats (one could say that is more precise to say that he favored HDZ) — what also made changes in the Constitution of entity Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. By that action he undoubtedly gave huge power to HDZ and consequently made Bosniaks, as the most numerous people (60% at the state level, and about 78% at the entity level), less valuable, which is also a message that a large part of the public still cannot deal with. In addition to the above-mentioned deprivation of the will of the voters, this fact completely worries Bosniaks, who are becoming an object of European politics, rather than their interlocutor. Apparently Westerners would like to have different type of Bosniaks or no Bosniaks at all.

Three lessons

The narrative about the deradicalization of Bosnian politics ends with a promise. Although the SDA developed democratic processes and institutions in the realms where it had power, its elimination will lead to positive processes within the other two nations. Eventually there will be a domino effect in which new and pro-democratic movements occur within Serbs and Croats. Sounds nice? Of course. Is it real? Out of the logic.

There are two lessons from history that all of us should take seriously. When a strong Bosniak political subject loses its position and is replaced by a very strange coalition of parties and individuals, the nationalist neighboring policies will have an easier way to attack Bosnian statehood trying to realize their goals. For Bosniaks it means trouble and unfortunate deployments. Actually, there is a third lesson too. Westerners will turn a blind eye to and wait for the Serbs and Croats to finish the job. Pretending that they do not know what is going on. That kind of development is a clear call for seriousness.

*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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