Nationalist divisions dim hopes for change after Bosnia election
By Dado Ruvic Daria Sito-Sucic
ZENICA/GRADISKA, Bosnia (Reuters) – Dividing nationalism dominated the campaign for presidential and parliamentary elections in Bosnia on October 2, suggesting that reformists keen to modernize a dysfunctional economy and improve the rule of law have little chances of winning.
Bosnia is going through its most serious political crisis since its 1990s war with Serbian nationalist leader Milorad Dodik taking concrete steps for the secession of the Autonomous Republic of Serbia (RS) from the Balkan state, his long-time goal.
“This current Bosnia is not acceptable to us,” Dodik told supporters in the northern town of Gradiska on Wednesday. “It most often proves to be a burden…, preventing us from progressing.”
Dodik touted his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin while blaming the West for starting war in Ukraine, which Russia invaded in February.
He said that Christians and Muslims cannot live together, regardless of centuries of coexistence between Orthodox Serbs, Bosnian Muslims and Catholic Croats in Bosnia.
Last year, Dodik pushed through legislation to remove the RS from Bosnia’s joint judiciary, tax and defense institutions and put in place regional replacements, though he postponed implementing the measures after being hit by US and UK sanctions.
But his words and actions aroused fears among Bosnians who suffered the greatest number of casualties in the country’s 1992-1995 war, which erupted after Bosnians and Croats voted for independence from Yugoslavia. dominated by Serbs.
“For the first time, I was scared for Bosnia,” said Nedzad Hadzimusic, owner of a Bosnian cafe in the central town of Zenica. “I am not a nationalist, but I will vote for the SDA (Democratic Action Party) despite everyone else.”
The SDA, Bosnia’s largest party, campaigned on a ticket to protect Bosnians and the integrity of the post-war state, which SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic said was paid in the blood.
The party is also at odds with the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), its coalition partner, over an electoral reform bill that would allow Croats to choose their member for the inter-ethnic presidency for the first time.
Croats accuse majority Bosniaks, with whom they share Bosnia’s other autonomous region, the Bosnian Croat Federation, of electing Croats who do not represent their national interests and have threatened to ‘reorganize the territory’ which would block the next Federation government.
“We must have our representative whom we elect and not the one imposed by someone else,” said HDZ supporter Mirjana Lovric at a party rally in the central town of Zepce.
Bosnians will vote for the new Serb, Croat and Bosniak members of the weak Sarajevo Presidency as well as for the deputies to the national, regional and cantonal assemblies.
A system of ethnic quotas at different levels of government, agreed as part of the 1995 Dayton peace treaty, largely locks in the power of the nationalist factions that fueled the war of the 1990s.
‘ALL OR NOTHING’ APPROACH
Opposition leaders condemn nationalist focus on identity themes at the expense of real concerns such as soaring inflation, emigration which has caused labor shortages and the need to laws to cut taxes and red tape that get in the way of doing business and to fight corruption and organized crime.
“Whenever you see those who (promise to) protect you against others who will attack you (…), you can be sure that at that time 20 to 50 million marks have been stolen”, said opposition MP Sasa Magazinovic, referring to the situation in Bosnia. currency.
“These are smokescreens used by criminals in suits and ties with political offices to complete their criminal deals,” he said.
Diplomats say all Bosnian politicians bear equal responsibility for the disarray, as no one wants to compromise for the general good of a population that still suffers widespread deprivation amid high unemployment and meager investment.
“It’s the ‘all or nothing’ approach – you can’t go anywhere that way or expect the international community to wave a magic wand and solve the problem,” a Western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The European Union and NATO have recently intensified their surveillance of Bosnia, fearing that instability caused by the war in Ukraine could spread there. The EU has almost doubled its EUFOR peacekeeping force in Bosnia.
($1 = 2.0106 points)
(Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Mark Heinrich)