On 11 February, protesters demanded the resignation of Bosniak-Croat Federation entity (FBiH) Prime Minister Nermin Niksic Niksic said he would only resign if parliament holds early elections. Niksic’s party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), leans towards early elections. Demonstrators all across the country demand the resignation of regional and local leaders, whom they hold responsible for economic hardship (unemployment rate above 40%) and corruption. The protest begun last week after the closure of factories in Tuzla and are the worst since the end of the Bosnian war in 1995.
The protesters were initially made up mainly of workers laid off after the privatization and collapse of state-owned companies in Tuzla. The workers were joined by thousands of jobless people and youths, after which the protests morphed into nationwide spread discontent about the economic and political situation in Bosnia. Protesters have already brought down four out of ten cantonal district governments in the Federation, now they want the Federation government to step down in favor of a technocrat government.
Protesters say overpaid politicians are obsessed with inter-ethnic bickering. The two main parties in thFBiH, the Social Democratic Party, and the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), said in separate statements, that because of the situation, they will call for early elections. Last Sunday, the SDP submitted a proposal to parliament to make this possible. A spokesman for the SDP said: “If the lawmakers do not accept and adopt this proposal, we call on the EU High Representative Valentin Inzko [the top international official in Bosnia] to call for early elections, since he has a mandate for that”.
Meanwhile, President of Republika Srpska (RS), the Serbian dominated part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik said that problems only exist in a few cantons and should not be resolved by nationwide elections. He added that the protesters are overwhelmingly Bosniak, aimed at destabilizing RS, “This is a hoax through which the SDP is trying to save its own skin as well as change the Dayton structures of Bosnia and Herzegovina” Serbian opposition leader Mladen Bosic, head of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) said: “It is possible that when this [unrest] is over in the FBiH, something similar will start in the Republika Srpska” and also favors national elections. Last week protest reached cities in RS as well, although they were not as massive as in the Federation
Early elections are thus possible. Serbian and Croatian leaders, however, have said they doubt a majority of lawmakers will support the proposal made by the SDP.
The Dayton Peace Agreement signed in 1995 to end the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina created a complex and inefficient political system. The central government is weak, as the country is composed of two political autonomous entities: Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation. In addition, the Federation is divided into ten cantonal units. Each political unit has its own governing body, accumulating to 700 elected state officials and more than 140 ministers. These political units are hence divided according to ethnic lines. As a result, decisions are made based on ethnicity rather than the interest of the entire country. It is therefore very difficult to unite Bosnia on issues such as the reforms that are needed to become a EU member state, since all three main ethnic groups (Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs) have to agree on the constitutional changes that should improve the functionality of the state.
Several EU foreign ministers said Bosnia should be moved more quickly towards the EU, as a way to encourage reform. EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton urged authorities to guarantee the right to peaceful protests and to act on the people’s demands. At the same time, the EU, who has the power to directly influence political decision-making, has not succeed in developing a coherent policy on a divided Bosnia that could bring the country closer to the EU. This, combined with inability of local politicians to agree on the reforms has resulted in Bosnia lagging behind compared to its neighbours.
Author: Koen Migchelbrink