Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) performs in the mid-range across all Global State of Democracy (GSoD) categories of democracy, though its Rule of Law score is on the lower end of mid-range. Over the past five years, it has not experienced any significant change in its performance. A sticking point is elections, which continue to be marred by allegations of discrimination. BiH is an upper-middle-income country and was granted conditional candidate status by the European Commission in 2022. The country has struggled with economic stagnation, emigration and brain drain, corruption, and a loss of faith in government institutions. While recent years have seen some examples of popular mobilization driven by general dissatisfaction with what is widely perceived as a corrupt elite, these movements have not translated into pan- (or non-) ethnic political movements.
In a 1992 referendum, Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and Croats voted overwhelmingly for secession from Yugoslavia, while Serbs predominantly boycotted the vote, based on calls from their political representatives, who preferred to remain attached to a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. After the vote, BiH declared its independence and received international recognition. Almost immediately, fighting broke out, resulting in The Bosnian War, one of the deadliest conflicts in Europe since the Second World War. The grievances related to war atrocities -- the Srebrenica Massacre (ruled a genocide) in particular -- continue to shape the country’s politics. The U.S.-brokered Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) in 1995 put an end to the war and enshrined Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs as the country’s three constituent peoples. It created a tripartite presidency, it introduced a new administrative organization of two entities (the Federation of BiH, populated largely by Bosniaks and Croats, and the Serb-majority Republika Srpska), and it created what some call the world’s most complicated system of government. Dayton also created the Office of the High Representative, which empowers a diplomat from the international community to take binding decisions for BiH in situations of political gridlock. In general, the Republika Srpska opposes moves in the direction of accession to the EU. Over the years, it has favoured close ties with neighbouring Serbia and with Russia. Bosniaks have advocated for a more centralized state, while Croats have repeatedly called for their own administrative unit. Croats are a significantly smaller part of the population than the other two ethnic groups. Finally, constitutional discrimination against ethnic minorities of non-constituent peoples remain a challenge.
With regards to gender equality, GSoD Indices data show that BiH has performed at the mid-range for the past few decades. Legislation, policies and institutional mechanisms on gender equality and anti-discrimination are in place, yet implementation of policies is uneven. Discrimination at work, threats against women and LGBTQIA+ activists, gender-based violence and impediments to equal political participation persist.
In practice, the link between ethnicity and representation established by the DPA has led to the strengthening of ethnic political elites and the emergence of a system often characterized as an ethnocracy or described as an ethnically-based kleptocracy. While BiH is, in theory, on the path to eventual EU membership, it will be important to watch the progress of reforms. Memories of the war loom large, and many voters remain apathetic, cynical, and risk-averse as a result. Looking ahead, Free Political Parties and the Rule of Law will be key to future progress. More generally, BiH will need to find a way to cut through entrenched ethnic interests to and provide economic opportunity at home.
Monthly Event Reports
April 2023 | OHR moves to unblock government formation in the Federation
Government formation in the Federation has now been finalised, seven months after the elections in October 2022. Refik Lendo, Bosniak Vice President and member of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) had been blocking the appointment of the new government (which does not have any SDA ministers). The Office of the High Representative (OHR) used its “Bonn powers”, granted to the OHR by the Dayton Accords, to forward the proposed ministerial appointments to the Parliament without first obtaining Lendo’s signature. The House of Representatives subsequently confirmed the government composition, with 51 votes in favour, and one abstention. The OHR also accorded the Parliament a period of 12 months to agree to constitutional amendments that would prevent future blockages in government formation. The previous ministers in the Federation government had been serving in a technical mandate since 2018 in view of the protracted political stalemate.
March 2023 | Attack on LGBTQIA+ activists in Banja Luka
Police banned planned LGBTQIA+ events in Banja Luka, the administrative centre of the Republika Srpska entity, citing security concerns. On the day the events were scheduled, a mob attacked activists, including BiH Pride representatives, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and journalists. Three activists required medical attention as a result of the attack. BiH Pride representatives have alleged that law enforcement present at the attack failed to intervene. Earlier in the month, at an International Women’s Day march in Banja Luka, protesters were attacked for carrying a rainbow flag. Hate crimes in Republika Srpska have been on the rise in recent years, and official data collection remains sparse.
January 2023 | Parade flouts Constitutional Court ruling
A parade was held in Eastern Sarajevo in honour of Statehood Day of Republika Srpska (RS), which commemorates the Bosnian Serbs’ declaration of a breakaway region in 1992. This event sparked the Bosnian war. Statehood Day is celebrated annually despite being banned by the country’s Constitutional Court (established through the Dayton Accords) in 2015 for being discriminatory against non-Serbs. The Court also deemed illegal a 2016 referendum and the passage of legislation in RS asserting the entity’s right to celebrate the occasion. Heavily armed Bosnian Serb police, war veterans and fascist organisations marched in the parade, stoking tensions between Bosnia and Herzegovina’s two entities. This year, the parade was moved from Banja Luka, the de facto capital of RS, to only kilometres from the state capital Sarajevo, a choice deemed by the European Parliament as, “an additional and particularly cynical provocative act.”
December 2022 | First female Prime Minister appointed
The state presidency elected Borjana Kristo as the Chair of the Council of Ministers, making her poised to become Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first female head of government. A multi-ethnic coalition agreement was also endorsed in only three months, a feat which took over a year following the 2018 elections. The coalition includes Kristo’s Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party and the Serb nationalist party, Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), led by the pro-Russian Milorad Dodik. It excludes the Bosniak nationalist party, Party of Democratic Action (SDA), for the first time since 2014, as opposition parties joined forces to mount a challenge. This cracked the door open for civic and multi-ethnic parties at the state level, including Our Party, which seeks to reverse the historical emphasis on nationalist parties in the political system and enters the national government for the first time. Kristo has emphasised a focus on every day economic issues, and has urged respect for the diversity and rights of each of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s constituent peoples.