Dr. Josip Stjepandić: Bosnia-Herzegovina on the Way to the Next Crisis: Observations from the Croatian Perspective
Dr. Josip Stjepandić
Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in the Diaspora and the Homeland, St. Gallen, Switzerland
Abstract. While the great successes of the Carinthian consensus group on the way from the battlefield to the Alps-Adriatic peace region are currently being reported, which could serve as a blueprint for other post-conflict countries and regions, we are experiencing a political and social development in the immediate vicinity of Carinthia, which clearly points in a different direction. After the wars of disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, the territory was divided into 7 states. It is about 6 nation states like most others in Europe and with Bosnia-Herzegovina a multi-ethnic state that originates from a historical administrative unit. This article deals with the highly unstable political situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections held on October 2, 2022, which would require great efforts to find a long-term solution.
Keywords. Bosnia-Herzegovina, peace agreement, parliamentary elections, presidential elections, EU accession, equality, corruption
In order to understand the very confused situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BH) today, a brief historical outline is necessary [1-5]. As a result of the Turkish wars the current territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina in its current borders was initially handed over to Austria-Hungary for administration as an administrative unit of the Turkish Empire after the Berlin Congress in 1878. In 1908 the annexation took place. The fate of Bosnia-Herzegovina was initially sealed with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, when the new state of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, Yugoslavia since 1929, arose on its ruins. The territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH) was divided into several administrative units that did not follow the previous borders. The name also disappeared.
During the Second World War, the idea of BH was revived within the partisan movement under Tito’s leadership. After the war, the second Yugoslavia was founded and divided into 6 republics: 5 according to the national key and the sixth (Bosnia-Herzegovina) as a historical area, which as “Yugoslavia in miniature” embodied the idea of a multi-ethnic state consisting of Croats, Serbs and Muslims and the latter will later call themselves Bosniaks.
After the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991, when Slovenia and Croatia declared themselves independent and were henceforth recognized as such, BH’s raison d’être was questioned, especially since the Serbs widely used BH’s territory as a staging area for aggression against Croatia. Although the beginning of May 1992 is mentioned as the start of the war, the war in BH already began on September 18, 1991, when the Yugoslav People’s Army attacked the town of Ravno in Herzegovina . While the Muslims, as the largest ethnic group, insisted on independence, the Serbs flatly rejected this. The Croats, the smallest of BH’s three constituent peoples, were initially undecided but acquiesced after being assured of national equality.
At the request of the so-called international community of states, which represents the EU and NATO, on 29th February and 1st March 1992 held a referendum on independence with the question:
„ Are you for a sovereign, independent Bosnia-Herzegovina, a state of equal citizens, the peoples of Bosnia-Herzegovina – Muslims, Serbs and Croats as well as members of other peoples who live in it? “
A two-thirds majority was achieved with votes from Muslims and Croats, while the Serbs stayed away from the referendum. As a result, BH was recognized as an independent state under international law and was admitted to the UN.
Simultaneously with the international recognition of BH in May 1992, the Serbian troops, consisting of the Yugoslav People’s Army, units from Serbia and local Serbian units, began brutal aggression against BH, which in its atrocities is linked to the most serious crimes of World War II. Mass killings, shelling of civilian objects, mass rape and other forms of physical and mental abuse of Muslims and Croats were the means to achieve war’s success. Thus, by the end of 1992 Serbian troops occupied about 70% of the territory of BH and named it Republika Srpska (Bosnian Serb Republic, RS), from which they had expelled about 290,000 Muslims and 210,000 Croats.
At first there was only determined resistance from the Croats, who organized themselves in the Croatian Defense Council (HVO) and the Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna, which was named a republic from 1993. This left a land corridor about 100 km wide from the south, which served as supply corridor for the remaining free territory of BH.
Waiting for outcome of the war in Croatia, the Muslim-dominated central government hesitated with the preparations for war and found itself surrounded by Serbian troops, with the encircled capital Sarajevo and the enclaves of Bihać, Srebrenica and Žepa enduring a particularly difficult time.
The influx of large numbers of refugees led to tensions between Muslims and Croats, which erupted in several regional conflicts in early 1993. The fighting in the Travnik-Vitez and Jablanica-Mostar regions  was particularly fierce. Meanwhile, in other regions like Brčko, Gradačac and Usora, the Croatian-Muslim alliance continued to function smoothly.
While the EU helplessly accompanied the escalation, the USA took the initiative and put pressure on the Bosniaks and Croats to settle their short but violent conflict. With the Washington Agreement (March 18, 1994) the founding of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (FBH) was decided, which included the areas under the control of the Bosniaks (Muslims) and the Croats, as well as a military alliance of the Bosniaks and the Croats in BH as well as the ever stronger Croatian army for the purpose of pushing back the previously overpowering Serbian troops.
From autumn of 1994, the Croatian Army conducted several successful operations in the south-west of BH and by the summer of 1995, it occupied strategically important positions. However, the position of the Bosniak troops in the east of the country, where no Croats lived, was extremely weak, which led to the Serbs overrunning the enclaves of Srebrenica and Žepa in July 1995 and committing genocide. Bihać in the west of the country was threatened with the same fate.
At this point, NATO decided to target Serbian positions and enforce the no-fly zone over BH. On August 4, 1995, Croatia launched a large-scale military operation that led to the liberation of a large area of its territory occupied since 1991 and the encirclement of the Bihać enclave in BH. The Croatian Army continued its attacks – flanked by the HVO and the Army BH – to Banja Luka.
This was the point in October 1995 when the military balance on the one hand and the political will among the Western powers on the other hand were crucial for the imposition of a peace treaty (Abb. 1).
Fig. 1. Bosnia-Herzegovina after the cessation of hostilities in October 1995.
This happened in the US military base Dayton (“Dayton Agreement”), where a division of the state into the entities Bosnian Serb Republic (Serbian part, 49% of the territory) and the Federation BH of Bosniaks and Croats (51%) was sealed. Annex 7 stipulated the free return of the refugees, but this was only partially implemented in the areas controlled by the Croats. In 1998 the last territorial issue – the Brčko district – was settled in such a way that an independent administrative unit Brčko district was created, where power was to be exercised equally by all 3 peoples (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2. Bosnia-Herzegovina after the Dayton Agreement.
The bottom line is that the Serbian aggressor was rewarded with just under half of BH’s territory, which was home to about a third of the entire population. The other half was reserved for the other two-thirds (Bosniacs and Croats). This is seen as the core of all later problems.
The war had killed more than 100,000 people and more than 2 million had lost their homes to varying degrees of violence. Nevertheless, BH remained an ethnically mixed area, where a separation or division according to natural borders (watershed, mountain range) was hardly possible, because the individual people would certainly not agree on the course of the border (Fig. 3). In addition, there is the phenomenon that large rural areas in the west, north and east of the country, which were added to the Bosnian Serb Republic, have been completely depopulated, which means that many agricultural areas are not used and the social systems can hardly be maintained.
Fig. 3. Ethnic distribution in Bosnia-Herzegovina according to the 2013 census.
Finally, the state was formed with two entities and three constituent peoples (1-2-3 rule).
2. The Political System of Bosnia-Herzegovina
Although the Dayton Agreement imposed a complicated political system on the state with democratically elected representatives at 4 levels (state, entities, counties/districts, municipalities) , BH has retained the status of a politically unstable protectorate ever since. There are elections at different levels every 4 years, whereby the political parties represented in the parliaments are also nationally oriented. A large and expensive government apparatus consisting of 9 presidents, 13 prime ministers, 13 governments, 149 ministers and 613 members of parliament governs a country with a nominal (according to the census in 2013) 3.5, but in reality no more than 2.06 million inhabitants on two thirds of the area Austria has.
The administrative apparatus is too big for a poor country and eats up more than 80% of the national budget. This is conducive to and encourages corruption, which of course has also affected government circles. Fadil Novalić, the current Bosniak prime minister of the BH Federation, has to answer before the court for corruption but without resigning from his post.
As stipulated in the Dayton Agreement, peacekeeping troops are stationed in the country on behalf of NATO. The Peace Implementation Council (PIC), set up by the UN Security Council, monitors compliance with the Dayton Agreement with the Office of the High Representative as the executive body. The United States has, de facto, the last word here. Russia has withdrawn from this process since 2021.
The Office of the High Representative (OHR) is the “Guardian of the Dayton Peace Accords” . In this role, the High Representative can use his almost dictatorial powers to change the constitution of the entities and laws, enact new legislation and remove officials from office. Of the 9 High Representatives so far, 2 were Austrians: Wolfgang Petritsch and Valentin Inzko. The Office of the High Representative is located in the capital city of Sarajevo, in which Bosniaks live as the majority, and among the local staff only Bosniaks are employed, which repeatedly leads to misunderstandings and accusations that the High Representative is always pro-Bosniak in orientation.
In order to build up the much-needed mutual trust of all citizens in the country, a two-stage political consensus is essential: between the three constituent peoples and between all citizens. While the second consensus on the most important issues such as the economy, the fight against corruption or public administration seems within reach, the primary consensus among the peoples is still a long way off. There is no visible leading political force that would seriously work on this.
3. Birth Defects of Bosnia-Herzegovina
Asymmetry and imbalance have remained Bosnia-Herzegovina’s major problems since its proclamation. While the Serbian entity experienced much less war damage and a large population loss due to expulsion, the Bosniak-Croat Federation suffered large-scale destruction in many places (Sarajevo, Mostar, Bihać, Goražde) that have not been completely amelliorated to this day. In addition, it had to accommodate hundreds of thousands of Bosniak and Croat refugees from the Serbian entity.
Although the reconstruction of the country made good progress immediately after the war thanks to large amounts of foreign aid, various problems soon became apparent that undermined a dyke-based internal order and cohesion. Most of the problems stem from the fact that there was no just peace in 1995: the Serbian side was rewarded for its aggression because it was the militarily strongest party at the time. This calls for emulation by the Bosniaks as the most numerous constitutive people of BH.
An ad hoc court (The International Court of Justice for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY) was set up by the UN to prosecute indicted war criminals from former Yugoslavia. In its 20 years of work, this court sentenced many people (mainly Serbs), most of them rightly, but could not convince in terms of equal treatment . It is striking that it was very lenient towards the Bosniaks and hardly applied the criminal offense of command responsibility for commanders of the Bosniak army BH, which is otherwise often used for Serbs and Croats. In the Ahmići case (Croat massacre of Bosniaks), ICTY imposed prison sentences totaling 107 years on 9 defendants . The similar cases of the massacres of Croats by Bosniaks (e.g. Vitez, Grabovica) went unpunished by both the ICTY and the national judiciary. A total of 152,950 Croats fled and were expelled from the area under the control of Army BH, 1,051 civilians were killed including 121 children and 644 Croatian prisoners were killed, which brings us to 1,695 Croatian civilians and prisoners killed according to the available historiographical documentation were . With few exceptions, these crimes have been ignored by national and international criminal investigators. This made it possible for Bosniak Selmo Cikotić to hold the position of Minister for State Security completely unhindered, even though he was accused of the most serious crimes against humanity by the Croats expelled from Bugojno.
Although the Serbian entity does not have any territorial continuity and is not even remotely compact (Fig. 2), which makes such an entity unviable as an independent state, the Serbian side insists on state sovereignty and a merger with Serbia. This is a constant in Serbian politics, supported by all relevant political forces. Attempts by senior officials to replace the Serbian officials with those allegedly more willing to compromise failed miserably. Milorad Dodik, who was supposedly moderate in the early 2000s, turned out to be another advocate of Serbian hegemony, who also fully opened his entity to Russian influence.
The institutions of the Bosnian Republic of Serbs often find themselves in conflict with the institutions of the state proper (BH) as a whole and continuously try to weaken the state as a whole. This obstructive policy led, for example, to the fact that the salaries of civil servants in the state as a whole are 20 percent lower than for comparable positions in the entities.
In the Bosniak-Croat Federation BH, the Bosniaks have been constantly trying since 2000 to curtail the rights of the Croats, who are numerically weaker in a ratio of 1:3.25, vying for the reorganisation of this entity according to their own ideas. Since the Bosniaks and Croats stand and vote in the common constituencies, it is obvious that the Bosniaks, due to their great numerical superiority, can elect all representatives of the Croats.
The legal basis for this was provided by the supplements (amendmends) to the constitution and the laws that were enacted in the early 2000s by the head of the OSCE mission, Berry, and High Representative Petritsch. These allow each candidate to freely choose their ethnicity. This led to abuse on the part of the Bosniaks, who declare themselves as Croats and have been elected as such by Bosniaks in continuity since 2002. The best example of this is Željko Komšić, who, as a Croatian member of the state presidency, was elected four times with the votes of the Bosniaks, with very little support from the Croats.
4. External Influence
Historically, BH has always been a meeting place for a wide range of interests, which was reinforced by the wars of disintegration of former Yugoslavia. Leading Catholic bishops in BH reported unanimously on the talks at the time with Western diplomats,
- On June 10, 1993, 8 Croatian children were killed and 6 seriously injured by a mortar shell on the playground in Vitez. The special circumstances of the tragedy (e.g. all Bosniak children in the ethnically mixed residential area under the control of the Croats stayed at home that day) indicate that this attack was prepared well in advance. Although the case was reconstructed and the chain of command in the Bosniak army was known, no investigation was made into the perpetrators.
according to which the Croats in BH must be punished as the cause of the breakup of Yugoslavia .
Three civilizations collide in BH: the Russian-Orthodox via the Serbs and Serbia, the Islamic via Turkey and the Bosniaks, and the Catholic, which currently has no external support apart from Croatia, which is very weak internationally. The Holy See’s apparent disinterest in the precarious situation of Catholics in BH also means that Russian Orthodox and Islamic interests dominate.
While Serbian claims endure through ages and wars, the influence of the Islamic world has steadily increased since the 1992-95 war. In hindsight, BH appears to have been one of the hotbeds of al-Qaeda, as several assassins of the US in 2001 had served in BH and acquired BH citizenship in the process (Fig. 4). Turkey, Iran and Arab countries are as present in public life in the part dominated by Bosnians as if they were neighbours. Sarajevo Airport’s connection list shows numerous direct flights to airports in the Islamic States, but none to Brussels or Berlin (Fig. 5), although there is no significant business activity with these countries.
Fig. 4. Citizenship BH for Al-Quaeda Members. Fig. 5. Destinations of the international Airport of Sarajevo.
In Europe, the Federal Republic of Germany should be mentioned above all, where a “pro-Bosnian” policy has been developing for several years. Since the 2021 federal election, there have been several members of the German Bundestag who consistently support a unitary Bosniak policy as if they came from Turkey or Iran. In practice, this means that in the most recent decision of the German Bundestag, the Serbian and the Croatian politicians are put on the same level as destroyers of BH and, in contrast, the Bosniak politicians are positively emphasized . As a result, two German MPs were nicknamed the “Bosnian MPs in the Bundestag” in the Bosniak media in Sarajevo (Fig. 6). Meanwhile, the numerous anti-Croatian statements made by BH diplomats and citizens in Germany are simply ignored (Fig. 7). It remains a secret why German politicians seem so negligent by taking sides with Bosniak (indirectly also Turkish/Iranian) hegemonism. However, it is noticeable that it is thought very little of the pluralism and human rights that are so often proclaimed when the Croats in BH are affected.
Fig. 6. “Bosnian MPs in the Bundestag”. Fig. 7. War threat from the BH Consul General .
5. Contrasting Ethnic Positions and Bosniaks’ Claim to Leadership
The Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina consistently defend their exclusive nationalist position and leave no doubt as to their separatist convictions. Overall, it is to be feared that in the first international conflict, Serbia will try again to assert its decades-long claim to the territory of BH. The leading representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church, such as Patriarch Porfirije, also speak about this quite openly . The political proximity to Russia is obvious.
2. Young Greens have apologized to the author for spreading the false report from Bosniak circles that the Croats had also committed the genocide in Srebrenica.
3. „ Hundreds of thousands of war-experienced Bosnians are currently living in BH! Munitions in Konjic and Goražde. Howitzers in Travnik. Bazookas in Hadžići. Trust in yourself and your own strength! You know that this is not a joke and the Bosnian fighting force is not a little cat! Effendy Velić… Allahu Ekber
4. “Svi znamo da su se kroz istoriju granice država našeg naroda menjale, a nismo sigurni da se neće menjati i ubuduće.”, (We all know that the borders of our nation’s countries have changed throughout history, and we’re not sure they won’t change in the future.)
The Bosniaks, descendants of the Slavs (Croats, Serbs, Montenegrins) who once converted to Islam, see Bosnia-Herzegovina as their only and often exclusive homeland. Politically and religiously, the Bosniak representatives turned towards Turkey, as if BH were still a western province of the Turkish Empire . There are repeated calls to deepen these ties, as if BH were owned solely by the Bosniaks. The Bosniak politicians also feel connected to the other Muslim organizations. On September 6, 2022, the Bosniaks in Sarajevo gave Turkish President Erdogan a frenetic welcome. While the Bosniak clergy were enthusiastic about him as their sultan (Fig. 8), the Serbs and Croats naturally stayed away. Erdogan called the West the enemy of Muslims . The other image (Fig. 9) shows Bakir Izetbegović, the president of the strongest Bosniak party SDA, in the company of ISIL supporters, who proudly show the raised index finger, the symbol of ISIL, at the camera.
Fig. 8. Erdogan in Sarajevo, Sep, 6 2022. Fig. 9. B. Izetbegović with ISIL supporters.
The Bosniaks’ claim to leadership is linked to double standards. Where the Bosniaks are in the minority, as in the city of Mostar, there is parity in power. In the opposite case, which affects the 6 out of 10 cantons in FBH and this entity as a whole, the claim to leadership is mercilessly enforced with a unitarianism as in the former Yugoslavia. Nonetheless, the Bosniak political elite, despite holding most of the levers of power in their own hands, reveals their inability to move the country forward.
6. Civil Society
The striking feature of BH’s backwardness is the near-absence of civil society as a component of the modern state. Although there are non-governmental organizations in many parts of BH, especially in Sarajevo, which are normally counted as part of civil society, they have no significance on the entire territory of BH. Without belittling the noble intentions of many activists pushing for eradication of the consequences of the war, promote reconciliation and build mutual trust, their effect remains very limited due to a lack of support in politics and the population.
Uninformed foreigners are presented with the image of a modern, multi-ethnic metropolis in the capital, Sarajevo, whose prosperous development is being prevented
5. „Zapad postoji da bi podijelio i iscijepao muslimane.“ (The West exists to divide and tear Muslims apart.)
by unspecified nationalists. However, a closer analysis reveals that the leaders of such organizations are recruited from among Bosniak activists who were already in the service of Turkey and Iran. The Srebrenica memorial, which commemorates the genocide by Serbian troops against Bosnians and Croats in July 1995, is headed by Emir Suljagić, a former employee of the Iranian embassy in Sarajevo. Suljagić has published many opinions in recent months that can be interpreted as calls for violence and war (Fig. 10).
In Bosniak-majority regions, continuous anti-Croat and anti-Catholic incidents are reported, without any recourse from “civil society”, which must be taken as approval. At Christmas 2021, for example, there were several calls on billboards (Fig. 11) to ban the symbols of the Christmas season from public life.
Fig. 10. Suljagic threatens war. Fig. 11. “Christmas tree, St. Nicholas and New Year are not part of Islam and Bosniak tradition”.
“Civil society” is always put to the fore when it comes to curtailing the rights of the “ethnic nationalist parties”, which de facto means the Croatian parties in FBH. For example, these activists around Azra Zornić, a former employee of the BH Constitutional Court, have filed several successful lawsuits with the European Court of Human Rights. They were represented by Francisco Javier Leon Diaz, head of the legal department at OHR, who saw no conflict of interest in this.
The abolition of the national rights of three peoples (but de facto first the Croats and then the Serbs) and the renunciation of the Dayton Agreement is presented as a solution to the deep crisis. Reference is made here to the multinational, “bourgeois and liberal” parties with their comparatively young cadres who are not burdened by the past. Benjamina Karić, the mayor of the capital Sarajevo (Social Democratic Party), is considered a figurehead. Karić publicly expresses her admiration for the Yugoslav dictator and murderer Tito (Fig. 12)  . At Christmas 2021, she refused to congratulate the Catholics in her supposedly multi-ethnic city (Fig. 13).
6. If what I learned about the changes in the electoral law is correct, then we – Bosniaks, Bosnians, the rest – as a group have no business in BH because our existence becomes legalized slavery. We have two options: Anadolia or another war.“
7. Billboard in Zenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Christmas 2021
8. On page 8, Tito is ranked 9th among the world’s greatest criminals of the 20th century.
Fig. 12. Benjamina Karić, Autoportrait. Fig. 13. “Congratulations on the calendar”.
The national differences are also reflected in relation to third countries. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Bosniaks side with the Islamic brothers, while the Croats side with Israel. In no other European country is anti-Semitism as pronounced as among the Bosniaks in BH, where Israeli flags are desecrated at public events (e.g. football games) (Fig. 14) without any resistance being raised. On the other hand, the Croats openly express their solidarity with the victims of the Palestinian terrorist attacks (Fig. 15).
Fig. 14. Anti-israeli riots. Fig. 15. Croats’ declaration of solidarity.
Numerous occurrences of this kind are the best proof that the organizations calling themselves “bourgeois”, “liberal” or “civilian” have about the same meaning as the “Yugoslav” ones in the former Yugoslavia. They are the second political echelon of the most numerous people in a multi-ethnic state – formerly Serbian, now Bosniak – and have little to do with equality and human rights.
8. “ From this evening, luxurious light decorations will decorate the Christmas tree in front of the town hall and bring a touch of real winter idyll to the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Let this beautiful and candlelit scene in front of our town hall inspire belief in the year 2022, a better and more beautiful calendar that we welcome.“
7. International Media and Institutions
It is striking that the international media and international organizations very rarely report on the misconduct of Bosniak politics, although in a multi-ethnic community it is inevitable that the factions with the most numbers bear the greatest responsibility for the overall outcome.
In preparation for the recent elections in BH, several events and publications by international associations and organizations that claim to contribute to peace and international understanding, such as the International Institut for Peace, Südosteuropagesellschaft, ESI, were launched without a pro-Croatian voice being heard.
Common to all these discussions is the disregard of the Croatian representatives, as if it had already been decided that the Croats in BH should disappear as a political factor. Rather, the core question of how it can be achieved that the Croats can elect their legitimate representatives themselves in a free and fair election is fundamentally ignored.
Fig. 16. ECHR judge Vehabović as a Bosniak advocate.
11. . https://www.sogde.org/de/events/wahlen-in-bosnien/
BH is a member of various international organizations such as the Council of Europe and sends its representatives. Most of these representatives understand this mandate as a personal one and represent Bosniak politics there.
An example of this is Faris Vehabović, the judge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), who acts like an advocate for the Bosniak leadership against the different opinions in the social media (Fig. 16). In doing so, he himself criticizes the judgments of the BH Constitutional Court, thereby rendering as questionable not only his own impartiality but also that of the ECHR .
Corruption in all segments of public life is inevitably the result of a dysfunctional state apparatus. Rather, this is one of the areas, along with electoral fraud, where the politicians of all nations and parties in BH work together very well. In contrast to domestic investors, foreigners (e.g. Chinese companies) receive concessions on state resources (sun, wind, mineral resources) within a short time that there can be only one conclusion: corruption. Numerous cases are known when investors withdrew because of demands for bribes at various administrative levels. Prosecution and punishment of corruption are also rare.
It is noteworthy that no criticism of such partisanship comes from expert circles. BH is on the so-called Balkan route for migrants to Western Europe. The Canton of Una-Sana (Bihać) in western BH is particularly hard hit, where eyewitness reports say that 40,000 residents have already emigrated under pressure from migrants and others are sure to follow. Since BH is well protected against the invaders in the east by the Drina River and rough terrain, it must be assumed that migrants are brought into the country by commercial traffickers with the support of government circles. In 2018, an incident occurred at the Livno branch of an Austrian bank, when the local Muslim cleric loudly complained that money transfers for a dozen migrants in his care had not arrived. The cleric was charged with a number of public order offences, which appears to have gone unanswered by the local police.
Another example of transnational corruption was the Russia-BH football match scheduled for November 19, 2022, which would undermine sanctions against Russia. The representatives of Bosnians, Croats and Serbs unhesitatingly decided this unanimously, which can easily be explained by the corruption in the football association.
With one exception (20th place), the current list of tax debtors only shows companies owned by Bosniaks and Serbs. Numerous companies from Sarajevo and Brčko, all owned by the Bosniaks, are striking (Fig. 17). The fact that tax debts in the millions arise without the financial police intervening can first be described as corruption up to the top of the government.
13 . According to an eyewitness account
Fig. 17. List of the 25 largest tax debtors.
Immediately after the war, the economy in BH recovered noticeably, driven by intensive construction activity, financed to a large extent by foreign construction aid. Growth slowed at the beginning of the new millennium and has remained at a low level ever since. BH is currently the fourth poorest country in Europe, just ahead of Albania, Moldova and Kosovo. The high level of unemployment is reduced by the emigration of hundreds of thousands of young people, which in turn creates major problems in other areas such as social systems.
BH inherited the economic structure of former Yugoslavia. Many large state combines had their bases in and around Sarajevo, so they were severely damaged or destroyed during the war. Arms manufacturers based in central Bosnia between Zenica and Bugojno have been deprived of the market in a demilitarized country. The big ironworks in Zenica fared similarly. There are no significant foreign investments, although the corporate tax rate has been reduced to only 10%.
The distribution of VAT revenue is a constant point of contention. In FBH, a distribution key was set in favor of the regions with the Bosniak majority (Sarajevo, Goražde), because they were more severely affected by the war. As a result, the already neglected counties with a Croatian majority hardly receive any funds for public investments. In the Herceg-Bosna County, for example, only one regional road has been rebuilt in the 27 years since the war.
The unclear ownership situation in the land registers is a hindrance to agriculture. Large rural areas in the Bosnian Serb Republic are completely depopulated due to the expulsion of the Bosniaks and Croats and the agricultural areas lie fallow.
The situation in the rural areas was characterized by the forest fires in the Livno region in the spring of 2022, when the central government could not even agree on declaring a state of emergency and sending police units to support the regional fire brigade, although forestry was the leading economic sector in Livno where this region is.
The political disputes between the representatives of the peoples repeatedly lead to public investments (e.g. larger construction projects) being delayed, which has a very negative effect on the construction industry. For example, the construction projects in Mostar (e.g. Croatian National Theater) funded by the Republic of Croatia are always prevented by the Bosniak side.
Although there are few companies of international importance (e.g. automotive supplier Prevent from Sarajevo, construction supplier FEAL from Široki Brijeg), overall the manufacturing sector is too weak to help the economy to pick up. In contrast to the capital Sarajevo and the capital of the Bosnian Serb Republic Banja Luka, where purchasing power is above average thanks to central institutions, West Herzegovina County, inhabited mostly by Croats, stands out from other regions with good economic dynamics. However, this is the result of a private initiative without any support from public sources. The fact that entire columns of Bosniak day laborers travel by bus from far away every day to earn a daily wage of around 40 euros demonstrates how far this community differs from the Bosniak-dominated regions.
10. Reform of the Electoral Law
The electoral rules have been the subject of fierce disputes and interventions by the High Representatives since 2000, each time following pressure from the Bosniak political parties. A total of 89 rule changes in favor of Bosniaks were counted, leading to the gradual ousting of the legitimate Croatian representatives (i.e. the candidates who received the Croats’ votes) from power.
The Austrian Wolfgang Petritsch enacted a particularly serious change shortly before the end of his mandate as High Representative in 2002, when he decreased both the number of deputies in the Croatian Club in the House of Peoples of the FBH from 30 to 17 and the blocking minority from a simple majority reduced only a third of the votes and at the same time changed the rule how these deputies are filled indirectly from the counties. The House of Nations was already provided for in the Washington agreement as the final instance where the Croats can use a veto to defend themselves against being outvoted by the Bosniaks, who outnumber them.
Petritsch’s additions made it possible for Bosniaks to nominate 5 to 6 Croatian deputies in the House of Nations, thereby gaining full power in FBH and two-thirds of power in the state as a whole. A bizarre situation took place in 2010, when the sixth Croatian MP in the House of Peoples FBH, elected by Bosniak votes, refused to vote against the will of the Croatian voters. High Representative Valentin Inzko decided that 5 (five) deputies represent a third of 17 and so a government was formed without the legitimate Croatian representatives.
The composition of the House of Nations in the 2018-2022 electoral period shows how far the abuse of the Petritsch amendments to the electoral rules goes. Inside were two Bosniaks, elected by the Bosniak-dominated districts as the Croatian representatives, although they had each been convicted of causing serious bodily harm and buying the votes. In the new electoral period, however, one of the abusively elected Croatian representatives is to be replaced by his daughter in the House of Nations FBH, who was elected by the Bosnians in the same abusive way.
Since the Constitutional Court BH, in which 6 local and three foreign judges, had already declared the controversial rule by Petritsch void in 2017 and since then the Bosniak politicians have not been willing to agree to a change in favor of legitimate representation, a political blockade ensued in FBH since the 2018 election, which continues to this day. The old government remained in office, but the parliamentary bodies have essentially not been formed.
After the polling stations were closed on October 2, 2022, High Representative Christian Schmidt, who has been in office since 2021 as Inzko’s successor, issued the rule on how the House of Nations FBH will be occupied in future and how a blockade situation will be prevented. The gist of it is that the clubs of the Bosniaks, the Croats and the Serbs will be enlarged from 17 to 23 deputies each and the “Remainder (Ethnic minorities)” from 7 to 11. Although the Bosniaks do in fact get 16 additional MPs, because in addition to their own, they also appoint all representatives of the Serbs, the “rest” and 4 to 5 representatives of the Croats in FBH, there was a storm of indignation from the Bosniaks and “civil society ” and their supporters from abroad against High Representative Schmidt.
This minimal change prevents the Bosniaks from overruling the Croats in the House of Nations FBH during the current electoral term, but does not generally eliminate the problem. However, High Representative Schmidt did not dare to solve the problem of legitimate representation in the three-person State Presidium, so that the Bosniaks can continue to appoint the Croatian representative in this body and do so without any consideration.
11. Electoral Fraud
In addition to the complicated political system, the patchy electoral infrastructure is another factor conducive to election rigging and fraud at all levels. Essential organizational prerequisites for fair elections are functioning electoral committees at all levels and an updated electoral register. This is not the case in BH and therefore every election result must be questioned from the outset.
It is envisaged that the members of the (state) Central Electoral Committee in the House of Representatives BH will be elected from among the qualified candidates on a competitive basis. The call for proposals took place, but no new committee members were elected within the 30-day period. The Bosniak parties exploited a loophole in the law and elected their own candidates directly in parliament without a new tender. The problem is that none of the selected candidates have provided proof of meeting the strict requirements for membership of the Central Electoral Committee. There are many conditions, such as 5 years of experience in electoral bodies, work as a lawyer, national proportional representation. It is clear that the current electoral committee will be pro-Bosniak.
According to the census in 2013, the results of which were only published in 2017 and doubted by the Serbian side, exactly 3,531,159 people live in BH. According to various estimates, it is actually no more than 2.06 million. The electoral roll lists 3,368,666 names, which is far beyond any reality. More than 1.7 million ballots were cast in the October 2, 2022 election. Assuming a life expectancy of 72 years and a linear distribution of the age groups, minors make up a quarter of the population. Based on the above estimate, around 1.545 million eligible voters live in BH. Together with around 90,000 postal voters from abroad, the number of potential voters is less than the 1.7 million ballot papers submitted. Assuming a turnout of 75%, the potential for fraud is more than a quarter (450,000) of the votes cast. Election fraud on this scale was not recognized by the OHR, the OSCE observers, or the international organizations cited above.
The photo from the polling station in the embassy in Prague (Fig. 18) shows how seriously the election is taken by the high officials of BH. Martina Mlinarević, who came to serve as a dental lab assistant for an ambassador despite the law requiring her to have an academic education, put her ballot in a ballot box improvised from a cardboard box, despite the electoral law requiring a transparent box to do so.
In the election of the Croatian member of the state presidium, the effect was observed that the Bosniaks voted for Željko Komšić, who always acts consistently anti-Croatian and consequently has no support among the Croats. Komšić is known, among other things, for wanting to prevent the construction of the Pelješac bridge, Croatia’s capital project, with a lawsuit before the International Court of Justice. Table 1 shows excerpts of the extent of this election manipulation. Listed are those 13 out of a total of 79 constituencies in FBH where the number of voters in the electoral roll is greater than or almost equal to the number of residents, although this is the rule in the Republic of Serbia. These are also places with a low percentage of Croats. Nevertheless, Komšić got about a third of the votes cast here, which corresponds to his lead over the Croatian opponent Krišto by almost 43,000 votes (Table 1).
Table 1. Results of the election for the Croatian member of the State Presidium on October 2, 2022 .
|Inhabitants (of which: Croats)||Voters||Komšić||Krišto|
|V. Kladuša||40.419 (636)||43.861||2.999||190|
|B. Krupa||25.545 (66)||25.325||2.462||34|
|Doboj Jug||4.137 (24)||4.270||697||6|
|Centar Sarajevo||55.181 (3.333)||58.320||8.694||820|
|Novo Sarajevo||64.814 (4.639)||66.532||10.969||1.199|
Almost three weeks after the election, the votes were still being counted. Numerous complaints have been received by the Central Electoral Committee. Even the preliminary results were not available. Overall, the organization of the elections did not leave a good impression, even if the OSCE observers were deployed in different places. There can be no conclusion of a fair election.
12. Brčko District
The Brčko District Special Administrative Region is one of the few positive components in BH’s complicated political system. Built on the former notorious theater of war, the narrowest point of the Serbian east-west corridor, this small region on about 1 percent of BH’s territory represents a positive example of rebuilding trust between the former warring Serbs on one side as well as the Bosniaks and Croats from the other side, which accompanies the reconstruction of the region and the public infrastructure. The return rate among former refugees is high, although many Serbs were specifically resettled in Brčko during the 1992-95 occupation.
The district is governed autonomously to the two entities by its own all-party government, which is formed according to the strict parity, rolling principle among all three peoples. Here, too, the High Representative co-governs in the person via his supervisor, who has always been an American. A total of 12 parties are represented in the district parliament, because the effect of ethnic homogenization around a leading national party has not materialized here. Thanks to higher external investments, wage levels in the district are higher than in the rest of the country. There have been no noteworthy tensions or even conflicts between members of different peoples in recent years.
Despite the serious crimes committed by Serbian troops in 1992, this is a positive example of thriving cooperation between the former wartime opponents while maintaining equality, which one wishes for the rest of BH as well. Nonetheless, the Brčko district is not mentioned as an option in the current political debates, nor is it considered in international reporting.
13. EU Perspective
In 2003 BH was identified as a potential candidate for accession by the Council of Europe. After the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU came into force in 2015, BH formally applied for membership in 2016. Since BH was unable to adequately satisfy the EU’s list of criteria for candidate status, the EU has not taken any concrete steps since then. In the wake of the Ukraine crisis, the European Commission made a recommendation to the Council of Europe on October 12, 2022 to grant candidate status to BH and linked this to the fulfillment of various conditions.
From the afore-mentioned statements, it is easy to see that the current BH government is not even capable of the most necessary administrative reforms (e.g. judicial reform, public procurement, avoidance of conflicts of interest). Even if it were empowered to do so, it would take years for the relevant legislation to be passed and implemented. The recommendation of the European Commission should therefore only be interpreted as a motivational message without any factual basis.
However, it is much more serious that the US State Department issued a terror alert on October 4, 2022, two days after the election and the OHR decree . Although the nationality of the potential terrorists was not specified, it is clear from earlier press releases from the US Embassy in Sarajevo that they were Bosniaks. It has been known for years that there are armed Islamist groups in Bosanska Bojna (at the EU border near Bihać) and in Maoča . The attacker on the US embassy in Sarajevo in 2012 was recruited from this circle.
14. Summary and Outlook
Since the end of the war and the conclusion of the peace agreement at the end of 1995, Bosnia-Herzegovina has remained in a state of division and discord, which has brought with it the paralysis of many social activities – especially the economy – which is visible particularly in crisis situations such as the COVID pandemic or large forest fires that were very disadvantageous. Bosnia-Herzegovina is on the way to the next crisis and does not deserve the status of an EU candidate. In a country without the minimum of social consensus with drastic reforms being necessary to put the country on the path to progress and positive social development this status as candidate would seem most concerning.
Foreigners often overlook the fact that the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina – as it currently exists – was brought into being by three ethnic warring parties who were at war at the time and not by anonymous citizens on the rubble of the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Therefore, every reform plan should take this into account, reject the unitary bourgeois model and make the principle of power-sharing a permanent basis, as emphasized several times by Vrbetić and de Bruijn . That is the basic principle of the Washington and Dayton Accords.
With regard to civil rights, the principle of equality of peoples and citizens, implemented in the Brčko district or to a considerable extent in the city of Mostar, should be extended to the entire territory of BH with equal participation of the constituent peoples in the exercise of power. While this is a laborious approach that needs to be backed up by watertight legitimate representation it is the only way for every citizen of BH to gain confidence in the institutions of the state, but also in fellow citizens of other nationalities. Then the internal territorial structure and the organization of the administrative units would become less important.
BH is to be permanently committed to demilitarization. Its borders are to be guaranteed by NATO. Influence by Russia, Turkey and Iran must be pushed back. The influx of migrants is also to be permanently prevented by monitoring of the eastern border.
Due to their smaller number and spread over a large territory, Croats have the greatest interest in the continued existence of the state among the three constituent peoples. Since most of them also have the citizenship of the Republic of Croatia, as a community they represent a harbinger of the European Union in BH. This should take into account the EU policy more than before in its orientation towards BH. This includes stimulating cross-border cooperation between BH and Croatia, which share about two-thirds of BH’s border.
Any goal is thwarted by the reform backlog and the inability of BH politicians to reach the minimum consensus. Therefore, strong external support and monitoring remain essential. The status of a protectorate should be retained for the foreseeable future and the role of the High Representative should be equipped with additional powers and a team of experienced administrators as a kind of shadow cabinet or supervisory board. This model should apply for at least two electoral periods and be updated if necessary.
At the end of such a process, which would likely take at least another 25 years, BH should be mature enough to join the EU.
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Dr. Josip Stjepandić: Bosnia-Herzegovina on the Way to the Next Crisis: Observations from the Croatian Perspective