Bosnia: Early Promises Give Way to Disillusion

Balkan Insight
Publication date: 
Dec 27 2012

Vjekoslav Bevanda's appointment as Bosnia's new Prime Minister in January - and his promise that 2012 would be a “European year” - fuelled hopes of a new page in the life of the country.

While the positive rhetoric of the new government encouraged many institutions, analysts and the European Union, the old power struggles soon resumed, as the two main Bosniak [Muslim] parties fell
out over adoption of a state budget - the first major test of the government's coherence.

Despite the onset of a start of fresh political crisis, Bosnia’s relevant decision-makers met EU officials in June in Brussels to obtain a list of obligations and deadlines concerning the country’s accession process.

In his first speech to the State Parliament in February, Bevanda had said his priorities would be fulfilling the tasks set by the European Union and improving the overall economic situation.

But, instead of working in accordance to the deadlines contained in the EU’s June “Roadmap”, the first overview in November showed that none of the main conditions had been met.

The enthusiasm felt in February over the formation of the new government lasted only few months, as old power struggles and economic difficulties rapidly reasserted themselves.

Coalition struggles and economic ills:

In terms of politics, the change of the ruling coalition at state level impacted also on the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the larger of the country’s two autonomous entities.

After ditching the Party of Democratic Action, the SDA, Social Democratic Party, SDP, led by Zlatko Lagumdzija opened door to the state-level government to the Alliance for a Better Future, SBB, which continued efforts to get the new partner in the Federation entity government too.

The mainly Bosniak and Croat entity spent the second half of 2012 reshuffling its leadership amid fierce political fights over dismissals of ministers and their replacements.

While the process of changing ministers at state level took place in November, the Federation entity had not finished resetting its ministerial line-up by year’s end.

Parallel to these political ructions, the economy continued to decline, which could be seen in figures for industrial production. These showed a fall of 2.5 per cent from October 2011 to same month in 2012.

Exports in 2012 from January to October were worth 3.4 billion euro, which was 3.7 per cent down on in the same period last year.

At the same time, imports to Bosnia cost 6.6 billion euro in 2012, 0.5 per cent up on the previous year.

The IMF said in September that “latest indicators point to a marked slowdown of economic activity amid falling external demand”.

The two entities, the Serb-led Republika Srpska and the Federation, spent most of the year calculating how to finish the year without collapsing financially. But they managed to secure a life-saving loan from the International Monetary Fund, IMF, worth 405 million euro for two years.

Although the IMF ordered cuts as the price of its support, the budgets of both entities expanded for 2013, reflecting the need to start paying off the previous loan. As a result, the IMF was pumping fresh cash into the entities' budget mainly to enable them to pay off old debts.

Little progress over EU:  

The Roadmap agreed in Brussels on June 27 gave Bosnia a list of deadlines with tasks to finish in order for the country to submit a membership application by the end of the year.

Owing to a lack of agreement among the key political factors hardly anything was done from the planned list.

One key obligation was implementation of the 2009 European Court of Human Rights ruling in the Sejdic and Finci case.

This ruling told Bosnia to change its constitution in order to allow ethnic minorities run for top governing posts that are currently reserved for the three largest ethnic groups, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.

With the deadline of August 31 in mind, the governing Social Democrats, SDP, and the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina, HDZ BiH, presented a joint proposal for constitutional changes.

But this was widely criticized by opposition and non-governmental sector, and also prompted the SDP Vice-President, Zeljko Komsic, a member of Bosnia’s State Presidency, to quit the party, citing his disagreements over the proposed changes to the method of electing members of the State Presidency.

Months later, Komsic announced the formation of his own party, which looked likely to be a civic-oriented party of the left.

Political deal criticized:


There was also criticism of the SDP leader, Zlatko Lagumdzija, for hatching a political agreement on October 31 with the Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, on improving cooperation between the two entities and improving the workings of government and the economy.

The planned changes concerned electoral law, the functioning of the administration and the election of prosecutors. Critics of the deal said they would reduce transparency and disempower Bosnia’s state-level institutions.

The country’s main Croatian parties supported the deal, at the same time demanding that all three ethnic groups have more equal rights in terms of power and complaining that while the Federation entity is effectively run by Bosniaks, and the Republika Srpska by Serbs, the Croats were marginalized.

Also in October, the US embassy called for reform of the Federation entity in order for it to become more functional and efficient. Media said the process was likely to be on the agenda in the first half of 2013.

Disappointing reports:

The EU Progress Report on Bosnia, published in October, expressed disappointment over Bosnia’s failure to meet its commitments in the EU accession process.

At the same time, a report by the Office of the High Representative, OHR, focused on the dangers of Serb separatism in Bosnia.

The High Representative, Valentin Inzko, told the UN Security Council in November that he was concerned by the secessionist rhetoric of the leadership of Republika Srpska – Dodik in particular.

Both reports warned that Bosnia was falling further behind other countries in the region in terms of reforms, which would have economic, social and political consequences.

Twenty Years On:

In January, the Republika Srpska marked its 20th anniversary with an impressive light show in the center of Banja Luka, which entity and Serb politicians for the region attended.

The one setback was after police found a cache of weapons concealed in the building where Serbian officials were celebrating the anniversary.

They described it as a threat to the security of the guests, who included Serbia’s President, Boris Tadic, and Serbia’s Prime Minister, Mirko Cvetkovic.

Three months later another more mournful anniversary was marked in the Bosnian capital, where Sarajevo recalled 20 years since the start of the four-year siege of the city.

The main city boulevard was turned into a river of 11,541 red chairs, each commemorating one the lives lost in the 1992-6 siege by Bosnian Serb forces. A children's choir sang a rendition of the John Lennon song, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”

Culture in trouble:

Bosnian largest cultural institutions suffered a turbulent year with many of them either remaining closed or shutting their doors, including the National Museum.

Some cultural institutions, such as the National and University Library and the Historic Museum had their electricity or heating cut off owing to unpaid bills, which they blamed on a lack of state funding.

The National Museum, after 124 years of existence, closed its doors as a result of financial problems and wooden planks were nailed over the entrance in October. The move followed years of struggle over funding.

Similar problems hit many independent art galleries, such as the Charlama gallery and the contemporary art collection, known as Ars Aevi, which contains numerous pieces by world famous artists.


Elvira M. Jukic