Bosnia goes to the polls, but how long will the country last?


NOS Newsyesterday, 08:36Amended yesterday, 09:51

  • David Jan Godfroid

    correspondent Balkan

  • David Jan Godfroid

    correspondent Balkan

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been going on for more than a quarter of a century, and yet in many ways it is as if it only ended yesterday. The country does not function or hardly functions. The chance that it will fall apart is certainly not imaginary. Nor is there any chance that this will be accompanied by violence.

On the street, Bosnians are not very hopeful about the elections:

Bosnians on elections: ‘Expect little change’

Today the three members of the rotating presidency of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina are elected: a Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim), a Serb and a Croat. Voting also takes place for the parliaments of the two ‘entities’ that make up Bosnia and Herzegovina: the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Serbian Republic. And finally, Bosniaks and Croats elect parliaments in their ten cantons. Voting is done almost exclusively through ethnic lines. Bosniaks generally vote for Bosniaks, Serbs for Serbs and Croats for Croats.

Stability never reached

In 1995, that structure was the only way to end the bloody Bosnia war. It took US President Clinton and his negotiator Richard Holbrooke an awful lot of effort to bring the warring parties to a table in Dayton and Serbia would never have signed if there had not been a great deal of autonomy for the Serbian part of the country. the population. They got it in their Serbian Republic, one of the two entities. Bosniaks and Croats took control of the Muslim-Croat Federation.

The hope was that the animosity between the population groups would fade over time and that politics would follow suit. Over the years, Bosnia would function as a democracy in which the different population groups would work closely together, was the guiding idea. And in case differences of opinion proved insoluble, an international High Representative was appointed. It can make decisions and even roll back laws that national, regional and local parliaments have already passed. It all never worked well.

Let’s move towards independence. You can follow me in that or you can agree to oppression.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik

The Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik is especially blamed for this. He once started out as an enlightened successor to the war leader Radovan Karadzic, but over the years he has become increasingly nationalistic and authoritarian. For years he has alluded to secession from his Serbian Republic. According to him, Bosniaks, Croats and the western part of the international community would rather lose the Serbs than get rich.

That separation has therefore been hanging above the market for years. Earlier this year, Dodik actually took concrete steps. He withdrew representatives of the Serbian Republic from common institutions such as the judiciary, taxation and defence. He does not care that the national government in Sarajevo is responsible for foreign policy. He personally maintains warm ties with Russian President Putin. Last month he went on a visit to the Kremlin. “Let’s move towards independence,” he said on Serbian television. “You can follow me in that or you can agree to oppression.”

Dodik may be the biggest security threat to Bosnia’s survival, but he’s not the only one. Some Croats, supported by the Croatian government in Zagreb, want a stronger position for the smallest population group in the country. They want their own entity and thus dissolution of the Muslim-Croat Federation. The Bosniaks are firmly against this.

Meanwhile, Bosnia faces a range of problems that receive little or no attention from the dysfunctional state: corruption, an emaciated economy, inflation and a host of other issues that affect its citizens on a daily basis. Tens of thousands leave every year in the hope of finding a better future elsewhere. Today’s elections will not change that.