Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2017 – year review

Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2017 – year review

The year that has been chewed up by politicians

Since the very beginning of the year, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political theatre was full of drama for politicians and tragedy for the citizens. For them, this year will be one which they would better forget on the first day of the next year.

The first problems on the political scene were, in fact, an echo of the problems that had begun the previous year. Despite the BiH Constitutional Court’s decision that January 9 will be celebrated as the Day of Republika Srpska, the highest-ranking Serb politicians gathered and celebrated that day with more pomp than before. This year, the parade of the RS police units was organised and Serb member of the BiH Presidency, Mladen Ivanic, ordered the lineup of the ceremonial unit of the BiH Armed Forces. To be more specific, the Serbian president, Tomislav Nikolic, did not attend the parade but was at the ceremony on the evening in Banski Dvor. In particular, the Serbian PM at the time, and today’s Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic, did not attend the celebration. It was the first sign that relations between Banja Luka and Belgrade are not so good as Dodik wanted to show.

The RS Day celebration raised many questions but the most important result was that Serb politicians were united in ignorance of the Court decision and in defence of the RS right to celebrate its day. Many Bosniak politicians, including BiH Presidency member Bakir Izetbegovic, who filled the appeal against the constitutionality of this date at the Constitutional Court, demanded the highest of punishments for politicians who would disobey the Court. But, it never happened.

The only one who suffered the consequences after this event was the RS President, Milorad Dodik. Just a few days after the celebration, the U.S. administration imposed sanctions on him. They did it when he was expecting the invitation for the new U.S. president, Donald Trump’s inauguration to Washington. The whole region was smiling mockingly at Dodik’s attempts to show that he was invited directly by the Trump Cabinet, but he never got the visa to travel to that important event. Instead of him, Dodik’s wife and RS PM, Zeljka Cvijanovic, attended the ceremony in Washington and took a selfie which, again, made the region laugh. This time, out loud.

Despite Dodik’s hope that sanctions will last for just a few months and that president Trump’s administration will lift them along with the withdrawal of the U.S. Ambassador to BiH, Maureen Cormack, seems that it was another wrong estimation. Sanctions are still in power and Cormack is still the Ambassador.

For the next bigger political crisis credits also should be given to Bakir Izetbegovic. Just a few days before the deadline to appeal for the revision of the verdict by the International Court of Justice in the case of BiH against Serbia for genocide, he announced that the team of experts worked in secrecy for years so as to submit the application. With the new process, the Bosniak side tried to prove that genocide against Bosniaks was not limited to Srebrenica, as the first verdict read, but rather had to do with the whole territory of Republika Srpska. That would open the door for demand for the final abolition of RS and fulfillment of the Izetbegovic dream for BiH as the unified state, with Bosniaks being the majority. He inherited That dream from his father, Alija Izetbegovic, Bosniak war leader and member of the post-war BiH Presidency. However, the appeal was dropped because of an administrational mistake – the man who was supposed to submit the appeal has lost his accreditation years ago.

The secrecy of the work on the appellation shows that the Bosniak side has parallel institutions which create a national policy. The appellation was prepared out of the official institutions, with experts which are not elected in a democratic manner, and without the knowledge of other members of the Presidency. That also gives the right to those who are concerned that this same “hotchpotch” is preparing other decisions out of official institutions.

The worst result of this case was the fact that three members of the joint BiH Presidency lost mutual trust. The differences between them caused so much stress that the Serb member, Mladen Ivanic, ended up in hospital at the beginning of December.

The Summer passed without major problems at the state level but the autumn was very interesting in a political way. The next major political crisis, not by surprise, was caused again by Bakir Izetbegovic when, in one interview, he stated that BiH should recognize Kosovo as an independent state. The statement caused bitter reactions from RS and Serbia, since it proved again that he does not respect the official stance of BiH’s institutions, that said BiH respects the territorial integrity of Serbia (including Kosovo). Just a few days after this statement, during an official visit to Belgrade, Izetbegovic created a diplomatic incident by saying that BiH will not co-ordinate the Kosovo – Serbia situation, noting that decisions on this issue will be made in Sarajevo.

As if all this was not enough, the end of the year was additionally seasoned with two verdicts of the International Court for war crimes in ex-Yugoslavia (ICTY). The life sentence to Serb general Ratko Mladic raised the tensions between Serbs and Bosniaks in the country but the real damage made the final verdict in the case “Prlic and others”. The suicide of general Slobodan Praljak inside the courtroom brought the relations between Croats and Bosniaks to the edge of disappearance and will mark all future attempts for any kind of political agreement. Burdened with all of these problems, it is not surprising that BiH failed to implement several crucial reforms, failed to make the step closer to the Euro-Atlantic integrations and, worst of all, failed to submit the answers on the European Commission Questionnaire, that is the necessary condition for candidate status in the European Union. It means that BiH is dramatically late compared to other countries in the region and, as it seems, it will stay out of the Union for a long time after other countries will have been given full membership.

On the entities level, the situation is not better at all. The dissolution of the ruling coalition in Federation BiH caused problems in the entity Parliament which lost the chance to become a better institution than the RS Parliament. On the other side, RS Parliament suffers from the illness called “weak and disorganized opposition”. In that situation, the ruling coalition can do what they want, including the adoption of the Resolution on RS military neutrality, which should provide the ban on BiH entrance in NATO. Also, in smaller BiH entity the political re-arrangement is visible with the rest being just preparations for the elections next year. Even the best analysts in the state agree that, right now, everything is possible and that the situation will be more clear in the spring of 2018 – when the Central Election Commission of BiH will announce the official beginning of the pre-election activities.

It must be mentioned that this year was the year of ISIS warriors returning back to the motherland (BiH). A lot of them just want to continue life as before, but a part of them is very dangerous and already has begun to work on the radicalisation of young Bosniaks. Police agencies are aware of them and, hopefully, they will manage to protect all citizens.

Last but not least, the right question is: “In what way did all this improve the lives of ordinary citizens?” The answer, unfortunately, is short: “It did not at all!”

According to official statistic data, and despite the statements of the high state and entities’ authorities, the average monthly salary did not go higher, inflation is not too high and thousands of citizens are trying to find the job in the EU countries. BiH lost a lot of medical staff, the best metal workers, architects and citizens who are simply trying to live a better life and without having to hear about political problems…/IBNA