General Elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina – What Changed after the February Protests?

bosnia-protest-electionFebruary 2014 proved to be a turning point post-Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Massive protests spread throughout the country resulting in mass violence and the formation of citizens’ assemblies called plenums. One crucial demand the plenums had all over the country was the establishment of an expert government, which would feature non-partisan, expert and incorruptible officials who would meet the demands of the people. The image of the protests was quite heterogeneous, with disenfranchised workers, students, and unemployed coming together in the streets of Bosnia and Herzegovina demanding a better life and a brighter future for everyone. The protests resulted in a new political subjectivity, which in turn created a space without restriction and the terror of everyday life. This new subjectivity among other things brought out the distrust people felt towards the political elite of the country.

On October 12, this year Bosnia and Herzegovina will have its 7th general elections since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995. These elections come in the aftermath of the largest social unrest the country has seen since the end of the war. A popular question the media kept asking in the last two months was what had changed after the protest. Will something be different after these elections? Of course, one would immediately be inclined to answer with a cynical no, but before one does, we should first look at some statistics concerning past and current elections. During the general elections in 2010, in the mainly Bosniak and Croat-populated Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, only 56,8% of the electorate cast their votes,  and a similar percentage, 56,2% voted in BiH’s other entity, the Serb Republic.[1] According to an opinion poll conducted by GfK BiH (Agency for Market and Public Opinion Research), the number is set to increase by 12% (with a total of 68,6% for both the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Serb Republic) in the upcoming elections.[2]

And yet today the position of the political elites seems unchanged as we witness an omnipresence of political figures plastering the streets of Bosnia and Herzegovina, all attempting to maintain the ethno-nationalist imaginary of politics within the status quo. This was especially visible during the last few weeks in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the death on September 25 of Sulejman Tihić, a prominent member of the SDA (the Party of Democratic Action, the main Bosniak political party) and one of the country’s former Presidents, replaced in 2010 by Bakir Izetbegović.. Ever since, Tihić has been praised by all sides, even by Milorad Dodik, the current president of Republika Srpska, as the best politician the SDA had to offer.[3]

In the Serb Republic, the situation is somewhat similar, with the main difference being that Milorad Dodik, the current president, seems to be pushing the nationalist mobilization effort much further. Again under the rhetoric of secession, he has emphasized the importance of Serb unity, the latest example being the naming of a student dorm in Pale after war criminal Radovan Karadžić. This appears to be a far cry from Dodik’s stance a few years ago when he declared on Serbian national television that “now an entire people are suffering, not only in the Serb Republic, but also in Serbia, because Mladić refused to give himself up…”[4]. As Dodik is trying to cement his position as the ‘new and old leader of the Serbs’, the other members of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian political oligarchy remain loyal to the market paradigm.

The Father in the Wet Dream of the Protectorate

Every year in Bosnia and Herzegovina is designated as a pre-election year and every year we witness  the same spectacle. Half-smiling faces are decorating the streets, all of them with the same aim, becoming the faces of leadership of the people. Every one of them, it would appear, is attempting to claim the position, to put it in Lacanian terms, of the omnipresent father. One of the election slogans of the SDA this year is ‘Snaga Bosne i Hercegovine’ (English transl.: ‘The Strength of Bosnia and Herzegovina). But this time it is lacking the two figures in this party, who claimed to be the omnipresent fathers, namely Alija Izetbegović and now Sulejman Tihić. The question then is, what happened? Today in Bosnia and Herzegovina we bear witness to sensationalist phrases from the ocean of political parties which were born as a result of the bloody transition of the 1990s, ranging from ‘eroding the democratic processes’, ‘electoral social engineering’, ‘mature democratic societies’, etc., whilst the socio-economical problems of the citizens are being completely neglected.

It seems that the big parties such as SDA have given up on the idea of the omnipresent father, essentially castrating him with politicking games, mutual bickering and accusations.[5] In a way, they have managed to replace the image of the omnipresent father by themselves, that is, with the face of the political oligarchy running Bosnia and Herzegovina today. Even though it denies this, that oligarchy remains ideologically absolutely homogeneous, swearing by neoliberal capitalism and hoping it can mobilize, or better yet, control the masses within a political subjectivity based on ethno-nationalism and segregation, which serves to mask the class-divide between the oligarchy and the people.

The international community, of course, supports the efforts of the political elite in Bosnia and Herzegovina. One only needs to recall Valentin Inzko’s (the High Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina) draconic suggestion to outlaw public gatherings in front of government buildings during the 2013 JMBG protests[6] or his rant in February this year about the possibility of mobilizing EUFOR to pacify the country (importantly, though, he added, that no Austrian company in Bosnia sustained any damage from the protests).[7] In another exhibition of power, the British government deployed two additional platoons to maintain the peace during the elections.[8]

Although during this election campaign, the political elites and the protectorate politics of the International Community might seem unaffected by the February protests, one thing is clear: a new political subjectivity has emerged . The ethno-nationalist imaginary of the political oligarchy is over. Even though the protests and plenums have not yet achieved a major socio-economic paradigm shift in Bosnia and Herzegovina, they managed to break through the false choices people were offered for the past twenty years, helping them articulate a decisive no thank you to claims such as “Even though your lives are bad, at least we are all Ours here” and empowering them for the first time in twenty years, to think and talk about possibilities instead of only the impossible.

eminEmin Eminagic is an activist and researcher in Bosnia and Herzegovina.



[1] See: http://www.bhas.ba/tematskibilteni/2010_OP_IZB_bh.pdf (last accessed: October 10, 2014)

[4] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDneXVAzMcs&feature=share (last accessed: October, 10 2014)

[5] The best example for this was the behavior of the political elites during the floods in May of 2014. For a more complete analysis see Vuk Bačanović’s analysis: http://www.bilten.org/?p=961 (last accessed: September 30, 2014)

 

[6] See: http://www.ohr.int/print/?content_id=48113 (last accessed: October 10, 2014)

 

2 Responses to General Elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina – What Changed after the February Protests?

  1. Nikto says:

    The article was great an informative. But for a person who barely knows anything about BH-s political elit, it would be great to see some photos of them attached to the text. Without them is just a bunch of names :/

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