Capital Sarajevo
Time Zone CET (GMT+1)
Country Code 387
Mobile Codes 61,62,63
ccTLD .ba
Currency Bosnian Convertible Mark (1EUR = 1,96 BAM)
Land Area 51,129 sq km
Population 4 million
Language Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian
Major Religion Islam, Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity

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.

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.


Bosnia’s General Elections: the Candidates, the Voters and the International Community Editor’s note: Bosnia’s voters are at the polls today, voting for new candidates to fill positions across the board. But even before the results are in concerns are being felt over the quality of the major candidates, the possibility that the international community will not accept the results on legalistic grounds, and the dysfunction of the negotiated political structure itself.

By Lana Pasic

Bosnians go the polls today in the country’s sixth general elections. The elections are considered as crucial for the current government. The election campaign was aggressive, with widespread criticism of the current establishment.

According to the Central Electoral Committee, 7,877 candidates are in the running. They are competing for 518 seats, including the positions in the Presidency, National Parliament, Entity Presidents, Vice-presidents and Parliaments, and ten cantonal Parliaments.

Presidential Candidates

The extremely complicated political system in Bosnia & Herzegovina divides ethnic-based vote-casting by entity. Voters in Republika Srpska can vote for a Serb member of the Presidency, while the voters in the Federation will elect the Bosniak and Croat members.

There are 13 candidates for the post of the Presidency of which 10 are the Bosniak candidates, 4 Croats, and 3 Serbs. Although the post itself is one with limited potential to make real social or economic changes and gives little space for creative or independent foreign-policy-making in the context of Bosnia, it is the one which has received the most attention.

Bosniak Candidates

The electoral campaign for the Bosniak member of the Presidency has mostly been focused on the following men: Bakir Izetbegovic, a current member of the Presidency; a controversial media mogul, Fahrudin Radnocic; the former Reis-ul-ulema of the Islamic Community Mustafa Ceric; Emir Suljagic of the newly established Democratic Front, and Bakir Hadziomerovic, from the Social Democratic Party.

Izetbegovic, a son of the late Alija Izetbegovic, the well-known former Bosniak leader, is current member of the Presidency. He has been widely criticised for poor policy, perceived corruption and links with controversial Saudi companies. His opponent Radoncic has, through his newspaper, fingered Izetbegovic in several controversial construction deals and political murders.

Fahrudin Radoncic, a former Minister of Security, who was fired after the refusal to use force against the protesters in February, has the biggest media empire in the country, and to a large extent, shapes the public opinion through his daily newspaper Dnevni Avaz. In the run-up to the election campaign, there were insinuations made of his involvement in organised crime and links with the Kosovar Naser Keljmendi, allegations which he has denied. No charge has been brought against him in relation to this case.

The fierce competition between Izetbegovic and Radoncic, through which they have implicated each other in various criminal activities, has been enriched by the Democratic Front’s candidate, who, by some polls is seen as the favorite. Suljagic is known for his work as a journalist and writer from Srebrenica, and an author of the Srebrenica-themed book Postcards from the Grave. He has reunited Bosniak political parties in Republika Srpska, and has worked on the rights of returnees, particularly in the Srebrenica area. He served briefly as a cantonal Minister of Culture in 2011-2012, when he quit after he received threats and was not able to implement his attempted reform of the place of religious studies in the education system.

Mustafa Ceric is running as an independent candidate. His candidacy was quite a surprise, considering that was a Reis-ul-ulemma of the Islamic Community in Bosnia for over 20 years, since the beginning of the war as a close ally of the senior Izetbegovic. Even during his religious posting, he was unusually active in politics and known for Islamic-nationalist rhetoric.

Hadziomerovic, a journalist and TV host, has been known for his criticism of the political establishment. He is the choice of the Social Democratic Party, which has been losing support due to the citizen’s disappointment with their performance after gaining majority in the 2000 elections.

There are another five candidates for the Bosniak member of the Presidency: Mirsad Kebo, current Vice-President of the Federation, Sefer Halilovic, a wartime Army commander, Džebrail Bajramović, from the Party of the Diaspora, and two lesser-known independent candidates, Adil Zigic and Halil Tuzlic. However, based on the pre-electoral polls, their chances are seen as quite minimal.

Croat Candidates

When it comes to the Croat candidates, there are four choices. Martin Raguz has had a long political career, having been a member of the Croat Democratic Alliance, since the early 1990s, and has already served in the Federal government, and briefly as the member of the Presidency in the 1997-1998 period.

A second candidate, Zivko Budimir, is the current President of the Federation, which has had a dismal performance over the last years, provoking widespread social dissatisfaction and protests this February. Third, Dragan Covic, from the Croat Democratic Alliance, was already a member of the Presidency in the 2002-2005 period, but was dismissed by the Office of the High Representative, then run by the very active High Representative Paddy Ashdown. The final candidate is the relatively unknown Anto Popovic, from the newly-established Democratic Front and a candidate of the current member of the Presidency Zeljko Komsic.

Serb Candidates

Although there are three candidates from Republika Srpska, the real competition is between the current Prime Minister of RS, Dodik’s former interpreter and ally, Zeljka Cvijanovic, and an economist and former Prime Minister of RS and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mladen Ivanic. He lost the run-up for the Presidency during the last election, by only 1.6% of the votes, with claims of election fraud in the interest of Dodik’s candidate and current president, Nebojsa Radmanovic.

In the Serb entity, the election battle is also evident at the entity level, between current President Milorad Dodik, and opposition candidate Ognjen Tadic.

But Are These Elections Even Valid?

Although the campaign has been run aggressively, it seems that everyone has forgotten that the Council of Europe, and the international community have indicated that they may not recognise the results of the elections, because the discriminatory constitution, which forbids minorities from running the elections has not been changed, in spite of numerous deadlines given to Bosnia & Herzegovina.

In 2009, the Council of Europe ruled that the current regulations are based on discrimination against minorities, and are against the principle of the right to free elections. No progress has been made yet on the Sejdic-Finci case, and it remains one of the great obstacles for Bosnian democratic system, and certainly not the one that either Bosnian politicians, or the international community can resolve on their own.

Who Will Vote?

Election turnout in Bosnia has never been great, barely topping 50% during the 2012 elections. This year, although 3,278,908 voters have been registered – a slight increase over last year – it is not certain how many will vote. USAID has started a new election campaign to motivate the citizens to cast their votes; however, Bosnian citizens have often chosen to express their widespread disappointment by simply not turning out at the ballot box.

This year, those born after the war will also have the chance to vote for the first time. The big question is whether they will vote differently, or will they vote at all.

In light of the social protests which shook the country this February, and the lack of government response during the floods this spring, there is an increasing hope that the population will, this time, actually go to the polls.

It is important to remember that just by simply changing the faces in political office, the system itself, and the constitutional and institutional muddle that Bosnia is in, will not automatically change, but that the actual reforms will depend on the elected candidates’ commitment to the betterment and their willingness to cooperate. However, in a country like Bosnia & Herzegovina, the reforms will also have to include balancing the various foreign interests vested in the Dayton Peace Agreement with consideration for Bosnia’s potential EU future.

The Tourists May Be Keen to Commemorate WWI, but Bosnia’s National Museum Remains Closed, Two Years On

By Lana Pasic editor’s note: the following article, which discusses developments that have occurred in reaction to the closure of Sarajevo’s National Museum two years ago, is a follow-up to the original piece (published on January 29, 2012, here) also by the same author. It indicates the authorities’ continuing low prioritization of important Bosnian cultural heritage, in a significant anniversary year.

This month marks two years since the closure of one of Sarajevo’s landmarks- the National Museum. On 4 October 2012, the museum closed its doors to the public, as the institution was no longer able to pay its bills or the employees’ salaries.

The stalemate that led to the closure occurred after the relevant public institutions were not able to reach a consensus on who should bear the costs of its maintenance. At the same time, we are witnessing the sprouting of shopping malls and oddly-looking buildings in the Museum’s neighbourhood, which in no way tie in with the cultural history of the city.

The museum, founded during the Austro-Hungarian period, houses countless items from the Roman and Medieval times, as well as the important Sarajevo Haggadah, a Jewish manuscript made in Spain in the mid-1300s. Its botanical garden with Stećci – unique medieval tombstones, remains off-limits.

The closure of the museum inspired a number of campaigns, most notably the Day of Museum Solidarity, which included over 200 institutions on four continents, and used “culture shutdown” solidarity banners. However, campaigns like this one also require long-term funding and support. Otherwise, they cannot be maintained indefinitely.

In recent months, the Federal Ministry of Culture and Sports started paying more attention to the issue, especially since the foreign embassies and institutes have appealed to the government to open the Museum, as a part of the Sarajevo 2014 commemorations. Sadly, the Museum has remained closed during this time, when we have expected most foreign visitors to come to the city, as a part of the WWI centenary.

The Federation has allocated funds in its budget for the salaries of the Museum’s employees, but this is still not enough to cover the maintenance cost. This year, the federal government appointed a temporary Managing Board, whose mandate has now ended, without a definite move forward as to any opening. The Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina has not taken any actions on this since 2013, when the issue was originally referred to them.

The “Museum is closed” boards have finally been removed from its doors this August, on the initiative of the Federal Ministry of Culture, which vows to open the museum by the end of the year. However, with the pre-election campaign in full swing, culture continues to take a back seat, and it is still not clear when and whether this historic landmark is going to open its doors to the public again.

#Balkanfloods Online: The Impact of Social Media on Recent Reporting Editor’s note: The recent flooding in Serbia and Bosnia, which caused massive economic and infrastructure damage and unfortunate loss of life, was revealing in many ways. Initial grassroots reactions from local peoples indicated solidarity and generosity for the affected countries, which contradicted the theme of chronic adversity and enmity that the foreign media still tends to espouse.

Also highly significant was the role played by social media (including our own @balkanalysis Twitter account), a phenomenon which government officials noted had saved lives and helped initial rescue and fundraising efforts; on the other hand, the foreign media reacted tepidly and late to the unfolding disaster. Reporting from Sarajevo, Lana Pasic experienced the recent flooding and the public and media reaction to it; she discusses here the developing importance of social media, as indicated by these recent events.

By Lana Pasic

Three days of constant rainfall in the third week of May caused unprecedented floods in Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia. More than 30 people died, and hundreds of thousands were displaced from their homes. Over a million people have been affected by the disaster and its consequences. The flooding caused human, emotional, economic and financial trauma and losses. During and after the crisis, the responses (or the lack thereof), of the governments, NGOs, media, and individuals have been debated.

Social Media and Facilitation of Information and Assistance

Social media, on the other hand, proved to be one of the most reliable sources of information during this time.Through social media, people could share up-to-the-minute information on the specific areas in need, get organized, actually see who is doing what, follow the work of the organizations entrusted with taxpayer and donor money, and react quickly to abuses and mismanagement. Websites were immediately launched in the region to share information on the floods and aftermaths, such as landslides, and the assistance needed, and to serve as platform for all the relevant information.

Facebook came through as one of the most useful platforms, as it provided a continuous stream of information on affected areas. It was used to share information on where the help was needed, which items were the most necessary, the location of collection points for assistance, how persons affected could seek help. Facebook users also noted ways to fight the instances of corruption and mismanagement of aid, which sadly have occurred in some places. By using this platform, public response was more direct and better organized than it could have ever been by relying on more traditional methods of communication.

Since mid-May, Facebook was, and still remains, a forum through which self-organized volunteers and a number of NGOs could come together and show citizens the work they were doing, and thus stay accountable and relevant- which is more than what established organizations have been able to do for decades.The images sent by those who were in Maglaj, Doboj, Zavidovici, Bijeljina or Obrenovac those who went to help evacuate, distribute food, water and medicine, and later help with the clean-up, provided first-hand evidence of what was taking place throughout the region.

Social media was also used to respond to displacement. Through Facebook, every day I read tens of messages from people offering accommodation to the elderly, to families with children, and indeed to anyone who needed it after the crisis. Just days later, online booking service Airbnb advertised free accommodation and waived all fees for those affected by disasters.

The internet in general also became one of the main ways for people to make donations, especially for those from abroad. In future, organizations may also learn from this experience by using Paypal, or other electronic methods of payment- even the Balkan governments have caught up with the trend. Indeed, Serbia opened the account the very next day, and eventually Bosnia joined in too.

Failure of Traditional Media

The floods also indicated the failure of traditional media to respond adequately to the disaster through their coverage. Local media covered the events, but just as with the Bosnian protests in February, it was clear that television channels failed to get up-to-date information– online portals fared much better in this regard.

In comparison to shortcomings from traditional media on the local and regional level, foreign media failed completely- only days later did they report on the extent of the disaster. In fact, the coverage was so poor that viewers felt a need to start a petition to get CNN to report on the floods, and urged the British government to recognize the disaster.

In this case, it was also of great interest to note that Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic, then on his way to winning the Rome Masters, took it upon himself to criticize CNN and the BBC for failing to cover the floods. His remarks were reported in traditional general media such as The Guardian, but also in specialized traditional media like Sports Illustrated. There is no doubt that the ‘cross-over appeal’ of a major sports star and celebrity meant that the news of the floods would mean the story would reach a wider range of people than it otherwise might have. However, a serious question does remain: that is, to what extent did the subsequent increase in foreign media coverage indicate a serious interest in the floods as a story, rather than a primary interest in reporting the words of a celebrity? While the end result may have been the same, it is interesting to consider what this could mean for editorial decision-making in general in the foreign media.

Some Negative Effects of Social Media

While social media did play an important and largely positive role during the floods, there were also some drawbacks to the new platforms. During the floods, false information also spread through social media. The images of floods from around the world have emerged on Twitter and Facebook as “faces of Balkan floods”. This is one of the main disadvantages of a world run by the internet- misinformation spreads quickly and is difficult to verify. As social media becomes a tool of socio-economic and political activism, we need to keep in mind this drawback.

However, with the future of all news media seeming to be digital, people should be prepared to maximize the positive aspects and find ways to minimize or confront irresponsible and negative usages especially in times of crisis and disasters. Although the older segments of the population, particularly in the Balkans, still only follow television news reports, or radio, new online platforms now play a much bigger part. Facebook is no longer just a fun way of social interactions, or sharing photos of parties or travels – during the floods, it became, in the Balkans, a widespread platform for information-sharing, social activism, voluntary work, and even a watchdog mechanism.