In a country gripped by political deadlock, politicians of the Bosniak-Croat Federation (FBiH) entity adopted a set of anti-corruption laws, aimed at establishing specific law-enforcement bodies to tackle organized crime. Some critics say the new law shows Bosnia and Herzegovina is starting to overcome its political difficulties, others say the law is a show of decisiveness for the October general elections.
On 5 February, protests by laid-off workers in the Bosnian town of Tulsa led to violence, after jobless people and youth joined the protests. The protests turned into widespread discontent over corruption and the economic and political situation in the country. The demonstrators blamed the government for not doing enough to stabilize the economy and create economic growth.
Furthermore, the political situation in the Bosnia and Herzegovina is very complex, making political reforms next to impossible. Since the Dayton Peace Agreement made an end to the war in 1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political system is divided between the two entities; Republica Srpska (RS) and the Bosniak-Croat Federation (BCF). This means the political decision-making follows ethnic lines.
A new democracy?
After the February protests, the Prime Ministers of four Bosniak-Croat Federation Cantons were forced to resign. The people took maters in their own hands and started forming civil councils, known as Plenums. Edinburgh university scientists, professors and writers of the International Support Group for Social Justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina were responsible for the formation of the Plenums to offer support to the citizens’ assemblies and to promote social justice in general.
Edinburg professor and human rights activist Nigel Osborn says the Plenums are a chance of something new and imaginative that can offer a practical and refreshing model to neighbors and others. A clear and practical, bottom-up, pathway to reform. Osborn warned, however, that the Plenums are not an organ of democracy, they are an instrument for democracy….an invaluable source of conscience, ethics, dynamism and good citizenship, and the only available instrument for change.
Critics say the protests were a wake-up call for politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The anti-corruption laws in the Bosnian Federation entity, mentioned above, serve as an example. Meanwhile, the opposition in Republika Srpska entity formed a united ‘Union for Change’ to overtake the entity’s government. The political parties of the Union for change, the Serbian Democratic Movement (SDS), the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP), and the Serbian Radical Party of Republika Srpska (SRS RS), try to oust veteran entity President Milorad Dodik. Dodik said “the new bloc would not win any elections, and if it did, it would be the death of the entity”.
A new framework
Also, the European Union is changing its approach to the Western Balkans in order to bridge the gap between their economies and the EU. The EU requires countries to coordinate their economic reforms, in return the EU provides greater financial support to make the countries more attractive for foreign investors. EU officials say none of the countries presently meet the economic accession criteria, but the new approach offers a better framework to reforms.
Federal Bosnia and Herzegovina officials said they already work with the new framework. Director of the directorate for European Integration, Nevenka Savic, said a special strategic document will be created to cover employment policy, to create a better investment environment and to describe how to better use EU funds.
The progress on Bosnia and Herzegovina joining the EU has been slow and the country is lagging behind compared to its neighbors. The ethnic rivalries prevent the much needed reforms from being implemented. Key political leaders are unwilling to adjust the constitution that is not in accordance with EU laws. In addition, further steps in the EU integration process envisage strengthening of the rule of law and fight against corruption and organized crime that could endanger the position of some politicians. Civil disapproval over the economic situation and the government’s progress caused the large scale February protests. It remains to be seen if the October general elections can end the political stalemate and lead to a brighter future in the country. Analysts expect the current ruling parties to be punished at the elections.
Sources: Balkan Insight I, Balkan Insight II, Balkan Insight III, SETimes.