Protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina against the inefficient administration and deteriorating socio-economic situation will be used as an argument for constitutional reform. Accordingly, the EU will recognise the results of 2014 parliamentary elections on condition that the constitution has been amended.
By Dr. Jan Muś
Protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) against the inefficient administration and deteriorating socio-economic situation have been ongoing for two weeks. Parliament has been blocked in Sarajevo, whilst thousands of people have held demonstrations in other cities, including Tuzla and Mostar. The protests were triggered on 5th June when the BiH parliament rejected an act regulating the procedure for attaining personal identification numbers. MPs from the Republika Srpska did not agree to this. Instead they demanded that the personal numbering system should correspond to the country’s internal division, reinforcing proof of the Entity’s separate nature. The lack of new regulations has impeded access to healthcare and travel documents for new-born children. The protests were additionally fuelled by the death of a girl who could not be transported legally to Belgrade to undergo specialist surgery.
- Although the draft act was rejected by Bosnian Serbs, and most of the protesters are Bosniak residents of Sarajevo, the demonstrators have not been using any national slogans and the protests are not anti-Serb. Groups of demonstrators from Republika Srpska and Zagreb have also come to Sarajevo. The demonstrations are spontaneous. They have not been organised by any political parties, and the Bosniak groupings have not succeeded in transforming the protests into an action of support for them. Should more Bosnian Serbs and Croats join the protests, a social movement could emerge which could split the ethnic divides; divides that have been preserved by institutions adopted in Dayton. This would pose a threat to the nationalist parties, which currently comprise BiH’s political elites. For this reason, Croat and Serb MPs have been making attempts to portray the protests as hostile actions waged by Bosniaks against their fellow-citizens – Serbs and Croats – which proves the need to preserve the autonomy of the ‘constitutional nations’ in the country’s political system.
- The public have been strongly-dissatisfied with public institutions in BiH since the end of the civil war in 1995. The central government has been unable to resolve the most pressing socio-economic issues. Furthermore, they have been incapable of using a great deal of the pre-accession funds granted to BiH. The accession of neighbouring Croatia to the EU has shed more light on the inefficiency of the country’s state administration. It is unclear whether BiH is prepared to face the problems which will now emerge on the country’s longest border, including the adjustment of border checkpoints and procedures which enable food exports. It became possible to break the resistance of the Serb member of the presidency and accept the border agreement with Croatia only as late as 18th June.
- The demonstrations in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be used as an argument for making constitutional changes. The inefficient political system and resulting administrative inertia, especially at the central level, has given rise to public dissatisfaction and widespread criticism of BiH in the European Union. The division of the country based on ethnic criteria affects the voting system and discriminates against citizens of other ethnic backgrounds than the ‘constitutional nations’. Due to this, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Stefan Fule, has stated that the EU will recognise the results of the parliamentary elections scheduled for spring 2014 on condition that the constitution has been amended.
Jan Muś works as an analyst at the Center for Eastern Studies in Warsaw (OSW) and as a lecturer at the Catholic University of Lublin. Author of a number of publications devoted to the Balkan region and its people.
This article was originally published by the Center for Eastern Studies, a research institution dealing with analyses and forecast studies of the political, social and economic situation in the countries neighbouring Poland and in the Baltic Sea region, the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Asia and can be accessed by clicking here.