Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Bosnian Election Blow
Hopes of pushing Bosnia forward to prosperity and multi-party democracy have been cruelly dashed by the triumph of hard line nationalists in the general election of November 11.
Those who championed moderation now blame clumsy international diplomacy for the collapse of their dreams and the strengthening of ethnic divisions in this war torn, impoverished country. The election radicalised the Serbs and the Croats and left the Bosniak Muslims confused and depressed.
Before the election there were signs of fading support for the nationalist zealots who had swept to overwhelming victory during the first democratic elections in Bosnia at the beginning of the nineties.
Bitterly disappointed moderates hold international diplomats to be wittingly or unwittingly responsible for the election result. They say the leaders of the hard line Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, in Bosnia should erect a monument in gratitude to Robert Barry, head of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, mission in Bosnia.
These critics say his decision to reform election procedures for the parliament of Bosnia's Croat-Muslim federation while leaving untouched the assembly in neighbouring Republika Srpska helped HDZ overcome its mounting unpopularity.
In April, Bosnian Croats showed their dissatisfaction with HDZ economic policy by dramatically refusing to vote. Barry's action, the critics say, transformed this discontent into massive support for the HDZ. The prospective losers overnight turned into winners.
By the same token, leaders of the fiercely nationalist Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, in Republika Srpska should put up a statue to US envoy Richard Holbrooke, the critics say. Ten days prior to the election, Holbrooke came to Bosnia, announcing that the SDS should be barred. This galvanised Bosnian Serb voters into flocking behind the party.
Bosniaks are perplexed at the outcome. Although their own nationalist party, the Party of Democratic Action, SDA, won most Bosniak votes, its victory was less overwhelming than the triumph of Serb and Croat hard liners.
The SDA was strongly challenged by the Social-Democratic Party, SDP, of Zlatko Lagumdzija while Haris Silajdzic's Party for BiH also made a strong showing. Bosniaks now ruefully ask themselves, "Why did we democratise ourselves at a time when everyone else was turning radical?"
Many analysts see dark conspiracies behind the international community's behaviour. According to one theory, foreign diplomats actively seek to promote radicalism in Bosnia so as to create an atmosphere conducive to the partition of the country.
This theory coincides with stories claiming that Kosovo is to be separated from Yugoslavia and that Serbia will be compensated by permission to annex Republika Srpska.
Such theories remain in the realm of conjecture. Others hold that the action of Western diplomats were mistakes attributable to lack of information and poor judgment.
Whatever the causes, it seemed that positive political changes in Croatia and Serbia proper failed to inspire similar developments in Bosnia. Despite miserable living standards brought on by nationalist policies, Bosnians could not be persuaded to vote for a change of leadership.
The years of war and its attendant indoctrination have left the electorate immune to considerations of economic self-interest. Patriotism is preferred to bread. The international community sought vainly to hammer home the message that election of a new leadership would automatically improve life for everyone.
"Vote for change" exhorted international diplomats. The nationalists responded, "Vote for your own and not for changes". It was this second slogan that people heeded.
Post-election manoeuvring is now underway in Bosnia. Various coalitions, partnerships and unions are being forged in efforts to counter the potentially disastrous effects of the nationalist parties.
In the aftermath of the elections and the changes in Yugoslavia there is gloomy foreboding over Bosnia's fate. Several possible scenarios are mooted.
The country will: continue to develop within a framework of closer relationship with the European Union and possibly even join it; be partitioned, with Republika Srpska seceding to Serbia and Croatian Bosnia becoming an independent entity; be engulfed in a new war as a result of Bosnia's fragmentation; remain a crisis spot for Europe and the entire world over the next ten or even thirty years, rather like Palestine and Cyprus.
Few observers care to predict which option will prevail.
Ozren Kebo is a Sarajevo-based political commentator
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.