Balkanalysis on Twitter

The 2016 Local Elections in Bosnia: a Win for the Major Ethno-nationalist Parties editor’s note: for deeper insight from this author on political and social change in modern Bosnia, see her e-book, 20 Years after Dayton: Where Is Bosnia and Herzegovina today?

By Lana Pasic

On October 2, 2016, the seventh local elections were held in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although 3,263,906 citizens had a right to vote, the election turnout was low, as in the previous years, seeing only 53.88% turnout, according to preliminary results, with 6% of votes being invalid. Some 30,027 candidates were in the running for the positions of mayors and their place in the city and municipal councils.


Political rivals peer from campaign posters in Bosnia, ahead of local elections.

The election campaign: referendum and war-mongering 

This year’s election campaign was intense and aggressive. Door-to-door campaigning, persistent telephone calls, promises of jobs, and offers of vote-buying have all been present in previous elections as well, but this year political parties seemed to have more zest and determination in ensuring a victory for their candidates.

Irregularities were reported both before and during the election process. The watchdog body Pod Lupom (Under the Magnifying Glass) reported 173 critical situations and 125 cases of citizens reporting misconduct or irregularities during the elections – the largest number since the Dayton Peace agreement was signed in 1995. These cases included minor and major issues, from pressuring and influencing voters, to people voting several times.

In one of the municipalities in Herzegovina, Stolac, the polls were closed early and elections are to be repeated due to irregularities, and to a physical attack on the president of the municipal electoral board, as well as to alleged irregularities in the voting process.

The only municipality where no elections were held was Mostar. The last local elections in Mostar were held in 2008, and since then, the political stalemate has prevented citizens from casting their votes, as Bosniak and Croat parties have not been able to reach an agreement on the electoral regulation, nor for local administration.

The political parties and candidates have touched upon all topics, with few references made to the actual authorities and tasks of the local governments. The campaign in Republika Srpska was run around the referendum for keeping the date of January 9th the national day of the entity. With 55.67% election turnout and 99.81% of the votes for “yes”, the referendum (which took place just a week before the elections) secured Dodik’s Independent Social Democrat’s Party (SNSD) strong support and a large percentage of votes.

On the other hand, in the Federation, the candidates went as far as discussing the potential for the emergence of another armed conflict in the country. The persistence of ethno-politics and war-mongering were just some of the tactics to mobilize the electorate and ensure the support for the “protectors of the national interest”, which are the main ethno-nationalist parties – Izetbegovic’s SDA in the Federation, and SNSD in the Republika Srpska.

Winners and losers: ethnic nationalism and a weak left

The preliminary results unsurprisingly indicate that SDA and SNSD have maintained and entrenched their positions as the strongest political parties in two entities.

The SDA and SBB alliance won 34 municipalities. The alliance between the two largest Bosniak parties in the Federation was made in 2015, after the leaders of the two parties were in a fierce competition for the seat in the presidency during the 2014 elections.

In Republika Srpska, SNSD won in 26 municipalities, extending its influence in certain towns which were previously in the hands of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). Meanwhile, the  Croatian Democratic Alliance (HDZ) won mayoral races in 18 municipalities, and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 8 municipalities.

Although the preliminary results indicate victory for the nationalist and conservative blocs, in the Federation, a closer look at the statistics, particularly in Sarajevo, indicates that there is still significant support for the options on the political left. However, these are fragmented across several parties – SDP, Nasa Stranka, DF and the newly established GS. Following the failure of the once major leftist party, SDP, in the previous elections, the party has come back stronger, maintaining its position in Tuzla, and winning several other municipalities.

The election results, although disappointing to the progressives, are not at all surprising, particularly after the 2014 elections, and considering the state of the weak and fragmented opposition, as well as low election turnout.

Italian Security in the MENA and Balkans, Part 5: Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina

By Matteo Albertini and Chris Deliso

This, the fifth installment in our present series, assesses the modern relationship between Italy and Croatia, and with Bosnia in diplomatic and security affairs. While the latter countries are Balkan neighbors, their different historic relations with Italy and differing local realities mean that Italy has to take a different approach with both. At the same time, lingering terrorism concerns in the Balkans are keeping Italian security services active in a region where numerous international interests vie for power and influence.

Croatia: Diplomatic Context

Diplomatic relations between Italy and Croatia have always been close, but Italy took a more pacifistic track (as it would before the intervention in Kosovo) in the period immediately before independence declarations and war in the former Yugoslavia. After the initial attempts to save the collapsing Yugoslavia with De Michelis’s 1991 initiatives, Italy followed the German and the European decision to recognize Slovenian and Croatian independences.

As we reported in the first article in this series, in the following years Italy was marginalized in the talks for ending the war and excluded from ground-level Contact Group activities. However, it started to develop its connection with the two newborn Eastern Adriatic countries. A generic support for Slovenia and Croatia spread in the Italian population, also thanks to the good offices of the Catholic Church, especially in the first years of the conflict, before the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina reached its peak.

Occasional matters of diplomatic tensions regarded mostly the legacy of WWII and the reciprocal accusation of war crimes then. It is important to remember that these contentious subjects had previously been almost entirely expunged from the diplomatic discourse during Yugoslav years, in order to maintain good relations with an important commercial and diplomatic partner. Italy thus reemerged at a time soon after the end of the war in Croatia, when a more critical perspective was arising about the Tudjman years.

The cyclical diplomatic crisis between Rome and Zagreb peaked on two occasions: in the year 2000, when Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi decided to bestow the last Italian administration of the town of Zara, during Fascist times, with a Medal of Honor; and in the year 2007, when a dispute broke out between Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and his Croatian counterpart Stipe Mesic, caused by some harsh comments made by the Italian president during the commemoration for the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Italians in Istria and Dalmatia after WWII.

Bilateral relations improved in the following years. The Josipovic presidency opened a new era of neighborly diplomacy, when Italy constantly supported Croatian accession to the European Union.

Croatian Secret Service Shake-ups and Historic Relations with France

The current director of Croatia’s Security Intelligence Agency (SOA, Sigurnosno obavještajna agencija) is Danijel Markic, born in France, a former member of French Foreign Legion and a fighter in the Croatian special forces during the war in 1991-1995. Markic was nominated on 29 March 2016 by President Kolinda Grabar-Kitanovic and Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic. This appointment was partly a nod to Croatian nationalism, but it might also restore some old alliances that will put Italy and its closest partners on a new footing in Zagreb.

Unlike predecessor Dragan Lozančić, who was well connected in American high circles spheres (and who holds a PhD from New York University), Markic has historic military and intelligence ties at the highest levels with France, and could exploit his own relations with French intelligence. This adds an interesting new element to the general Balkan intelligence mix, since the French have largely been staying on the sidelines in recent years.

As reported by Italian magazine LookOutNews, Markic is in close contact with the retired French general Philippe Rondot, former chief of French intelligence (DGSE, Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure). Rondot, who is now 80 years old, is perhaps most famous for his role in the 1994 capture of terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (‘Carlos the Jackal’) in Sudan.

Rondot’s connections with the Croatian military and security structures during and after the war of the 1990s were revealed when he became collateral damage in a reputational dispute between rival heavyweights on the French political scene. In 2009, Britain’s Telegraph reported that it had taken investigators “two years to decipher” several handwritten notebooks that police had seized in a raid on the general’s home. “His diaries, written by hand in small writing across the square lined paper, have thrown an embarrassing light on the machinations of France’s secret services and raised concern that spymasters are operating outside of the law,” the newspaper reported.

“They will be produced as evidence in the forthcoming Clearstream trial in which the former prime minister Dominique de Villepin will be accused, along with three others, of complicity in an attempt to smear the reputation of his political rival, Nicholas Sarkozy, by means of a fake list of off-shore bank accounts,” the newspaper added.

The British and French media put most attention on this internal aspect of the case, as well as on Rondot’s propositions for targeted assassinations and relocation of senior members of Saddam Hussein’s government after 9/11, in case they might be ‘useful.’ But what is most relevant for our present study is an additional detail reaffirmed in the Rondot diaries: the role of French intelligence in Croatia, due partly to French Foreign Legion ties, and what this could mean for future intelligence activities on Balkan soil and beyond.

The diaries “appear to detail how French intelligence services protected Ante Gotovina, a Croat general who had served in the French Foreign Legion and was wanted by the International Tribunal for former Yugoslavia for alleged war crimes,” stated the same Telegraph article. Rondot’s notes “claim that a French secret service officer was with Croat soldiers when they carried out the ‘Oluja’ [Operation Storm] offensive, in which Croat forces ethnically cleansed around 200,000 Serbs from part of the Krajina region, killing at least 150 people. Gen Rondot noted: ‘General Ante Gotovina told me he would never reveal the links that existed, during the time of the war (in former Yugoslavia) between him and us,’” the British newspaper reported.

This connection is significant because, while the cumulative actions behind Gotovina’s 2005 capture on Tenerife remain opaque, Britain had been most vocal in opposing Croatian EU membership until he was caught. (Gotovina was found guilty of war crimes by the Hague, but finally acquitted on appeal, in November 2012).

The chronic antagonisms that emerged between and within partner and rival intelligence services in the post-war hunt for alleged war criminals like Gotovina took up considerable energy and time. It also caused network destruction and complicated infighting in various services.

The question now will be whether, with the appointment of war veteran Markic, the old ties will be restored, and if so what could come of it. Italy, as traditionally a close of ally of Britain with extremely effective intelligence ties in Croatia could provide a useful check on French influence.

Another Aspect of Italian-Croatian Intelligence Issues: Wikileaks and the Hacking Team Case

From the Italian point of view, what is more interesting is a controversial episode involving attempted business dealings between SOA and an Italian firm. During Lozancic’s tenure, SOA sought to acquire special hacking software from Hacking Team (this Milanese firm was discussed in the first part of this series, in regard to the Regeni case in Egypt). But Croatia was far from the only country affected when Wikileaks released one million Hacking Team emails, in July 2015.

According to Wikileaks, the emails revealed “the inner workings of the controversial global surveillance industry.” For Croatian media, however, domestic revelations proved most exciting: local media reported that the hacked emails compromised national security.

The alleged damage included revelations like budget problems, inter-agency rivalries over location of procured equipment, and even the names of intermediary companies, SOA employees and interior ministry officials in communication with the Italian company. According to an 8 February 2016 article in Croatian newspaper Jutarnij List, the hacked emails cumulatively revealed that “foreign companies easily obtain information about the functioning and problems of the Croatian intelligen0ce apparatus.”

SOA fired back the next day, denying all of these claims in a statement carried by the Croatian security blog While it confirmed that it had been in communication with Hacking Team since 2011, and operated legally through a Croatian intermediary company, SOA denied that any of the security breaches illustrated by the newspaper report had occurred. SOA added that Croatian citizens should maintain trust in the professional workings of the agency.

As with the Regeni case in Egypt, it remains unclear to what extent the embarrassing leaks have damaged or compromised links between SOA and Italy’s AISE, but it is reasonable to expect that the case was as much a headache for the latter as for the former. With the change at the top of Croatian intelligence services and the Italian government’s orientation towards Hacking Team and other Italian cyber-exporters, we should expect some decisions in the near future.

Regardless of this specific case, it will be interesting to see if the Croatian intelligence leadership change influences Italian-Croatian relations. It is possible that the strategy will change accordingly with the change of presidency. Markic’s appointment caused a political crisis for the Oreskovic government when it became clear that the new president, Grabar-Kitarović, had no trust in Lozancic.

Italian Diplomatic Structure and Recent Activity

On 12 May 2016, Paolo Gentiloni, Italy’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, was in Dubrovnik to attend the ministerial meeting on the Ionian and Adriatic Initiative (IAI)/EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR).

As reported in the previous articles of this series and in previous publications, this initiative represents one of the pivotal strategies to reaffirm Italian diplomatic leverage in Southeast Europe. The EU Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR) – which was launched on 18 November 2014 under the Italian Presidency of the European Council and spurred by the political impetus of Italy – aims at rationalizing resources and sectoral policies by focusing on four common “Pillars”: fishing and the ‘blue economy,’ interconnectivity of infrastructures and electricity, the environment, tourism and culture.

The partners in EUSAIR, in addition to the EU Commission, include eight countries. Four of them are EU member states (Italy, Slovenia, Greece and Croatia) and four are non-EU countries (Albania, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro).

The IAI/EUSAIR Ministerial Meeting held in Dubrovnik was thus a strategic direction-setting opportunity for the EU Commission and the partner countries. The meeting was followed by the EUSAIR Forum, which will present the strategy to the public and provide an opportunity to open a debate with the region’s representatives of civil society and opinion makers.

The Italian MFA announced on this that “Minister Gentiloni’s diplomatic mission falls within the scope of Italy’s staunch and constant action to reaffirm its role as a key partner of the Balkan Countries, also in the prospect of the Italian Presidency of the Berlin Process [the summit will be held in Italy in 2017]; an assertive role that Italy is playing by leveraging all the regional cooperation instruments (EUSAIR, IAI, Trilateral meetings with Serbia and Albania, Central European Initiative – CEI).”

Italy’s historical cultural, religious and political links are reflected in a robust diplomatic presence, which also helps conceal one of its largest regional foreign intelligence outposts.

As we noted in the second part of this series, in addition to its Zagreb embassy, Italy has a cultural center and trade commission in the capital, and consulates in Dubrovnik, Rijeka, Bule, Pulja and Split. The current ambassador, Adriano Chiodini Cianfarani, was previously ambassador to Pakistan and has held numerous high-level positions both in the Rome MFA and abroad, in 2011 having been in charge of the Turkey-Cyprus portfolio.

In a 27 July 2016 interview with Croatia’s Nacional, Ambassador Cianfarani specified the above-mentioned Adriatic-Ionian Initiative and EUSAIR in regards to bilateral cooperation. According to the ambassador, both countries “are fully committed to further improve our relations, which are good not only at the political level, but also in all other areas, especially in the economic field, since Italy is among the first partner of Croatia.”

When asked about Croatian politics, the ambassador replied that a “short-term political crisis” should not be “a key influence” on the economy. “It should be noted that there are decisions that government must bring, therefore political stability is important, but in the meantime, life goes on and everyone involved in production and various services simply must work,” the ambassador said. “It is a sign of maturity of a country. In any case, after the next election, we want Croatia stable government.”

The Italian diplomat’s interview also revealed a perceptibly different approach to the political crisis in Croatia than, for example, to Macedonia’s (which is recounted in the third part of this series). Whether or not this is due to Italy’s special relationship with Croatia, the latter’s EU status, or other reasons, Italian diplomacy in Zagreb has been generally softer and less demanding.

Diplomatic Structure of Italy in Bosnia-Hercegovina

In Bosnia, Italy lacks the same depth of historical and cultural overlap as it does with Croatia. Also, Bosnia’s poor economy and complicated political and bureaucratic structure make it a ‘special case’ in the Balkans. (Readers interested in the views of several generations of Bosnians will enjoy author Lana Pasic’s ebook, 20 Years after Dayton).

Italy’s Sarajevo embassy has a fairly healthy staff of 16, according to the Bosnian MFA (though three members are based in either Serbia or Croatia). It should also be noted that, as is the case with Albania, a number of countries run their diplomatic relations with Sarajevo out of embassies in Rome, which cumulatively is advantageous for Italian intelligence and counter-intelligence operations.

Unlike his counterpart in Zagreb, who arrived from Pakistan near the end of 2015, Italian Ambassador Ruggero Corrias has been in Bosnia since 2013. He is a former Air Force officer, with diplomatic experience particularly in the US and South America, and is in frequent contact with Bosnian leaders to find ways for improving bilateral ties and promoting Bosnia’s EU path.

Italian Diplomacy’s Focus on Economic Development

However, much remains to be done. While affirming that the situation in Kosovo “is improving,” one American diplomat in Italy stated for that “the real quagmire in the Balkans is Bosnia. The situation has not changed in years and I do not have much faith in future changes.”

Since political and social progress is perceived as depending on economic growth, Italian diplomatic efforts are focusing on economic development programs. Italian diplomatic support seeks, for example, to help Bosnia-Herzegovina get a new credit program from the IMF. But the road to achieve such goals is long and hard as it relies on the reform of public administration, banking system reform, and a major privatization plan.

On 23 February 2016, Ambassador Corrias thus met with the director of the Bosnian Central Bank, Senad Softic, and affirmed Italy’s commitment to the growth of Bosnia’s economy. “Italy – which holds more than 30% of the bank market through Unicredit Group and Intesa San Paolo – has a great interest in supporting the reform process and backing Bosnia’s European future, after last week’s request of adhesion,” he stated.

These subjects were at the center of the meeting, after which both underlined that “despite a positive GDP trend and monetary stability, endemic unemployment and foreign debt growth clearly show the fragility of the Bosnian socio-economic system.”

Italy is the second-largest commercial partner of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with a total trade exchange of more than 1.5 billion euros annually, and more than 70 companies working in the country. Italy thus has a major interest in boosting Bosnia’s European accession procedures and thus exploit its dominant position. This (and other) data was reported in the latest research published by the Ministry for Economic Development, and is available here.

The Italian Military Presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia-Herzegovina, still a quasi-protectorate, hosts the second-biggest Italian military deployment. The Italian military operates inside the operation EUFOR Althea (which took the place of NATO’s SFOR) with 900 servicemen. In 2010 the United Nations enlarged its functions: aside from the original mission of maintaining security in the country, EUFOR Althea is also reinforcing and training the Bosnian Armed Forces. Italy has also participated, since 2003, in the European Union police mission (EUPM), which contributes to the creation of a multiethnic and professional police service in Bosnia.

All these missions have been recently refinanced by the Italian government for the year 2016 in the Financial Law of November 2015.

Terrorist Threats, Migration and Security Risks: the AISE 2015 Annual Report

Italian intelligence concerns about terrorism and Bosnia are expressed in the last report published by AISE about its actions during 2015. The report clearly underlines that the primary threat to Italian security is international terrorism and the ramifications of the Islamic State in Northern Africa and Europe.

Italy is now more “exposed” to terrorist attacks than ever, as the events in France and Belgium clearly showed in the last year. It does not surprise that 47% of all reports requested of AISE by Italian state institutions and police in 2015 concerned international terrorism. Also, according to the report, some 79% of these country reports were about Middle Eastern or Northern Africa countries.

Interestingly enough, and despite the heavy press coverage regarding the possible jihadist threat from the Balkans, these countries represent altogether only 3% of the total request for country reports. This low number underlines one of the introductory remarks reported in the first chapters of the present series: Italy considers terrorist threats coming from the Balkans and North Africa more a matter of security and investigation, to be conducted by police forces rather than by AISE.

Thus the Italian intelligence activities in these countries are performed, in cases where they are performed, mostly in support of police actions, even if this is not the primary goal of intelligence activities in the classic sense. But terrorism has changed in recent years too, acquiring some of the peculiarities of organized crime, and frequently coordinating its operation through online platforms and communications systems. This phenomenon thus requires tools of investigation carried out mainly through intelligence services.

During 2015, the AISE report also reveals, there were also repeated warnings about the possibility of terrorist infiltration among the migrants following the route through the Balkans, especially in countries like Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. Such countries have also sent foreign fighters in Syria and been home to cells of radical Islamist groups.

As the AISE 2015 report continues, “the risk of terrorist infiltration in migratory flows […] is more concrete on the Balkan trajectory, especially in relation with an informative framework which affirms: security vulnerability due to the dimensions of the refugees’ flux from the Syrian-Iraqi battlefront; the centrality of the region as primary route for foreign fighters going to and coming back from the Middle East; the confirmed numbers of more than 900 volunteers enrolled by the Islamic State, and the presence on the ground of strengthened local extremist groups, capable of radicalizing migrants.”

Police Cooperation between Bosnia and Italy

Meanwhile, police cooperation continues: as has reported in recent years, many operations conducted jointly by Italian and Bosnian officials have uncovered parts of the jihadist webs between the two countries. The most important arrest was that, in 2014, of Bilal Bosnic, accused of being a wandering recruiter for the Islamic State, and charged with proselytism amongst the Muslim communities in Northern Italy. He was arrested with 16 others in September 2014, and later sentenced to seven years in jail for recruitment.

Italy and Bosnia both represent important hubs for foreign fighters. One of the latest reports on the subject, from early August 2016, concerns a young Pakistan national, Farook Aftab- who incidentally was also captain of Italy’s under-19 national cricket team (a detail which underlines that global jihadism can recruit also well-settled citizens of a country, as with the perpetrators of the Paris and Brussels attacks). According to Italian website lettera43, Aftab was expelled from Italy on terrorism charges, after police learned of his allegedly plan to move in Bosnia to train to join Islamic State.


Croatia and Bosnia are neighboring countries, but obviously at different stages of development and with different defining features. For Italy, it could be said that Croatia is ‘easier’ to deal with, but then again, the rewards – and potential damage – as the Wikileaks case showed – are proportionately higher. The presence of the Catholic Church in both countries is also a force multiplier for Italian interests, as is the traditional role where Italy has felt comfortable- that of providing cultural soft power.

Thus, the news this June that Italy is providing equipment and expertise for the Sarajevo National Museum’s new center for cultural heritage restoration might be more significant than it first appears. The simple fact that Italy is offering this – as opposed to Muslim countries that have long been active, like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran – may be seen as a sign to Bosnians that their country has not been completely forgotten by Europe. As originally reported in January 2012, this and other cultural landmarks had been closed due to internal bickering and a lack of budget. The current Italian project thus has an unstated but tangible value on not only the cultural but also political and socio-religious levels.

Of course, such ventures aside, Italy will be most preoccupied with commercial relations in both Croatia and Bosnia, as well as monitoring political stability and risk – from elections to possible secessionist trends – and may try to increase its intelligence activity for both internal use and allied use. Intelligence leadership changes may indicate a return to old friendships- time will tell.

Political Rallies in Republika Srpska: Shows of Force ahead of Local Elections

By Lana Pasic

Over the last few weeks, several protest movements have been activated in the Western Balkans. Demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in Macedonia, protests in Kosovo, political turmoil and government restructuring in Montenegro and political and socio-economic protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina have been in the headlines for over a month.

Government and Opposition Blocs Face Off

Such events have often been presented (in foreign media especially) as the first signs of an imminent ‘Balkan spring,’ though this debatable. In the case of Bosnia, the most coverage has been given to the gatherings which took place in Banja Luka over the last weekend, when both the governing coalition and the opposition parties held public rallies with their supporters.

The overlapping of opposing political rallies in Republika Srpska was well organized. After the Alliance for Change (comprising the main opposition parties in the RS, including SDS and the PDP) announced a protest in Banja Luka, Milorad Dodik’s SNSD responded by organising a counter-rally on the same day.

The two gatherings took place barely kilometers apart, which caused concerns over safety and potential outbreaks of violence. It was the political rhetoric behind the rallies, rather than any actual fear of clashes, that caused tensions, with sensationalist announcements made on both sides.

Some 400 buses of supporters came to Banja Luka, 250 to show allegiance to the government, the remaining buses conveying opposition followers. It was estimated that some 10,000 citizens attended the opposition protest, although the opposition leaders claim a higher number, while Dodik’s supporters numbered almost 30,000.

Further tensions were caused a day later, as the opposition leaders announced a protest and held a press conference in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, claiming that the SNSD is destabilising the entity. This gave a regional dimension to the rallies, spreading uncertainty further throughout an already tense neighborhood. None of the safety fears materialized, and both gatherings ended peacefully, with no clashes between the supporters of the opposing parties.

An Eclectic Manifesto and Discourse over Elections

Although the opposition rally initially aimed to highlight the alleged political and economic failures of the government, which has been in power for 12 years, their demands were so diverse – ranging from the early elections, paying out the overdue assistance to war veterans and child assistance, introduction of agricultural subsidies, ending concessions over natural resources and revision of electricity price hikes – that the government barely took note of their manifesto.

Instead, it focused vaguely on the issue of early parliamentary elections. It was clear that SNSD saw this event as an opportunity to count their supporters, and the rallies were thus just a show of force for both sides ahead of local elections. The elections are planned for first week of October, and political parties are expected to announce their candidates at the end of this week.

Even though the opposition brought up the issues of corruption, economic mismanagement and social injustice, these rallies had political rather than socio-economic motivations. To add to that, the opposition parties in both Republika Srpska and the Federation are certainly not the best advocates for anti-corruption actions. This is particularly the case for SDS, which had a very poor record of democratic rule and social distribution, and lost power largely due to corruption and political inefficiency.

Nevertheless, the social and economic questions which were raised by them remain relevant, and are not closer to being resolved than they were during the countrywide protests in 2014.

A Social Agenda and Local Elections

In the meantime, they continue to take the backseat in both political circles, and the media. While the politically sensationalized protests in Banja Luka became regional and international news, the socio-economic protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina this past week received very little attention.

Just days after the Banja Luka gathering, war veterans in the Federation protested, demanding pensions and social assistance, while factory workers blocked a major highway because of a failed privatization. Meanwhile, citizens in Sarajevo protested against the justice system’s failures to resolve a recent murder case.

While the protests are likely to continue, particularly as we get closer to the elections, with both workers and war veterans announcing demonstrations in coming week, it is unlikely that they will spark significant political or economic shifts.

Conclusion: Little Change Expected

While a potential change of local representatives during the elections may occur, this change will also have limited effects on social and economic policies, particularly as the current main opposition parties are certainly no outsiders to political office. In both entities, the main opposition – SDS and PDP in Republika Srpska, and SBB and DF in the Federation – have either been in power themselves or as coalition partners of the existing governments. In both cases, their record in office has been pitiful.

Meanwhile, the smaller local parties may have a better chance at bringing new social and economic agendas to the electorate; still, voters are generally still quite disillusioned by the democratic process and sensationalism, and it is thus unlikely that we will witness a higher voter turnout than during the 2014 general elections.

Protests in Post-Dayton Bosnia and the Failure of the Social Contract editor’s note: the following article complements the author’s newly-released e-book for Kindle, 20 Years after Dayton: Where is Bosnia and Hercegovina Today? The uniquely personal yet objective study combines analysis of the factors that have shaped post-conflict Bosnia with anecdotes from a range of local voices from Bosnia, enriching our understanding of the Bosnian experience before, during and after the war.

By Lana Pasic

At a public meeting organised by a small political party in Sarajevo, a few people got up to ask questions. However, no question was asked- instead, they talked about everything that was bothering them: poverty, unemployment, social injustice and so on. As they spoke, a sense of anxiety, bitterness and depression filled the room.

At times, Sarajevo seems to be completely removed from the reality of life in Bosnia and Herzegovina, just like most capital cities are unaware of developments in the rest of the country. Yet Bosnia’s capital has not escaped the rising inequalities and growing urban poverty of the time. While the city is buzzing with crowded coffee shops, the number of beggars on the streets and older people going through rubbish bins searching for food early in the morning is increasing daily. The number of those who are disappointed, dissatisfied and angry is also growing- as is their desire for a better life.


This dissatisfaction, disillusionment and bitterness over social inequality erupted during February 2014, when citizens throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina rose up against the political elite, protesting against privatization deals, labor market conditions, corruption, social injustices and overall political inefficiency.

The political, institutional, economic and social shortcomings of the Bosnian state over the last twenty years have impacted deeply on the economic status and living standard of the population. Poverty levels reached 17.9% by 2011, according to World Bank data. There are large differences between the average salary in the country between the $430 (€400) per month made by regular workers, and the $3,200 (€3,000) per month which government officials receive. Due to income inequalities, the social gap is widening, and there are little prospects for the new generations to bridge this gap, as both unemployment and youth unemployment are extremely high.


“Overall, we are in pretty bad shape economically. Unemployment, which is now at a staggering 40%, is nowhere near coming down.” Milan, Banja Luka


Industry in Bosnia and Herzegovina was doing well before the war, but after Dayton, formerly state-owned and worker-managed companies were privatized, often for little money. The privatization phenomenon changed the rules of the game, and poor management also resulted in the failure of the factories to contribute to the pensions and health insurance for the workers, who have, due to legal requirements, remained in their jobs for years, but without pay. This situation has created further frustration, inequalities, and workers, without an opportunity to provide for their livelihoods, are slipping deeper and deeper into poverty.


“When I decided to study Economics in 2002, I hoped that when I graduated I would find a job. I was full of enthusiasm about my life, and the future of the country. Now that I have been unemployed for six years, I feel very differently about the whole situation.” Jennie, Sarajevo

Rising Against the System

Since the end of the war, the Bosnian public has been considered rather shy about engaging in popular protests, in order to make demands on the government, due to a general disillusionment that anything can be changed by local politicians. However, political, economic and social mismanagement has over the years inspired a number of uprisings, protests and other expressions of civil dissatisfaction. Large-scale protests have shaken the foundations of, if not the state, then certainly the entity-level politics.

Various groups initiated protests and supported others in solidarity: railway employees, veterans, pensioners and students, over issues ranging from labour legislations and agricultural policies to social policies and pensions. Agricultural workers have blocked the borders with neighbouring countries, and taken to parliaments over issues like export restrictions; they have similarly brought up the failures of Bosnian representatives to devise common regulations. They camped in front of the Bosnian Parliament and state institutions for two years over the signing of the CEFTA agreement, and in protest over perceived inadequate subsidies and protectionist measures for local producers.

“I believe that change will come only when economic pressures become so strong that they translate into political pressure. “ Dino, Sarajevo

In the summer of 2013, a wave of new civic activism was motivated by the deadlock over identity numbers allocated at birth, which led to the blockade of the Parliament. In a follow up, in February 2014, workers of privatized factories in Tuzla initiated the country-wide protests, and were supported by youth, veterans and pensioners, who gathered in front of government offices, demanding political, economic and social changes.

Plenums – a New Form of Democracy

The 2014 protests brought with them a new form of civic participation in Bosnia and Herzegovina – plenums. These forums were public spaces where people in certain areas organized themselves into “working groups”. The groups quickly identified and presented their demands to the government. However, the number and scope of demands voiced during plenums was just as high as the number of citizens attending them. They included issues ranging from the reductions of politicians’ salaries, revision of budgets, establishment of independent anti-corruption committee, free health care, banning of nationalist parties, abolition of cantons, reducing the costs of administration, re-evaluation of privatisation deals, reducing salaries and benefits for high-ranking officials, fixing youth employment and so on. Some of the demands were met, but others were clearly not fitting the jurisdictions of the governments they protested against.

“I actively participated in the protests in Tuzla – I felt that this was finally our chance to make changes in the political and administrative arrangements in Bosnia, to be part of positive developments. When the protests started, I was very optimistic. There was a scent of change in the air. The whole city came together; going to a protest was like socialising. I really felt for the workers and their problems. There are people in our country who really have nothing, who need help, and there are some deep systemic changes which need to happen to improve their lives. We needed to discuss these root causes of the problems, instead of dealing with it one factory at a time.

I also joined the plenums in Tuzla when they were formed, but I was soon disappointed. We had a great opportunity then, but the plenums failed. The issue with plenums was that people talked so much about the problems, which we are all aware of, but they did not seem to be prepared to do any work. There were too many people involved – which was great, because there was a wider participation, but there was no leader. We needed someone who would listen to workers grievances, and popular demands and complaints, and be prepared to make difficult decisions.“  Adis, Tuzla

These citizens’ assemblies presented a potential for alternative ways of doing politics- they challenges the traditional political structures, presented local expressions of bottom-up democracy and were open to all, regardless of ethnicity and background, except to members of political parties.

In spite of initial unrests during the protests, the plenums were completely peaceful forums, with free and open discussions taking place among those attending. Through their use of social media and ICT, they allowed all citizens to engage in politics, particularly as traditional media are manipulated by different political parties. However, they were short-lived. Although the idea of an open democratic space where all citizens can share their views was a tempting experiment, the lack of leadership and management of demands eventually resulted in the failure of the plenums.

 Protests as Means of Change?

Social inequality and dissatisfaction remain high on the agenda in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although no major protests have taken place over the last two years, during which time plenums have ceased their activities, the potential for civil unrest remains present.

However, their potential to make sudden, long-term changes is questionable. The 2014 protests were often falsely referred to in the international media as the “Bosnian Spring” – yet these claims have failed to take into consideration the specificities of Bosnia’s internal structures and politicization of ethnicity. The complex structures of the Bosnian state, its entities and cantons, the presence of international actors, including not only the OHR, but also the World Bank and the IMF, are all factors which citizens may have issues with, but in reality they cannot be resolved through a revolution. Comprehensive political, economic and social changes cannot happen overnight, nor be imported from outside.

In spite of their limited potential to make immediate social transformation, popular protests will remain an important tool of civil society in B&H. Citizen-led changes are not only taking place during the elections. Plenums and protests are just some of the ways of public advocacy, holding politicians to account and exerting public pressure on them to either step up to the difficult task of working in the public interest, or step down from office. The rebuilding of social contract requires both, public pressure and political willingness and commitment to best respond to the needs of all citizens, which is going to be a long-term process, especially in a society where trust in political processes and state institutions is low.

Twenty Years On, Can the Dayton Agreement Be Considered a Success Story?

By Lana Pasic

The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, or the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio on November 21, 1995 by Alija Izetbegovic, Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic, and ratified in Paris on December 14, 1995.

Although the deal has been heavily criticized over the years for different reasons, the benefits of the Peace Agreement should not be understated. It managed to put an end to the four-year conflict, during which some 100,000 people were killed, according to the ICTY estimates, and two million – half of Bosnia’s population – were displaced.

Twenty years later, Dayton still features prominently in the minds and lives of Bosnian citizens, as it continues to shape the present political, institutional, economic and social developments in the country. It is generally accepted that the first decade of peace in the country brought progress, both in terms or economic recovery and improved relations between the former warring parties, while the last ten years is instead seen as the ‘lost decade,’ a period during which Bosnian citizens have been victims of political neglect, economic stagnation and growing social inequality and injustices.

What Has Dayton Achieved?

In the immediate post-conflict period, the agreement brought stability – ceasefire, withdrawal of the military, peacekeeping and disarmament. At the time, there was a general sense of progress; people were relieved that the war was over, and that life could somehow resume to normality. High levels of international financial assistance were fuelling reconstruction, recovery and development.

Great strides were made towards creating a functioning state: uniform identity documents and common passports were accepted, a common currency was introduced, a unified army and intelligence services were created, while state-level institutions were established with an aim of setting up a professional, multi-ethnic public sector. The rate of property return has been laudable, in spite of the fact that many of the returns were fictional, and people returned to the areas inhabited by their ethnic majority.

Reifying Divisions

However, in spite of many of the positive elements of the agreement, which cannot be disputed, assessing Dayton as an unqualified success, 20 years on, would be erroneous for several reasons. For the agreement continued ethnic identification, required a high degree of international involvement and created a messy administrative and bureaucratic system.

Annex IV of the Peace Agreement, which is the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has split the country into two parts, based on the war-time separation lines, thus creating two ethnically distinct regions with the country. Although it can be argued that no other workable solution was possible at the time, the perpetuation of these divisions through separate education systems, and ethnic-based allocation of public office positions has over the years cemented divisions.

To be sure, in Europe similar arrangements exist among different ethnic and linguistic communities in Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy and Belgium. However, in Bosnia, ethnic identity forms a basic pillar of the constitution, which impacts on the rights to political participation and representation of minority groups, and those who simply do not feel “constituent” enough. The ethnic character of all parts of the state – cantons, entities and public institutions – has undermined the potential for nation-building and reconciliation, which remain unaddressed and even seem to be forgotten.

The International Factor

Another issue arising from the agreement itself is the role it envisioned for the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina. While the peacekeeping operations were much needed at the time following the conflict, the extent of involvement and leverage international players have in Bosnia has over the years undermined the credibility and accountability of the Bosnian institutions. The Office of the High Representative has at times acted in a despotic manner, or had simply played a role of observer, while Bosnian political representatives were waiting for the solution.

The role the High Representative assumed depended on the position of their countries on specific issues, or on the personality traits and leadership style of the person who held the position at the time. The presence and role of this “international observer” has over the years allowed elected representatives in Bosnia and Herzegovina to escape the political accountability inherent in democratic societies, which comes with holding a public office.

Bureaucratic Entanglements

In addition to the political and institutional context, most citizens believe that the consequences of the agreement have been most prominent in everyday struggle with what seems to be an entangled administrative and bureaucratic web.

The pension systems in two entities are divided and pensioners in different parts of Bosnia receive different remuneration for their past employment. Social and medical services are provided at different standards and levels of quality in cantons within the Federation, and a citizen cannot get medical assistance in a different canton, let alone in the other entity.

Further, there are 13 departments of education teaching different curriculums, and single standards are lacking for almost everything, which has over the years resulted in difficulties with agricultural exports and access to international funding. This has even stalled the country’s participation in the area of global sporting events.

Who Is To Blame?

Of course, not all the failures of the contemporary Bosnian state can be blamed on Dayton. The Peace Agreement succeeded in what it set to achieve- it ended a conflict and provided a starting point for negotiations and cooperation. It may have imposed certain institutional and administrative restrictions, and is far from perfect, but it has too often been used as a scapegoat for political failures.

The document itself is outdated, and twenty years later, it is necessary to discuss how it can be revised to fit the current realities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Balkans and the EU. The root causes of the failures to do so over the last 10 years can be found in the continuous politicization and ethnicization of all aspects of life, fear-mongering, a relative absence of independent media, corruption, personal gain and self-interest- none of which are a result of the agreement.

But progress cannot be imported from the outside. It can only be achieved when the citizens, civil society and the political representatives all make a decision that they want to create a better present and better future for all. Public pressure, political willingness to find a workable solution and compromise, as well as commitment to best responding to the needs of all citizens are crucial in this process.

Pope Francis’ June 2015 Visit to Bosnia: the Five Key Issues editor’s note: for full coverage of the context of the papal visit to Bosnia in the context of Holy See diplomacy, read our new e-book, The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans (also available in Italian as Le Sfide del Vaticano nei Balcani). See also our dedicated Vatican microsite for more coverage.

By Chris Deliso


In early February, reported that Pope Francis would visit Bosnia on 6 June. There are several key factors to watch regarding this special event, in a year where the pope’s third Balkan visit within a nine-month period is overshadowed by his anticipated trips to Cuba and the US later this year.

The major significance of the impending visit, as we have analyzed in depth in The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans, is that the Holy See still has great interests in the region. As said, this will be the third Balkan state that Pope Francis is visiting within a nine-month period (following Albania in Sept. 2014 and Turkey in Nov. 2014).

This highly unusual conjunction of events has to do with both its long-term goals in the region, and with certain factors of timing. For example, the pope was motivated to visit Turkey partly because of the worsening plight of Christians in the Middle East due to ISIS, but he had to do so well before the Armenian genocide centennial in April 2015, as his position on the issue has angered Turks.

Following a detailed description of the pope’s Bosnia itinerary, we present a short overview of the major issues that will affect the papal visit, including security, ecumenicalism and pastoralism, pilgrimage sites and others.


The itinerary for the 11-hour visit was described on April 14th by the Catholic Herald, among others. Pope Francis and his entourage will depart at 7.30am on June 6 from Rome’s Fiumicino airport, arriving at 9am in Sarajevo. A 9.30am welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace will be followed at 10.10am by a meeting with government leaders there, followed by a speech from the pope.

Then, at 11am Mass will be held at Sarajevo’s Kosevo stadium, followed by a 1.15pm luncheon with the bishops of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the apostolic nunciature. At 4.20pm, Francis will meet with priests, seminarians and others in the Sarajevo cathedral, where he will deliver another speech.

At 5.30pm, Francis is set to meet with “leaders and members of other religions and other Christian denominations at the Franciscan International Student Center,” and give another speech. One hour later, he will meet with young people at the John Paul II Youth Center diocesan center, and deliver another address. Finally, a 7.45pm farewell ceremony will be held at Sarajevo airport, getting the pope back on Italian soil by 9.20pm.

Chosen Context

Catholic media summaries reflect similar coverage – and subsequent Vatican rhetoric – concerning the Albania visit of 2014. At that time, the Holy See contextualized the pope’s visit in reference to the country’s Cold War, atheist past. Similarly, the Vatican will define the pope’s visit to Bosnia along the lines of that country’s “recent” war- which ended 20 years ago.

The Catholic Herald described Bosnia thus as “struggling to rebuild itself after a devastating war marked by ethnic cleansing,” and also “still largely divided along ethnic lines.” In February, the pope described the upcoming Bosnia trip as “an encouragement for the Catholic faithful, give rise to the development of the good and contribute to strengthening fraternity, peace, interreligious dialogue and friendship.” Indeed, the Franciscan event is expected to have an inter-religious character owing to its population of Muslims, Orthodox and (15 percent) Catholics.

Internal Clerical Issues: The Trip as a Papal Stamp of Approval for Cardinal Puljić

The Bosnia visit comes as yet another honor for Cardinal Vinko Puljić, who has been the most powerful Balkan Catholic leader since being appointed a cardinal (by Pope John Paul II) in 1994, at the age of only 49. Puljić, who is also Bosnia’s main archbishop, has enjoyed influence in the highest levels of the Holy See for many years, ensuring that the difficulties facing Bosnia’s Catholics are heard.

In recent years, Puljić has complained of the difficulties Catholics are facing from poverty, declining mass attendance, discrimination from Serbs and danger from radical Islamists in the country. Although neighboring Croatia is the bulwark of Balkan Catholicism, Puljić seems to pull more weight with the Holy See than does the Croatian clergy, which as reported earlier has undergone a ‘cleaning-out’ of old-line nationalists in recent years under Vatican supervision.

Therefore, the very fact that the pope is visiting Bosnia and not Croatia sends a message that Cardinal Puljić remains the Vatican’s most trusted man in the Balkans.

Security Concerns Surrounding the Visit

Most papal pundits already have shifted their attention to the autumn visits to Cuba and the United States. But these are presuming, though the Vatican is not saying it, that Francis survives Bosnia. For if there is any place where an assassination could occur in 2015, Bosnia would be it.

The pope’s best defensive asset it time: a carefully-arranged, 11-hour trip does not leave much opportunity for terrorists. However, everyone knows that Bosnia hosts radical Islamists, and police sweeps in the last year in several Balkan countries, Italy and Austria have shown there is a significant threat- not even to mention ISIS’ headline-grabbing threat against the Vatican last year.

Interestingly, the international police operations in the past year show a clear pattern of sweeps directly preceding papal visits to the Balkans. Of course, it cannot be proven that these operations were in response to any specific threat against the pope, but it is clear that the Vatican likes to err on the side of caution.

Despite having a small Gendarmerie (led by former Italian intelligence officer Domenico Giani), the Vatican has unsurpassed field intelligence owing to its clerical and charity presence in much of the world, including the Balkans. The Vatican cooperates on fighting the terrorist threat with Interpol and other international bodies. Within Italy, it liaises with a central directorate of the national police (Direzione Centrale della Polizia di Prevenzione), to which the territorial DIGOS branches report. The Director of this directorate is also the chairman of the Comitato di Analisi Strategica Antiterrorismo- a joint committee that includes all counter-terrorism bodies in the state institutions.

While the brevity of the pope’s Bosnia trip would make it difficult for aspiring terrorists, some risks remain. The chief one would be a shoulder-fired rocket attack against the papal plane, which could be accomplished from a significant distance. The urban character of the pope’s visit also will mean authorities must prepare for potential IEDs and clear crowded streets and entranceways. If everything goes according to plan and ends safely, the Bosnian authorities will no doubt take credit and use it as an example to promote theirs as a safe country.

Tending to the Bosnian Clergy and Flock

Along with being a reaffirmation of Cardinal Puljić’ and his leadership, the papal visit will also shore up morale among a local clergy and Catholic population that feels increasingly isolated. The entrance into the EU of Croatia – which provides passports to many Bosnian Croats – has led to emigration, while the centralizing impulses of the Muslim Bosniaks has alarmed some local clerics. Cardinal Puljić, who was born in today’s Republika Srpska, has also long complained about perceived discrimination against Catholic Croats there.

Pope Francis is thus expected to try and reinvigorate the youth participation in the Catholic Church while giving clerics new hope that theirs is not a lost cause. In recent years, as Bosnia has come under increasing pressure to find a workable political solution to secure its future, the Catholic population has arguably been squeezed the most. Talk of forming a separate, ‘third entity’ for the Croats is not supported by Zagreb and it is up to non-political entities like the Vatican to provide additional support to the public. They do this through NGOs and charities, and it is likely that Pope Francis will use the opportunity to highlight the work of these bodies.

Avoiding Medjugorje

While many Catholic believers had hoped the pope would use his visit to give a ringing endorsement to the validity of the Marian shrine of Medjugorje, experts are not holding their breath. Vatican expert Edward Pentin noted recently that “some believe Pope Francis has a low opinion of the frequent apparitions and refer to comments he made in 2013, when he said the Virgin Mary ‘is not a postmaster, sending messages every day.’ However, to date, the Pope has never made any public statements on the issue.”

As we have discussed in detail in our new book, the Medjugorje issue is very important because it is controversial- as well as lucrative for local and foreign tour operators who have brought pilgrims from far and wide since the early 1980’s. At a time when the Catholic Church is lacking significant youth support in Europe, this Bosnian rural shrine is one place that still draws large crowds. Representing as it does a vital economic vehicle for hard-pressed locals, the Vatican cannot afford to denounce it completely as a fraud.

Thus, the findings of the private report commissioned by the pope (and given to him in 2014) will probably not be revealed on the trip. We expect that when they are released, it will be a reaffirmation of the previous Vativan compromise policy, that the validity of the site is a ‘matter of personal belief.’

Finally, it is interesting to note in the context of ‘avoiding Medjugorje’ that this determination might help explain why Pope Francis is making a one-day visit to the country. If he were to stay overnight, the pressure to visit other sites (like Medjugorje) would have been greater. It could also have been seen as logical for the pope to make a combined trip to Bosnia and Croatia, but the same problem might be encountered. In the end, there is also the simple truth: hey, the pope is a busy guy.

Negotiating Difficult Anniversaries

The timing of the current visit is very interesting. Different Catholic news reports have made the somewhat macabre connection of the visit to Sarajevo with the near-centennial of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand- the city’s most famous event for most foreigners.

However, the pope’s support for the Armenian side in the April 24 2015 genocide commemoration enraged Turks, as mentioned above. It will only up the ante for Turkish (and other Muslim) leaders to commemorate, later this summer, the 20th anniversary of the proclaimed ‘Srebrenica genocide’ from the war, when ‘up to 8,000 Bosniaks were killed by Serb paramilitaries in July 1995. Unlike the Turks, Serbia’s politicians have tended to just go with the flow of established Western public opinion, and hardly contested it with the same lobbying vigor as has Turkey with the Armenian case. RS President Dodik would like an international committee to decide on Srebrenica.

But the proximity of the two anniversaries was already enlivened by interventions from the Turkish media, making just an equivalence, involving a group called ‘mothers of Srebrenica’ in the discourse at the time of Armenian genocide commemorations. Soon after, Turkey discussed both Srebrenica and the killings of Azeris during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the same way. This is certain to be just a warm-up for Turkish, and other Muslim countries’, activism in July, when the media will be dominated briefly by the anniversary. No doubt the Turkish leadership will be extra fired up due to its anger over the latest Armenian commemoration, resulting in a larger-than-usual Bosnia event.

Although the genocide comparison between a few thousand deaths and 1.5 million is tenuous at best, these examples show that for Turkey (and others in not only the Muslim world) disagree. Pope Francis is thus certain to be sensitive to the Srebrenica issue. This will be savvy politics, as he will want to show he feels compassion for Muslim suffering ahead of commemorations in which Muslim (and Western) leaders will surpass any advocacy the pope could offer. They are expected to make the issue into a symbolic spectacle that ultimately defends the 1990s Balkan interventions, and will probably find a relationship between that period and the political development of Bosnia today, and provide their advice on how to address that. Quite conceivably, the Obama administration will also take its ‘countering radical extremism’ policy on the road and find some linkages between the Yugoslav wars and fighting radicalism in the region today through ‘soft power,’ though it may not be stated overtly as such.

There is thus a unique aspect of preserving political legacies among retired Western diplomats associated with the Bosnia events, that is conspicuously absent from the case of Armenia, which happened too long ago for anyone to have a personal stake in it. But if the adage is true that ‘the Church thinks in centuries,’ we can expect Pope Francis to continue to be sensitive to all issues and how they can affect the future capabilities and presence of the Catholic Church.


Although Pope Francis has joked that he will only live for another few years, the possibility of an attempted assassination in Bosnia cannot be ignored completely and security services are working proactively to ensure a seamless visit. The pope’s Bosnian visit will be part practical and part symbolic, reaffirming his stated goals of inter-religious harmony in a divided society, ecumenical outreach, and the value of youth to the future of the church. As we have explained in great detail in The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans, Bosnia is a key country for the Holy See in Europe, as the pope’s upcoming visit once again indicates.

Bosnians Await Pope Francis’ June 2015 Visit Editor’s note: readers interested in this story will also want to check out the new Balkanalysis dedicated Vatican page, and our new e-book, The Vatican’s Challenges in the Balkans: Bolstering the Catholic Church in 2015 and beyond.

 By Lana Pasic

Pope Francis recently made an official announcement that he will visit Bosnia on 6 June this year, in order to promote reconciliation, peace and inter-religious dialogue. His goal is also to encourage the Catholic community in Bosnia and give them support.

During his one-day visit, Pope Francis will meet with the Bosnian bishops, members of the presidency and the representatives of other religious communities in the country. The visit is likely to bring large number of Catholics to the Bosnia’s capital, some estimating that around 100,000 people will come from the neighboring countries. Preparations for the visit have already begun, and they will include not only religious, political and ceremonial, but also substantial security arrangements.

Positive Reactions to the Pope’s Announcement

The foreign media has compared the pope’s visit to Bosnia to his trips to Jordan, Palestinian territories, Albania and Turkey, all done with the intention of supporting Catholic communities in these countries, amidst rising inter-religious tensions in the Middle East region. However, it must be emphasised that the context in Bosnia is quite different, particularly when it comes to relations between Islam and the Catholic Church in the country, which have rarely been strained.

The Catholic Church in Bosnia & Herzegovina has always had strong relations with the Vatican, and previous pontiffs showed keen interest in the Balkans. John Paul II visited Bosnia & Herzegovina twice, in 1997 and 2003, and his statue can now be seen in front of the main Catholic Cathedral in Sarajevo.

The Islamic community in Bosnia and Reis Hussein Kavazovic have announced that they are also looking forward to Pope Francis’ visit, as it will promote peace and the universal values of brotherhood, respect and tolerance.

Key Issues Surrounding the Papal Visit

While the pope was originally expected to arrive to Sarajevo for the centennial commemorations of WWI, which aimed to celebrate peace in Europe, he will instead be arriving in Bosnia during the year which marks the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Agreement, and the messages of inter-religious dialogue and peace will fit well with the occasion.

Yet, in spite of religious character of his visit, there are a number of political questions that will be posed for this occasion. The Vatican’s strong relations with the Catholic Church in Bosnia raise questions regarding the Holy Sea’s position regarding the hypothetical, and controversial idea of the creation of a third, Croat entity, which newly-elected Croat member of the Bosnian Herzegovina, Dragan Covic is advocating.

Another issue is whether the Pope’s visit will bring an official announcement on the status of Medjugorje, which had been expected by the end of 2014, but has not been made yet. The Vatican announced that an investigation had been concluded, with the results in the pope’s hands by January 2014, but until now nothing has been said. Perhaps unveiling his verdict in Bosnia itself would be the most fitting way to announce it.

Regardless of the standing political and religious questions, Pope Francis’ visit to Sarajevo is certainly going to be significant, and will reaffirm the Vatican’s strong links with the region. Officials of the Catholic Church in Bosnia emphasize that the pope’s visit is also socially important, considering his care and concern for the poor, especially bearing in mind the socio-economic situation in Bosnia, where a large percentage of the population lives in poverty. Clerics thus believe that the pope’s arrival will provide a spark of hope against the social apathy, particularly among the country’s youth.

Protests, Floods, Elections, Anniversaries and Arrests: Reflecting on Bosnia’s Main Events of 2014

By Lana Pasic

For Bosnia, 2014 was a year of civic activism, raised hopes and expectation, both politically and in the world of sports, a year of several significant anniversaries, continuous political status quo and great environmental destruction and sorrow. It was also a year when larger world events, like the emergence of the ISIS as a fighting force in the Middle East, brought new police actions and international scrutiny to Bosnia itself.

Political and social protests

The year began with February’s citizen protests, reported by at the time. The protests occurred over corrupt privatisation processes and dismissals of employees from formerly state-owned companies. The protests started in Tuzla on 4 February and spread throughout the country, escalating three days later when the protesters in Tuzla, Sarajevo and Mostar set fires at cantonal government buildings and the building of the state presidency in Sarajevo. Protesters called for a re-evaluation of the privatization deals, government resignations, reductions of salaries for high-ranking government officials, and free and quality health services, among other demands.

Although there were claims made that the protests constituted a sort of a “Bosnian spring” it is important to note that 2014 protests or any similar future activities are very unlikely to result in significant political or constitutive changes. Social unrest in February was mainly in the Federation, and although citizens and students in Republika Srpska also decided to voice their grievances, they were not connected with the citizens’ groups in the other entity.

Indeed, the country’s complex structural and institutional make-up limits the impact that the protests in one part of the country can have on the other entity or overall state institutions. Although the prime ministers of cantonal governments in Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica resigned, the federal government refused to give up its power. The protests did however resurrect hopes for a popular democracy and citizen-led reforms, though they did not result in any major changes throughout the course of 2014.

Reviving the Olympic Spirit in Sarajevo

Even as the protests were escalating, Sarajevo also marked the 30-year anniversary of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games held in the city during Yugoslav times. It was a significant event especially because, for the first time during the Cold War, athletes from both East and West came together to compete in the Olympics.

Thus the 2014 “Sarajevo Winter” event was marked by the lighting of the Olympic flame at Jahorina on 1 February.In addition to other sporting events which took place, British ice skaters Torvill and Dean returned to Sarajevo in February to perform again their famous “Bolero”– which won them the perfect score and the gold medal in 1984, in what the BBC at the time called “an overwhelming St Valentine’s Day victory for the duo in an event traditionally dominated by Soviet skaters.”

Balkan Floods

During the spring, the central Balkan region was hit by catastrophic rains and floods. More than 30 people died, hundreds of thousands were displaced and over a million affected by the disaster, primarily in Bosnia and Serbia. A third of Bosnia & Herzegovina was under water, and the rains also brought landslides, displaced and unearthed war-era minefields, and destroyed crops.

The floods resulted in human, economic and financial losses, and caused great trauma to the affected population- many of whom have found themselves entering 2015 still without their homes. The natural disaster saw a rise in activism and empathy, and also an increasing use of social media to organize and respond to the disaster and assist those in need.

Culture and Sports take Center Stage

In 2014, the Sarajevo Town Hall, Vijecnica opened its doors again to visitors, while the Sarajevo Film Festival celebrated its twentieth anniversary. Bosnian sport fans also celebrated 2014 as the remarkable year when the Bosnian national football team participated for the first time in the World Cup. The Bosnian paralympic Sitting Volleyball team brought home gold one more time, winning the World ParaVolley Sitting Volleyball World Championship in Poland.

Of course, 2014 was also the year in which Bosnia marked the centenary of a famousassassination: the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia) member, Gavrilo Princip. The assassination is popularly considered as the trigger for the start of WWI.

The commemorative cultural events in Bosnia sadly showed that different historical narratives continue to influence country’s present. Separate commemorative events were held in two entities, with the Republika Srpska celebrating him as a hero, though in the Federation he was often portrayed as a terrorist.

General Elections

On 12 October, Bosnians voted in their country’s sixth general election. The Central Electoral Committee noted that 7,877 candidates were competing for the political seats, and there were 13 presidential candidates.

Although there were heightened expectations regarding political participation in this election, and particularly regarding the votes of the post-war generation who in 2014 had the right to vote for the first time, the statistics on voter turnout showed that civil mistrust of democratic institutions and the country’s political representatives remain high – election turnout was only 54.14%, lower than during the 2010 elections.

Despite the expectations for a more moderate government, citizens of all three constituent peoples entrusted their votes to the nationalist parties. The only exception has been the victory of Mladen Ivanic, from the opposition party in Republika Srpska, who won the Serbian seat in the Presidency. Bakir Izetbegovic’s SDA and Milorad Dodik’s SNSD remained the leading parties in the two entities. Although several coalitions have emerged, it is expected that a state-level government will be established by February.

A Continued Economic Downturn

High unemployment levels and a difficult socio-economic situation in Bosnia & Herzegovina came to public attention once again, as the workers from Tuzla revived their protests. They were demanding at least a part of outstanding payments and social support. Instead of going to the government this time, in a symbolic act, they walked for 5 days to the Croatian border, determined to migrate from a country which they claimed does not respect their rights.

However, after five days of walking in the snow, the movement lost traction. The majority of the marchers were not able to cross the border, as they lacked the necessary documents, and were returned to Tuzla by buses. They still have not reached an agreement with the government regarding their complaints.

Political Corruption and Freedom of the Press

Just before 2014 ended, another political controversy shook the country. News portal published in November a recording of Prime Minister of Republika Srpska Zeljka Cvijanovic, in which she allegedly mentioned “buying” two MPs in order to gain a majority and form a government in that entity.

This case of political corruption became known popularly as “Dva papka” – “Two hooves.” In Bosnia, “hoof” is a colloquial expression, referring to a person who is unrefined, non-emancipated, uneducated, and who does not act in accordance with ethics and societal values.

The media allegation did not cause much of a stir among the public in and of itself, as citizens are accustomed to allegations of political corruption. However, the political response to the recording caused much more concern, since the police forces of both entities jointly raided the news portal’s offices and seized their equipment, due to allegations that their journalists had bugged the prime minister.

This state act against an independent media body was condemned by journalists, foreign ambassadors, the Office of the High Representative, the European Delegation and the OSCE. Although the investigation is currently taking place to find out how this intervention was authorized, there has still been no official inquiry into the alleged bribery of the MPs.

Police Actions against Terrorism Suspects

Over the last year, the question of foreign Islamic fighters joining ISIS has been a global concern, which did not bypass Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the summer, the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) announced that it was collecting information about the involvement of Bosnian citizens in conflicts abroad. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Criminal Law prohibits its citizens from fighting in extra-territorial wars and joining foreign paramilitary groups. Although the law itself will not stop the citizens from joining the military groups, it gives the state a basis for prosecuting those who do.

In September 2014, 16 people were arrested in the police operation“Damask”, which was repeated again in November and December. The arrested were suspected of terrorism and organizing and financing foreign fighters from Bosnia to join ISIS in the Middle East. Husein or more commonly Bilal Bosnic, the informal leader of the Salafi movement in Bosnia, has been charged on these grounds, and there are allegations that he has received over 90,000 euros from Arab countries in the last two years. The funding of Islamists groups in Bosnia from abroad has been a concern for several years, with indications of financial flow between radical Islamists in Vienna and groups in the Balkans reported.

Bosnic had been arrested in September and on 31 December became the first person to be indicted under the new foreign fighters law of April. “The indictment accused Bosnic of urging members of his community to join Islamic State militants, saying he had ‘publicly encouraged others to join terrorist organisations during 2013 and 2014, consciously and from a position of religious authority,’” according to Reuters.

Considering that this remains a global issue, SIPA will continue its surveillance and activities in this area throughout 2015.

Bosnia 2015: What Can We Expect in the Year Ahead?

In the New Year, Bosnia will have to address many of its unresolved issues from 2014 and deal with new developments as well.

Firstly, as we await the establishment of the new government, there are no high hopes for major reforms, economic development or social stability. This is likely to feed the existing ill-will among citizens that manifested in protests almost one year ago.

The ever-relevant process of European integration and necessary reforms will continue. Bosnia has made limited progress, and even no progress on some areas, according to the 2014 EC Progress Report and the government will certainly be under pressure from both the EU and the Bosnian public to make progress in this area.

Although political apathy and disillusionment during the elections was witnessed, workers’ grievances and general public dissatisfaction will continue to be high on the agenda, especially considering that the workers’ in Tuzla are announcing the continuation of their protests.

Further, the issue of Muslim militants from Bosnia (among other countries) joining jihadist groups like ISIS in Iraq and Syria, which sparked a major police operation in 2014, is likely to remain high on the agenda in 2015. After the attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, SIPA revealed that they are following the social media for hate speech and instigations of violence.

Finally, other long-term issues facing the people of Bosnia (as in neighboring Serbia) are the after-effects of the 2014 flooding. Further work from the government, international charities and donors, as well as the citizens themselves, will have to be done in 2015 to restore some semblance of normality to the disaster-affected areas.

In addition to the issue of floods and natural disasters, media freedoms, high unemployment, corruption and political abuse of office will remain key issues in the year ahead.

The Media vs. Historical Accuracy: How Romania’s Current Communist Trials Are Being Misrepresented Editor’s note: since the fall of 2014, Romania has received new foreign media attention over a trial that has rekindled interest in the country’s Communist past. However, in so doing, the media has also tended to exaggerate and misrepresent the current proceedings and their significance- and thus has failed to note how Romanian authorities in recent years have actually displayed a general disinterest and incompetence in regards to investigating and prosecuting the crimes of the former communist governments.

The following analysis, written by two leading researchers in the field of Cold-War Romanian affairs, sheds new light on the current trial, in the context of its deeper historical context, and its implications for current politics and future interest in addressing communist-era crimes against the Romanian people.

By Elena Dragomir and Mircea Stănescu*

Political Persecutions in Communist Romania

The communist regime in Romania was established between 1944 and 1948, in the aftermath of the Second World War, under the new circumstances of Romania’s placement within the Soviet sphere of influence. The newly established communist-led regime rapidly initiated merciless repression campaigns, targeting the current or former so-called enemies of the people – former leaders or members of Romania’s historical political parties, former officers in the Romanian army, ethnic or religious minorities, industrialists (seen as former exploiters of the poor), so-called collaborators of the previous political regime, former ministers, diplomats, academics, economists, historians, journalists and so on.

The cumulative result was that by the end of the 1950s, hundreds of thousands of people had been arrested, deported or incarcerated for political reasons, without any concern for respect of the most elementary human rights.

A police state, the communist-led Romania used a range of security forces – secret police, militia/regular police, civilian informants and spies to enforce its authority. The security forces arrested, detained, tortured and even murdered “suspects” for no reason, often without having a warrant or a court order, and often without informing families about what happened to their disappeared loved ones. Assassination, kidnapping and torture were instrumentally used by the secret police to prevent, investigate or punish (real or imagined) opposition. Opponents were incarcerated in prisons, concentration camps and (later) psychiatric hospitals, with or without a court order.

Political Prisons and Labor Camps in Communist Romania: Statistical Data

According to one scholarly estimate, between 1948 and 1964, Romania operated over 130 political prisons and camps; other estimates have it at over 200. These camps held over 600,000 political detainees. Adding to this the deportees and the political detainees of the period 1964-1989, the number reached 780,000 persons (for the period 1948-1989).

According to other scholarly estimates, during the cumulative period (1948-1989), over 2,000,000 people were victims of the Romanian Communist system, detained for political reasons in prisons, labor camps, deportation centers or psychiatric facilities (for more information, see Comisia Prezidenţială pentru Analiza Dictaturii Comuniste în Romania, Raport final, Bucureşti, 2006, 160-161).

Among the most notorious and infamous Romanian political prisons and labor camps were those in Suceava, Jilava, Piteşti, Gherla, Sighet, Aiud, Târgu Ocna, Poarta Albă, Peninsula, Periprava, Cernavodă, Mislea and Râmnicu Sărat. The living and working conditions in such labor camps and prisons were very harsh. Working quotas were continuously increased and food rations cut, while medical care and supplies were virtually non-existent.

Food shortages, a lack of medical care, cold weather and physical abuse of prisoners all contributed to high mortality rates. Documents from the archive of the communist Ministry of Interior attest 3,847 deaths in detention for the period between 1945 and 1965, of which 203 died during interrogation, 2,851 during detention, 137 were executed following a death sentence, and 656 while in forced labor camps.

However, these numbers are just a small fraction of the true number of fatalities; it is impossible to estimate how many political detainees actually died, because the officials at these facilities usually did not keep records. They also simply erased a number of prisoner deaths from their official records.

The ‘Piteşti Experiment’ and Vișinescu’s ‘Prison of Silence’

One of the most notorious and infamous brainwashing experiments in Eastern Europe’s history took place in Romania, in the political prison of Piteşti, a small town, about 120km northwest of Bucharest. This prison is infamous in Romania still for the so-called the ‘Piteşti experiment’ or Piteşti phenomenon, conducted there between 1949 and 1952.

The experiment aimed to ‘reeducate’ the (real or imagined) opponents of the regime. It involved psychological and physical torture of prisoners, and the submission of them to humiliating, degrading and dehumanizing acts. Tens of people died in this ‘experiment’, but its aim was not to kill the people, but to ‘reeducate’ them.

Some of those who were thus ‘reeducated’ later became torturers themselves. Of those who survived Piteşti, many either took their own lives or ended up in mental institutions (for more information, see Mircea Stănescu, Reeducare în România comunisă, Polirom, Iaşi, Vol. I: 2010, Vol. II:2010, vol. III: 2012).

The Râmnicu Sărat prison was another infamous place in the Romanian political detention system. This prison, which is now being remembered with the media-cited trial of its former commander, Alexandru Vișinescu, remains in the collective memory as the ‘prison of silence.’ Prison rules stated that between 5am and 10pm, the prisoners (who were kept in solitary confinement) were forbidden to lie in bed, and were instead forced to stand or sit without moving, facing the cell door. They were forbidden to make any noise, to speak with other prisoners or with guards- essentially, they were not allowed to speak unless spoken to. They were even not allowed to look out the window.

Any ‘mistake’ or ‘misbehavior’ would result in severe punishment, often, under the direct supervision of the prison’s commander, Alexandru Vișinescu. These unlucky prisoners might be beaten, tortured, kept in severe cold, and deprived of medical care or food.

Alexandru Vișinescu: Short Biography of a Notorious Prison Commander

Alexandru Vișinescu was born into a very poor village family in 1925. This background meant that he was of what the Romanian Communist Party deemed ‘healthy social origins.’ In 1948, he completed his mandatory military service, by working in the Securitate (the secret police agency) and Militia (the civilian police) forces.

Later, Vișinescu was hired full-time by the Securitate, and in January, February and March 1950 he was trained to become a political officer for work in prisons and labor camps. During this training, Vișinescu became familiar with the state’s Piteşti-type ‘reeducation’ methods. After graduating, he was appointed political officer at the Jilava prison, where he served between 1950 and 1953, and where he carried out Piteşti-type tortures against detainees.

Jilava was a multi-faceted detention facility. It served as a prison of transit, as a center where the death sentences of political prisoners were carried out, as a place where political sentences were served, as a school for prison guards, as a place of torture and of ‘reeducation’, where political detainees were forced to expose (demascare, in Romanian) the ‘misdeeds’ of themselves and others.

In 1953 and 1954, Alexandru Vișinescu was sent to work as political officer at the women’s prison in Mislea. There, he forced the prisoners to do things like get naked and jump like frogs, a torture that had origins in Piteşti re-education-methods, and that aimed to physically and especially psychologically crush the detainees. Between 1954 and 1956, Vișinescu was a political officer at the Râmnicu Sărat prison and later (1956-1963) commander of the same facility.

Scholars consider that, at the Râmnicu Sărat prison, Vișinescu employed one of the worst detention regimes known in Communist Romania. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Râmnicu Sărat prison was the main extermination center in Romania, replacing in this sense the Sighet prison that had had the same sinister role 10 years earlier. Detainees at the Râmnicu Sărat prison were forced to sit immobile for 17 hours per day, keeping their hands on their knees and looking straight at the light bulb above their cell door. This was a variation of the ‘unmasking position’ used in the Piteşti ‘reeducation’.

Vişinescu retired in 1978, during the time of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Thereafter he would receive the substantial monthly pension to which former Militia colonels were entitled. In 2013, the Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes and the Memory of Romanian Exile (IICCMER) prepared an indictment against Vişinescu. Initially, he was accused of genocide, because “genocide” was the only crime for which prescription did not apply. In Romanian Law, a lawsuit must start within a legally determined period of time. If the lawsuit is presented after that time, an institution called prescription applies, which prevent authorities from filing the case. According to the Penal Code in force at the time “genocide” was the only crime for which prescription did not apply. Under the new Penal Code, however, which entered into force on 1 February 2014, Vişinescu was accused of crimes against humanity.

The Vişinescu Trial and Media Misunderstandings about Possible Future Prosecutions

Foreign mass media (such as The Guardian in September 2014) has followed the Alexandru Vişinescu trial. The English newspaper claimed that a total of 35 former officers associated with communist-era Romanian prisons and labor camps’ are about to be prosecuted for the mistreatment, torture and murder of political prisoners.

In reality, however, such a list does not exist (and never has). What has actually happened regarding such matters is as follows.

Legal Cases Brought against Former Commanders and Guards (2004-2013) by Victims’ Associations and Individuals

Since 2004, several associations of victims of the communist regime, as well as some individuals, have filed criminal complaints concerning different political crimes allegedly committed during the communist era.

The Military Prosecutor’s Office, which is attached to the Military Court in Bucharest, grouped all these complaints into File no. 35. It is now commonly referred to as the ‘communism lawsuit.’ In May 2007, IICCMER filed a criminal complaint against 210 former officers from different communist prisons and labor camps. Besides the names of the 210 political offices, the complaint also contained victims’ testimonials. (This was documented by Raluca Grosescu and Raluca Ursachi in Justiția penală de tranziție. De la Nürnberg la postcomunismul românesc, Iași, București, Polirom, 2009, 194-196).

Despite these actions, none of the former commanders or guards were ever investigated, charged with particular offences or prosecuted. In 2013, out of the previous 210 officers, IICCMER considered the possibility of re-filing complaints against 35 potential offenders, but eventually it filed criminal complaints only against five people: Alexandru Vişinescu, Ion Ficior (former commander of the Poarta Albă and Periprava camps), Iuliu Sebestyen (former deputy commander of the Gherla prison, but deceased since October 2013), Florian Cormoș (former commander of the Cernavodă camp) and Constantin Istrate (former deputy commander of the Gherla prison). In fact, in 2013, IICCMER re-filed the 2007 complaints.

Vișinescu’s lawsuit is currently underway at the Appeals Court in Bucharest, and there have been over ten hearings so far, including those from 22 September, 24 September, 22 October, 5 November or 17 December. In this lawsuit, only victims or relatives of the victims were admitted as civil plaintiffs.

However, it is worth mentioned that Valentin Cristea, the only survivor of the Râmnicu Sărat prison, and the two sisters of Corneliu Coposu – former leader of the National Peasants’ Party, incarcerated for political reasons in the Râmnicu Sărat prison between 1954 and 1962, and deceased since 1995, never became civil parties in this lawsuit, for reasons that are still unclear.

Different NGOs representing the interests of the former political detainees could not testify against Vișinescu, on the grounds that the penal legislation does not stipulate the intervention into the lawsuit of persons or organizations that are not parties in the legal action. In fact, the only civil parties admitted in this lawsuit were Anca Cernea, the daughter of Emil Bărbuș, former political detainee at the Râmnicu Sărat prison, and Nicoleta Eremia, the wife of another political detainee, Ion Eremia.

Other Current Legal Developments: the Eremia Case

In the debate regarding Romania’s capability to come to terms with its communist past, the case of Nicoleta Eremia is rather interesting. Ion Eremia was detained at Râmnicu Sărat prison between 1958 and 1964, and his widow, Nicoleta Eremia, is now asking for moral and material compensation of 100,000 euros for the sufferings that the communist regime caused to her husband and to herself personally during the time they were married (1971-1989). Yet this case is somewhat more complicated than most others.

Ion Eremia was a member of the interwar illegal Communist Party of Romania, a Major-General in the postwar Romanian Army and the commander of the Political Military Academy “I.V.Stalin” from Bucharest. In 1955, in the context of de-Stalinization, he was purged under the accusation that he had been co-plotting to remove the communist leader Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej from office. He was arrested three years later in 1958 and incarcerated at the Râmnicu Sărat prison.

In other words, Eremia was among those actively involved in Romania’s communization and Sovietization in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and his purging occurred in the context of the late 1950s domestic struggle for political power between different echelons of the Romanian Communist Party. Thus, it is at very least strange that in this lawsuit, Ion Eremia’s widow was, for nine hearings, the only legal representative of the political victims of the communist regime. In the meantime, the 88 year-old Alexandru Vişinescu continues to use any possible legal trick to try to slow down the proceedings against him.

Political Implications of Recent Attempts to Prosecute former Communist Commanders and Guards

IICCMER is a governmental agency. Its indictment against Vişinescu was made in 2013. However, in May 2012, Romania’s government had been formed by the Social Liberal Union (USL). This union had itself been formed by the Social Democratic Party (PSD), National Liberal Party (PNL) and Conservative Party (PC). During that same year, the Victor Ponta cabinet appointed a new candidate as president of the IICCMER, the young and ambitious PNL member Andrei Muraru. When the USL broke up in 2014, Andrei Muraru resigned, and was replaced by Radu Preda, Professor of Orthodox Theology at the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. Preda was commonly considered as being close to the PSD.

In spring 2014, Muraru ran (unsuccessfully) as a PNL candidate in the European parliamentary elections; his campaign slogan was ‘Andrei’s country- no communists.’ This slogan was meant to refer directly to his political ambitions with his former IICCMER office. It is also worth mentioning that throughout 2013 and 2014, Muraru was very present in the national media, in connection to the Vişinescu case, and one can only suspect that the ambitious PNL member used this lawsuit to try to gain voter support.

Interestingly though, the file generally designated as the “communism lawsuit” has been left untouched, gathering dust in the archive of the Military Prosecutor’s Office. One may justifiably raise the question as to why there is only one such case in trial phase (the Vişinescu case).

Further, the criminal complaint that the IICCMER filed against Vişinescu in 2013 was amateurishly elaborated, which suggests that it was primarily designed as a propagandistic tool to be used to support some hidden political agenda. So far, the most important factor that has influenced the trial has been this amateurish quality in which the IICCMER elaborated the 2013 criminal complaint against Alexandru Vişinescu.

In the complaint, the IICCMER charged Vişinescu only with the crimes he committed in the Râmnicu Sărat prison, but made no reference to the crimes he committed at the Jilava and Mislea prisons. Were these omissions due to genuine incompetence, or perhaps to a political agenda? Probably a little of both.

Conclusion: No Signs of a ‘Romanian Nuremberg’

As far as the ‘Romanian Nuremberg’ associations being made in the international media go, there is thus no such thing. This exaggeration once again may suggest that the IICCMER has a hidden agenda, trying to win foreign sympathy for the current government. Or, as the comparison was initially made by Radu Preda, president of the IICCMER, it may simply be that the current president of the IICCMER and his team of researchers are simply not very competent in their research duties.

In fact, the Romanian court for communist crimes cannot be compared to a historic event like Nuremberg. For one, it is a national court, not an international one, ruling on the crimes of a single person. Further, the evidence is very scarce. Finally, the case is being amateurishly presented by a government commission lacking expertise. Thus the trial will probably lead to no conviction.

Assuming that 88 year-old Alexandru Vişinescu lives to see out his trial, we may thus expect one of several possible outcomes. Given the poor evidence presented during the trial, Vişinescu will not be convicted or, if he is convicted, the sentence will be light, or even commuted in consideration of his advanced age.

In any case, whatever the verdict the court reaches will not amount to sufficient legal or moral justice, given the extent of his crimes. Further, given the current legal obstructions and general lack of traction in regards to cases against the other former commanders and prison guards cited above, it is clear that the wider crimes of the former communist regime on a systematic level will never be legally acknowledged.

And so, far from a ‘Romanian Nuremberg,’ the apparent lack of interest or competence in handling these cases indicate that the residual wounds associated with the country’s communist past will remain unhealed.


* Mircea Stănescu is an archivist and historian at the Contemporary Archives Bureau of the Romanian National Archives. He is also the president of the Association for the Memory and History of Communism. He graduated from Bucharest University’s Faculty of Philosophy in 1994, and received his PhD in Philosophy from the same University in 1999, with a dissertation on the Piteşti-type ‘reeducation’ methods.

He has also worked as a research fellow at the Central-European University in Prague (1999-2001), University Toulouse le Mirail (1996), the Institute of Political Sciences (1999-2002) and Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris (2002). Mircea Stănescu was also a researcher at the National Institute for the Study of Totalitarianism (1994-1995), at the Institute for the Study of Quality of Life (1996-1999) and at the National Council for the Study of the Security Archives (2000-2001).

He is the author of various works on the communist persecutions in Romania, including Reeducare în Romania communistă [Reeducation în communist Romania], 3 vol., Polirom, Iaşi, Bucureşti, 2010-2012 and The Reeducation trials in communist Romania, East European Monographs, Columbia University Press, 2011.

One Last Hurrah for Bosnia’s International Rulers

By Dr. Darragh Farrell*

By the beginning of next month it should be known who the next High Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) will be. It is probably safe to assume that the next High Representative will also be the last, despite the fact that the previous two holders of the post, Christian Schwarz-Schilling and Miroslav Lajcak, arrived in Sarajevo with the tag of being ‘the final High Representative.’

At its meeting in February 2008, the Peace Implementation Council, the body which decides international policy in BiH and guides the High Representative and his office (OHR), decided that the OHR would close when certain objectives and conditions were met. Following a number of agreements between the main domestic politicians over the last three months, these benchmarks have almost been reached and OHR closure in the next six months is a real possibility.

Termination of the OHR will bring to an end an intriguing and controversial experiment in international state-building and the external management of the democratisation process. The OHR was created under the Dayton Peace Agreement and is mandated to oversee the implementation of its civilian aspects.

In 1997, the OHR was given additional authorities (the ‘Bonn Powers’) by the Peace Implementation Council to impose legislation and remove any officials or elected representatives who it considers are obstructing Dayton.

Through the use of these somewhat draconian powers, the OHR was able to enact and execute a number of reforms that have had a positive effect and improved the quality of life in BiH. Included among these reforms are the post-war implementation of a uniform car licence plate system throughout the country, enabling people to travel freely without fear of indirectly revealing their ethno-nationality, the introduction of VAT, which has led to increased social welfare spending, and the legislation which helped facilitate approximately one million people to exercise their right to return to their pre-war homes.

The OHR has also used its Bonn Powers to remove a number of what it has deemed unpleasant nationalists and corrupt representatives from the political scene. In post-war BiH, the OHR has overseen a period of consistent, if limited, economic growth and the chance of the country slipping back into conflict is remote, regardless of occasional alarmist reports to the contrary from some foreign journalists.

Despite these constructive changes, it is the contradictory and insidious consequences stemming from the anti-democratic character of the OHR that have most impacted on the political and social development of BiH. The removal of elected representatives, including a president of the Republika Srpska (the Serb dominated entity of BiH) and several ministers, for example, was arguably justifiable in the immediate post-war years. However, the colonial-like powers of the High Representative were increasingly hard to defend as time passed.

Paddy Ashdown’s frequent use of the Bonn Powers during his term as High Representative, including dismissing some sixty officials in one day at the end of June 2004, provoked strong criticism from liberals both inside and outside BiH. A squeamishness in certain EU capitals over removing democratically elected politicians, however disagreeable they may be, contributed to Ashdown’s successors using the Bonn Powers much more sparingly.

Additionally, the Council of Europe began to criticise the OHR’s sweeping authorities in its reports while some of the officials removed from office have taken their cases against OHR action to the European Court of Human Rights.

Besides the dismissal of elected representatives, the OHR’s ability to impose legislation and shape the policy agenda has also had harmful consequences. The insistence of the OHR to focus on politically sensitive issues, such as police reform, pushed other, more pressing issues, down the agenda while also providing sustenance to nationalist politicians. Furthermore, the continued existence of the OHR, and its powers, gave the BiH political elite the perfect cover and excuse to behave irresponsibly, able to point to the presence of the OHR and to blame any failings on their lack of authority. The power of the OHR also led to domestic politicians directing their attention towards it rather than to the electorate in an attempt to either curry favour or gauge OHR opinion and possible action.

The unhealthy political culture in BiH, which the OHR has contributed to, has undoubtedly hampered the country’s development. The irresponsible political elite have failed to tackle, for example, the chronic unemployment problem in the country, with approximately 40 per cent of those of working age without a job, according to official statistics. Recent figures also show that 64 per cent of the 18-35 age group would emigrate if they could.

The prospect of another armed conflict is remote not because of any real reconciliation between the three main ethno-national groups but rather due to a general weariness amongst the population, a still vivid memory of the war and the personal losses involved, and the fact that each of the three groups now live, by and large, in ethnically homogeneous areas, with an absence of ‘flash points, bar one or two exceptions, such as Mostar. Only one in five Serbs in the country expresses any pride in being citizens of BiH. Despite stating their desire to join the EU, political representatives have made slow and limited progress in implementing the required reforms.

At its Thessaloniki summit in 2003, the EU stated that the Western Balkan states, including BiH would be welcomed into the Union once they satisfied the accession criteria. It is clear, however, that a country could not join the EU while an unelected institution, such as the OHR, is operating and performing legislative and executive functions. To prepare for the termination of the OHR and the increasing role of the EU in directing BiH’s path towards membership of the Union, the EU has ensured in recent years that the High Representative also serves as EU Special Representative (EUSR) in the country.

Certain EU members’s unease with the Bonn Powers, previous criticism of the High Representative’s authorities and increasing resistance to their potential use from BiH representatives, from the Republika Srpska in particular, have meant that the OHR has become a political eunuch, shorn of its powers now considered illegitimate. A continued OHR presence in the country is therefore pointless, only serving to provide an excuse for failing domestic leaders.

The incoming High Representative, therefore, should concentrate on ensuring that the PIC objectives on the closure of the OHR are met as soon as possible, ideally in the next three to six months, resisting any temptation there may be to extend its mandate. Once the OHR is shut and the associated Bonn Powers terminated, the High Representative can continue under the mandate of EUSR, bolstered by a new EU commitment to the country as promised by the Union’s Foreign and Security Policy chief, Javier Solana, and the Enlargement Commissioner, Olli Rehn.

The EUSR has an important role to play in assisting local representatives harmonise any constitutional agreement with future EU membership needs and providing assistance and advice on what has to be done to achieve EU membership. After over thirteen years of external supervision, it is high time that the international community handed over political responsibility to the elected representatives, regardless of how corrupt or inept they are considered to be. By removing the defunct frame of external management, this corruption or irresponsibility of politicians will become fully exposed to the local electorate, who should be the ultimate holders of sovereignty. If the electorate continue to select irresponsible and/or nationalist candidates, that will be its decision.

At some point, the citizens of BiH will have to decide for themselves about the composition and future direction of their country. As for the legacy of the OHR, it is an example to more recent state-building efforts that the legitimacy of external rule is temporary, and if prolonged becomes counterproductive and even harmful.


*Dr. Darragh Farrell is an Irish scholar with the Centre for the Study of a Wider Europe at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. The CSWE is a new interdisciplinary centre aimed at producing high quality work on Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe.  Dr. Farrell recently completed a PhD at the same university which studied the impact of international intervention on democratic development and political responsibility in the Republika Srpska. He has published a number of articles on the politics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and is currently undertaking further research while based in Sarajevo.

2004-2009 Back Archives