By Medina Malagić – Sarajevo
After many years of meticulous preparation and negotiations, Croatia officially became the 28th member of the European Union today. The accession of Croatia to the EU is heralded as a vast success and the addition of one new member to the ‘European family’ is being lauded by foreign politicians, including BiH leaders.
Another round of civil protests have begun in Sarajevo today in front of BiH state institutions, once again demanding the immediate adoption of a state law on the unique master citizen number (JMBG). This time, the motto of the protests, ”Let’s fire them on 1 July” took on a much more definitive tone. Since all of this is taking place as Croatia is celebrating becoming the 28th member of the EU, in light of Croatia’s accession, in what ways will this change the dynamics of the discussions on and the process of EU accession in BiH?
Croatia’s Ambassador to BiH Tonči Staničić noted today that Euro Atlantic integration is the only path for BiH, but that BiH politicians bear the responsibility of deciding how and when this would take place. The doors of Europe are right at the border with EU, now that BiH shares thousands of kilometers of a border with the EU, and since BiH and Croatia have been and will continue to be connected on many levels, the trajectory of BiH’s eventual EU membership has become even more imperative.
BiH’s ruling elite has become synonymous with inefficiency and autocracy, and EU delegates in BiH have expressed concern and disappointment at the inability of BiH’s politicians to reach agreements and compromises on the future of the country. While BiH politicians ostensibly support EU accession, their inaction has culminated in mass civic protests in front of state institutions in Sarajevo and protests of support throughout the country.
The powerful symbols that have emerged from the protests sends a message from citizens to their elected officials that the rhetoric that has been used until now, which makes ethnicity and religion the backbone of every issue and problem in this country, is not efficacious any longer.
Recently, the High Representative to BiH Valentin Inzko said that he does not see a viable future for BiH with its current leaders, and that change could only occur if something radical happens (A mention of a viable and productive future for BiH by diplomats and politicians typically implies that EU accession is a part of that goal).
While Inzko said that no concrete steps have been decided on yet, the blatant indifference of BiH politicians to the plight of its own citizens and the peaceful and dignified way in which they request their basic civil rights is appalling. He said that for the first time, people have overcome their fears and are making their disatisfaction known.
While he mentioned that the use of the Bonn Powers is currently an approach that would be frowned upon by the international community, he has thought of it. The mere fact that Inzko mentioned the possible use of Bonn Powers if he received support from the international community is further indication that frustration with BiH politicians and their continuing silence over the protests and inability to adopt a state law on the JMBG is intensifying and patience is running out.
Meanwhile, Head of the EU Delegtion to BiH and the Special Representative of the EU to BiH Peter Sorensen held a welcome reception today in the EU building in Sarajevo to mark the official accession of Croatia to the EU, with Ambassador of Croatia to BiH in attendance. He expressed firm hope that Croatia’s accession would only fortify the path of BiH towards the EU, and the proximity of an EU member country would inevitably bring BiH closer to the EU.
While the hope that BiH’s sharing of a border with the EU would foster positive changes in a country is the general sentiment, the fact remains that BiH is a country that has been mired in what could be labelled as ‘ordered chaos’, where for nearly two decades, democracy, rule of law, elections and civil society are terms that have been casually thrown around without any semblance of substance. It exists in theory and on paper, but what we are witnessing now in Sarajevo is the end of silence among BiH’s citizens and the culmination of nearly two decades of profound frustration at the country’s elected leaders to do anything to end the perpetual stagnation so that the country could finally move forward.
While the accession of Croatia to the EU does bring fresh hope for BIH, the open-ended question that now remains is the direction that the protest will take in light of the various changes in the country brough on by Croatia’s accession, and how much longer will the protestors be able to endure the incessant silence of BIH politicians to their civic demands?