Bosnia and Herzegovina is hosting a volatile and tense atmosphere before the elections to be held on October 2. Behind these tensions, shortly before the elections, are High Representative Schmidt’s announcement that he would “impose” changes to the Election Law and the discussions that these changes would be in favour of the Croatian parties. Shortly after Schmidt’s statement, many people in the country, especially Bosniak parties and citizens, held protests to demonstrate their reactions. Eventually, considering the reactions, Schmidt stated in his statement on July 27 that he had only introduced “technical changes.” Expressing that he gave time to political parties and leaders to discuss and agree on the issue regarding political changes, Schmidt caused the country to be trapped in a tense setting just before the elections. Additionally, Schmidt has been described as pro-Croat after this step, and this brought along comments that the credibility of the High Representative institution is damaged. On the other hand, the recent increase in nationalist rhetoric and separatist steps in the country has shaken the balance of domestic politics. In the light of these developments, one may observe that the politics of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the system in the country have lost their functionality. That said, the instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina creates an opportunity for actors who want to play with the balance in the region.
From this point of view, the Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) presents the views of Richard Kraemer, the Foreign Policy Research Institute Eurasia Program Fellow, to evaluate the conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
- It has been observed that nationalist and separatist discourses have increased recently in Bosnia and Herzegovina. How do you evaluate the steps taken in this direction, especially by politicians who frequently use nationalist rhetoric?
Regrettably, irredentist and ultranationalist discourses tend to peak when authoritarian-trending leaders such as Dodik and Covic see opportunities they consider advantageous or pressing. The ramifications of the Second Russo-Ukrainian War occurring during the run-up to elections in Bosnia arguably provided both.
On the one hand, European Union (EU) Member States appear to be closing ranks on a broadly anti-Kremlin stance. If it holds, this doesn’t help acknowledged Russophiles like Dodik and Covic. On the other hand, with Brussels and other European capitals so focused on Ukraine and with an election coming, Covic may have recognized this as the time to push for these discriminatory “reforms”, appreciating that democratic Europe’s bandwidth is presently limited.
- High Representative Christian Schmidt has stated recently that he will “impose” changes to the Election Law and later it has been stated that only technical changes were made after the reactions. How do you evaluate this situation? What do you think is the impact of politicians in the country on Schmidt’s taking this step?
Schmidt appears to be broadening his understanding about the issue and, perhaps with it, the anti-democratic nature of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ-BiH) proposed changes to Bosnia’s electoral law.
In a genuine democratic, open society, the state doesn’t dictate to its citizens that they can only vote for members of their own ethnic or religious community. Period. That’s essentially why Covic -with support pro-Putin Dodik- is pushing for these discriminatory amendments.
This goes back to 2018, when sufficient votes went to Komsic -an ethnic-Croat- granting him an electoral win that placed him as the Croat member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency. How did this happen? Because many Bosniaks voted for him, as is their fundamental human right, not to be limited because HDZ doesn’t want or know how to appeal to voters outside of their ethnically Croat constituency. Instead of trying to inequitably rig the system, perhaps he and HDZ should instead try to show non-Croat voters that they can effectively represent them as well. That’s how democracy functions.
- Elections will be held in Bosnia and Herzegovina on October 2. How do you interpret the atmosphere in the country in light of recent events?
Tense, to put it mildly. The fact that the Germans recently agreed to send a contingency of troops to support EUFOR in Bosnia is demonstrative of the concerns Berlin and Brussels have at the moment. It’s not unprecedented. In 2018, signs from Banja Luka indicated that Dodik was planning acts to destabilize the country in the run-up to that year’s election. The United Kingdom responded brilliantly by deploying a company of troops to Brcko, sending a message that EUFOR remains present and engaged.
Let’s hope we see more of that despite all the attention that is necessary to support our Ukrainian allies in their fight against Putin and his Russia.
- One may observe that the volatilities in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s domestic politics have increased in recent periods. The developments have brought with them comments that Dayton has lost its function. What is your comment on this? Can it be said that there is a new political restructuring in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
There is a consensus among many Balkan watchers that Dayton needs a real redux. Given Schmidt’s increasing shift towards a more bearish stance vis-a-vis disruptors Covic and Dodik, it may well be that the time will come sooner. Chancellor Scholz remarks about Western Balkans here in Prague yesterday were also encouraging.
Democratic Europe cannot afford to be distracted with a resumption of armed conflict in Bosnia. So, yes, perhaps we are nearing a moment where the democratic transatlantic community may find the critical mass of political will necessary to revisit Dayton and hopefully get it right. These proposed changes advocated by Covic and most irresponsibly by the government in Zagreb will only further segregate Bosnia’s peoples, further leaving more space for Russia and other anti-democratic leaders like Viktor Orban to keep Bosnia unstable, corrupt, and out of the EU NATO.
Richard Kraemer is President of the US-Europe Alliance, non-resident senior fellow at the European Values Center for Security Policy in Prague, Czech Republic. His research there focuses on malign foreign interventions by Russia and China in Central and Southeastern Europe. He is also non-resident scholar for the Frontier Europe Initiative at the Middle East Institute and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. As board president of USEA, Richard works to inspire Americans to advocate for a robust and cooperative transatlantic community. Living in Kabul for two years, he helped establish the country’s first independent chamber of commerce. Richard also taught law and researched at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. He is an affiliated expert of the Public International Law and Policy Group, where he advised the governments of Georgia and Montenegro. A member of the New York State Bar Association, Richard holds a JD from American University and a BA from the College of William and Mary. He’s appeared in numerous international and U.S. media. He is professionally proficient in Polish, Farsi, and Dari.