“THE LONG WAY JOURNEY OF BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA”
Let me explain you why Bosnia shouldn’t apply for the membership in the EU
The 20th of September 2016 is an important date for the history of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The European Council accepted the request of accession of the Western Balkans Country after the Chairman of the Presidency Dragan Čović presented the application for the membership of the European Union the 15th of February 2016. The European Council stated in its conclusions that it decided to apply the procedure established in article 49 of the Treaty on European Union. Now the European Commission has to submit a questionnaire to the Bosnian government and give its opinion on the membership application. This process could last a year. After that, the European Council will decide if or not Bosnia will be acknowledged with the status of candidate and begin the negotiation procedure for the accession to the EU.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the country included in the so-called Eastern enlargement of the EU, a quite criticised process of integration through Eastern Europe, which has already involved Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia. The process is also extending to the Western Balkans, with the accession of Croatia to the EU in 2013. The history of enlargement towards the Western Balkans began in 2003 with the summit of Thessaloniki and became a truthful priority policy of the EU, which began to sign Stabilisation and Association agreements with the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia countries. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of them, along with Serbia, Albania and even Kosovo.
The EU established bilateral relations with Bosnia in 1997, two years after the end of the war that lashed the country, providing a Reform Process Monitoring and some trade measures until 2010, year of their suspension. In 2004 the European peacekeeping mission EUFOR Althea for Bosnia, the first EU European Defence and Security Policy (EDSP) mission established, substituting the former NATO mission SFOR. Bosnia signed a Stabilisation and Association agreement with the EU in 2008, after having satisfied the condition posed by the EU, namely the reform of internal defence. In 2008 Bosnia (as a “potential candidate country” signed the agreement about financing agreement of the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA I), which gave financial support and assistance for transition and institution building and the cross-border cooperation for the Western Balkans country. In 2010, on the occasion of the EU-Balkan conference in Sarajevo, the EU decided to abolish visas for Bosnian citizens. In 2012 the EU and Bosnia organised the first meeting in order to prepare the official request of accession. Until the 20th of September of this year. But it is not over yet.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a difficult country. Trying to understand its peculiarities and absurdities is challenging, even for those who know very well what happened after Marshall Tito’s death and the Bosnian War. According to the International Law, Bosnia is a state newly formed, born from the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia – or, as I like to say – from the ashes of a real disaster. I do not want to dedicate a huge part of this article to a detailed report of what happened in Bosnia during the 90s (maybe in another article). This article aims at provide you an insight into Bosnian social, political and economic situation now, making you able to reflect on what its entry in the EU (and of other countries of the same area like Serbia or Kosovo) can cause a powerful shock to the already unstable European balance, already weakened by challenges such as anti-Europeanism, populism, the Eurozone crisis and the recent “Brexit” affair.
The war ended in 1995 following the genocide of Srebrenica (July 1995), the bombing campaign of NATO and the Croatian military offence against the Army of Republika Srpska (do not worry, the explanation will arrive later in this article) and the signing of the Dayton Agreements in December of the same year. The latter have created what is Bosnia now, its institutional asset and even its daily tragedy, in my opinion.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a liberal democracy and it is organised in a decentralised way. Decentralised is a too tiny adjective to describe the situation. Bosnia is constituted by two political identities: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (51% of the territory) and Republika Srpska (49% of the territory). The division was established during the Dayton Agreements in 1995 in order to reconcile the two side of the conflict of Bosnia: Serbs (orthodoxies) and Bosniaks (Muslims). The tremendous changes in Bosnia’s ethnic structure led to this division of the territory. In 2000 another entity was constituted, the Brčo District in the north of the country, with a high range of autonomy even if it belongs to both entities. For election purposes, the inhabitants of Brčo can choose to participate to both elections.
The third level of Bosnia’s decentralisation is represented by ten cantons within the Federation, each of them has its own government that follows the law of the Federation as a whole. At the same time, the Federation is divided into 74 municipalities, while the Republika Srpska is divided into 63 municipalities. They have also their local government, precise boundaries and ethnic identities. The main cities of Bosnia are Sarajevo, East Sarajevo (yes, Sarajevo is divided into two parts, ring a bell?) Banja Luka and Mostar. These cities have their local government and their power is similar to those of cantons and municipalities.
All this administrative system – mess, in my personal opinion – is supervised by a figure created by the Dayton Agreements, the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, selected by the Peace Implementation Council. He has the main power in government and law production, including the dismissal of elected or non-elected officials. His figure will disappear when Bosnia will reach political and democratic stability – it still exists, which means that this stability is still a dream. Recently, a process of centralisation of power has been started, transferring the jurisdiction of some ministries from the entities to the State.
The political representation of the country is conducted by the representatives of the three major ethnic groups (Bosniak, Serb and Croat), in an attempt of power sharing. The Presidency rotates among three Presidents, each elected for eight months within four-years term of the mandate. The three Presidents are elected directly by the people, Bosniaks and Croats for The Federation, and Serbs for Republika Srpska. The Chair of the Council of Ministers is nominated by the Presidency in charge and approved by the Parliament (House of Representatives). Then, he/she is in charge to nominate the Ministry for Foreign Affair and that of Foreign Trade. The legislative power is in the hands of the Parliament, which is constituted by two houses: The House of Representatives, formed by 42 Members elected directly by the people of Bosnia (two thirds from The Federation and one third from Republika Srpska), and the House of Peoples, which has 15 delegates chosen by the parliament of the two entities and they are 5 Croats, 5 Bosniaks and 5 Serbs. To be approved, a draft law needs to have the majority of at least a third of members of each representation of the three different ethnic groups of the country. Moreover, the parliaments of the two entities are different. The Federation has a two-chamber system (the House of Representatives with its 40 members elected by the people and the House of Peoples, which has 80 members elected by the counsellors of the ten cantons in an equal way among Croats and Bosniaks. The two Houses elect the President, and the President elects the Prime Minister). Republika Srpska has one Chamber, the National Assembly, the President is elected directly by the people and he/she elects the Prime Minister).
Do you have a headache now?
“Where the logic ends, there begins Bosnia” wrote Ivo Andric, one of the main scholars of Bosnia and Herzegovina. As you can see, he was right. There is nothing logical in Bosnian administrative system.
This folly leads to economic and social unrest. Bureaucracy devours about the 64% of the GDP and unemployment is at its highest rates. Corruption, political instability, changes of political parties, secret alliances and fake political parties are everyday in the political agenda of the country.
Bosnia is a poor country. You can feel it while you pass through its dirt tracks. It is a rural country that could be very rich in raw materials, such as minerals (carbon, iron and bauxite) but is poorly developed. The agriculture and the breeding of animals is not so productive and the main industries are those of concrete, steel and aluminium. The currency of Bosnia, the convertible mark, is weak and devalued. It is poor in infrastructures (there is only one motorway) and not yet reconstructed after the war.
There is no money for reconstruction. On the sides of the roads there are still ruins of houses burnt and wrecked during the war, buildings and blocks of flats still have the grenade holes and bullet marks. After 21 years Bosnia is still bleeding.
Politics and economics are not the only problems of the country. The social divide is the real scourge of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country where the word coexistence does not exist in the vocabulary of most. As I have already said, the country is divided into three ethnic groups: Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. They have three different religious identities: Muslims, Orthodoxies and Catholics. They have three different histories and myths. There are also two main minorities, Jews and Roma. The demographic asset after the war was tragic, showing a decrease of about 1 million people, due to deceased and large migrations. From 1991 to 2013 it was impossible to organise a census due to political disagreement. A recent census shows a decrease of the population due to migrations. According the same census, the majority of population now is composed by Bosniaks, the 30% by Serbs, the 15% by Croats and the 3% by the others. But Republika Srpska contested this census, saying it discriminatory for Bosnian Serbs. Eurostat had to intervene in the dispute, declaring that the census was correct.
Bosnia does not recognise an official language, but there is a de facto recognition of three languages: Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian. Actually, they are the same (with the exception that Serbian is written in Cyrillic) but after a dispute of Republika Srpska at the Constitutional Court, three languages has been recognised as official. Another absurdity. If you buy a pack of cigarettes, you can find the same sentence written on it in the same language three times.
The banknotes are printed with three different figures, according to the national heroes of the three ethnic groups. It is common to pay a Bosniak with a Serb banknote and vice-versa in the same country.
There is no common medical system: if one has the Federation’s health card, it cannot be admitted to the hospitals of Republika Srpska. The same with Universities. If I take a degree in a Federation’s University, it will not be recognised in Republika Srpska. I remind you that this article is about one single State, named Bosnia and Herzegovina.
These are just some of the examples of the absurdities and little conflicts and quarrels between ethnic groups. The war ended 21 years ago but hostilities are still presents. I stand corrected – only the armed conflict ended 21 years ago, there are no bombings or massacres at the present time, “just” an internally divided country.
As I said before, the Dayton Agreements established this ridiculous administrative system with the purpose of putting an end to the civil war and building peace within borders, trying to let live peacefully the two warring parties. The truth is that it failed in his purposes: it created a more discriminative system between the three so-called “constituent peoples” and, more and more discriminative, for those that are not part of them, such as Jews and Roma, as it has been stated in a recent judgment of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights referring to the case Sejdic and Finci vs Bosnia and Herzegovina. The European Court declared that the Constitution of Bosnia, which has been introduced as an Annex to the Dayton Agreements in 1995, only recognised three ethnic groups, giving them the right to participate actively to the political life, stand for election and enter in the legislative system. The “others” have not this fundamental political right of the rule of law. As Bosnia became a member of the United Nations and, above all, of the Council of Europe (in which the European Court of Human Rights operates) signing the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), this Constitutional disposition is unacceptable. The Court recognised the violation of article 14 (prohibition of discrimination), of article 3 of Protocol 1 (right to free elections) and article 1 of Protocol 12 (prohibition of discrimination in the use of rights established by the law). Bosnia has been invited by the Court to change the Constitution in order to eliminate the discrimination of Jews, Roma and others minorities.
Nothing has been done yet. The execution of this sentence was a condition for promoting the process of accession of Bosnia to the EU already before 20 September 2016. In its conclusions, the European Council expressly asks the Commission to pay particular attention to the development of this story. I do not have so much hope, considering the other international sentences in which Bosnia is involved. There is a common denominator: total nothingness.
Bosnia is not a peaceful country, you can feel hostilities while you walk in the streets of Sarajevo eating a burek, or you pass through the countryside of Republika Srpska. It is common to see houses with flags outside, so you know very well if it is the house of a Serb or of a Bosniak. This high sense of identity and “scattered nationalism” was one of the causes of the civil war and it is still present. The rhetoric of memory of graveyards and monuments is a way to make war with each other, making themselves victims and pointing the accusing finger again after 21 years. The two-headed eagle of Serbian Chetniks, groups of Serb nationalists active in the 80s and the 90s, is present in many commemorative monuments of Republika Srpska. In Serb graveyards you can find graves of paramilitary with their portrait on it while they shoulder a rifle. The graveyard of Potočari, where lie the victims of Srebrenica, has been built in front of the former compound of the United Nations Dutch Blue Helmets of the mission UNPROFOR, sadly remembered as one of the main failures of UN peacekeeping operations of its history, as to remind the international community for what they have “contributed” for with its stillness.
All the quarrels and the hostilities between ethnic groups have to be solved by the High Representative, a non-Bosnian figure, put on the top of the Bosnian system and, as already mentioned, born with the Dayton Agreements. Try to think about it. There is a country, which is internally divided (as repeated t many times), but the supreme ruling power is in the hand of a non-Bosnian, chosen by the international community, sometimes is a European, while his Deputy is an American.
What is the name for this? Paternalism. Control from the outside after the failure of international community to solve the Bosnian crisis. Do you know what for real scares me? That they are applying the same system in Syria today. The international community learnt nothing from the Bosnian tragedy. There is a fixed scheme and we are not able to change perspective. The suppression of the High Representative is one of the condition for the accession to the EU. In 2008 some rules of procedure have been established but it is a long way journey for Bosnia.
Here lies my reflection. The motto of the European Union is the beautiful “united in diversity” which assumes an idea of cohabitation between different peoples, religions, languages, colours, food and so on. I imagine the fathers of the European Union, like Mr Spinelli, Mr Adenauer, Mr Schuman or Mr Monnet, wanting to create a Europe of colours after the shadows of two World Wars.
United in diversity does not apply for Bosnia and that is a paradox that the EU is not considering nowadays. The whole Eastern enlargement has taken with him the wave of populism, anti-Europeanism, which spread all over Europe, leading even to that ridiculous event of Brexit.
Please, do not misunderstand me, I would love to see a Pan European system even with the Eastern countries and the Western Balkans countries, but I realised that now the conditions are unreasonable.
The first priority of the EU is to ensure a stable system: every house is built on a solid foundation, and so should be the EU. Before inviting everyone on a structure that is going to crash to the ground, it should be better to fix it. I do not know if the EU leaders realise this. Maybe there is something more than stability, there are other interests.
A lot of politician in Bosnia are former war criminals or people who have been enriched with the war or the siege of Sarajevo: is this democracy? Is this a free and liberal country? Are you serious, European Union?
During the Bosnian War, the EU (at the time, it was the European Community) remained silent. Even the appeal of Alexander Langer of 1995 “Europe die or be reborn in Sarajevo” (after the massacre of Tuzla and his participation to the protests in Cannes against the non-intervention in Western Balkans) was not useful to stop the inertia of the international community. Langer asked for international intervention to stop the madness of ethnic conflict in the Balkans, to punish criminals, to save innocents and to remain faithful to the values of peace, brotherhood, coexistence in Europe established after the devastation and horrors of World War II. Langer wished to prevent the ethnic conquest returned to reign supreme in Europe. But Europe stood still. Europe died in 1995 due to the genocide of Srebrenica. Europe did nothing to prevent it along with the international community.
If Bosnia and Herzegovina joins the EU now, it will be a disaster for both parties. First of all, Europe should truly help the country free itself from the past and from internal divisions, ethnic conflicts and to help it reborn in hope and sense of peaceful co-habitation. Then, EU should fix its problems before looking towards East.
My idea is that Europe is looking for a way to have forgiveness for its inertia in the 90s and it is not considering the consequences of this hasty choice. In a way, I can sympathise with the EU. The Bosnian War and the genocide that was perpetrated is a bloodstain on the European clean shirt. While in Europe we were beginning to talk about globalisation, single currency, freedom to move of capital, people, goods, free trade and so on, in Bosnia more than one hundred thousand human beings were dying. While the European integration made great strides (Maastricht was in 1992), Sarajevo suffered the cold and the hunger under the siege and the bombings. Is this the European Union that we want? A Europe that swallows States, or a Europe that is united in a fraternal embrace that involves both internal and external aspects of those States?
I love both Bosnia and EU and it is for this reason that I am so critique about this issue. Because I would like to see them in a different perspective. I dream of them both reborn. I know it is a kind of utopia, but I hope someday to walk through the streets of Sarajevo with my burek on one hand, enjoying Bosnians be united in diversity in a European framework, perhaps with a state apparatus less complicated to understand and the ghost of war completely behind our shoulders. Remembering it, but getting over it.
Laura Gaspari is a student of International Relations at Ca’ Foscari University. Previously graduated in English and French for international relations, she is an active member of the Board of Venice Diplomatic Society. Interested in the defence of human rights and migrant’s rights, the Western Balkans, civil rights and women’s rights, she is writing her thesis about trafficking in human beings with a focus on trafficking in women in international, European and Italian law. She worked at the Council of Europe Office in Venice and now, she is working for the Association of Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA) in Brussels. She fell in love with Balkans at a very young age when she visited Croatia and Slovenia with her father in 1999. She visited Bosnia and Herzegovina for the first time in June 2016, in a tour involving mainly Sarajevo, Srebrenica, and Tuzla.
 Also known as pita, is an extremely common dish, and the Bosnian variant is arguably the most regionally prominent.It may be eaten for any meal of the day. In Bosnia, among Bosniaks, a specially prepared somun with egg yolk and seasonings is a traditional bread for dinners during the fast in the month of Ramadan.In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the burek is a meat-filled pastry, traditionally rolled in a spiral and cut into sections for serving.