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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 6,963 5,249 4,800 104
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,540 1,270 1,240 123
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Bosnia & Herzegovina

Update No: 180 - (26/07/12)

The fragile state of Bosnia and Herzegovina continues to perplex and unnerve the international community. Seventeen years on from the Dayton Agreements that ended a merciless war, in which 100,000 people died, many are calling into question the viability of the peace agreement and the constitutional settlement it enshrined. Whilst the state managed to form a central government in February after 16 months of deadlock, the level of progress since then has been, to the mind of many, nugatory. Infighting and corruption within a self-interested political elite, who are all too ready to exploit and engineer ethnic divisions that led to bloodshed in the past, continue to prevent consensus forming and the country progressing.

International attention has been focused in past months on events currently underway in The Hague, where the ICTY is holding former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic and political leader Ramzan Kadyrov on trial. Mladic's trial was suspended on July 12, due to a bout of ill heath on the part of the the 70 year-old defendant. The ex-general, who was on the run for 16 years, is believed to have suffered as many as three strokes during his time in hiding. His recent spell of ill health prompted fears that the "Butcher of Bosnia", who has shown no signs of repentance for his crimes, may die before his trial is completed. Nonetheless his period of indisposition was not too lengthy. Four days later proceedings were resumed, as a hospital concluded that he was fit to stand trial. The prosecution's first witness, Elvedin Pasic, who at the age of 14 survived a mass execution in Hvracani in 1992, broke down in tears at several points during his testimony, which makes for heartbreaking reading.

The second prosecution witness to take the stand, David Harland, a UN adviser at the time, revealed that Iran and Turkey contravened a UN embargo to supply weapons to Bosniaks during the war. The next person to testify will be Eelco Koster, one of the some 450 Dutch UN peacekeepers charged with guarding the "protected" enclave at Srebrenica. Here the worst crime on European soil since World War Two was subsequently committed, in the murder of 8000 Muslim men and boys. The trial, whilst providing catharsis for some of the victims of Mladic's nightmarish vision of a Greater Serbia, has also shed light on the involvement of an international community attempting to understand its levels of culpability. Doubtless Koster's testimony will expose international involvement; its efforts and its shortcomings.

Meanwhile, his former collaborator, Radovan Karadzic, also stands trial. His victims were distressed to see The Hague throw out one charge of genocide against the political leader. The dropped charge was that which claimed that Karadzic had been involved in the expulsion of non-Serbs in Bosnian towns at the start of the 1992-1995 war. Hague tribunal Judge O-Gon Kwon ruled that there was not enough evidence to define the killings perpetrated by Bosnian Serbs in the first year of the war as an act of genocide. It is anticipated that the prosecution will appeal. Nonetheless nine other charges, among them crimes against humanity and war crimes still stand. Karadzic had attempted to have all counts against him dismissed. He will begin arguing his case on October 16. In preparation for this, the one-time president of Republika Srpska wrote to Bosnian presidency member Bakir Izetbegovic asking him to testify as a defence witness in his trial. Bakir Izetbegovic is the Bosniak member of the three-man presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as being the son of the late Alija Izetbegovic, who was president of Bosnia during the war. Bakir Izetbegovic had written a letter to the ICTY stating his dissatisfaction with the decision to throw out one charge. As the incident reflects, the court case, whilst ultimately an attempt to heal the wounds of the country, is in the meantime providing a battleground of sorts for the same ethno-political tensions that existed during the period.

This year is the first that the anniversary of the aforementioned Srebrenica massacre has been commemorated whilst two of its architects are on trial. Whether it made a difference to those who mourned, is unclear. This year's commemoration on July 11, 17 years on from the tragedy, saw 30,000 people come to the Potočari Memorial Centre, where 520 newly identified victims were buried. Pictures of the events provide sober viewing as relatives stood ashen-faced over coffins. Of the 8,000 murdered, it has been extremely difficult to identify their remains due to the movement of bodies from different mass graves. The International Commission on Missing Persons, which has been assisting Bosnia and Herzegovina in accounting for all the missing people, has concluded that 6,838 persons have so far been identified. On the anniversary, US President Barack Obama issued a statement saying the United States "rejects efforts to distort the scope of this atrocity, rationalize the motivations behind it, blame the victims, and deny the indisputable fact that it was genocide," in a pointed reference to Mladic loyalists and Serbian ultranationalists. Obama added that "a measure of justice is finally being served for the victims" since Mladic and Karadzic now face trial.

An interesting fact noted by several news sources was that the victims' families asked that this year there be no speeches by politicians. This year Srebenica associations banned "empty political speeches because until now the commemorations had been used for political demagoguery" and stated, "We don't want heartbreaking speeches which are backed by no action". When formal addresses were made by dignitaries and political leaders, they were apparently met with whistles and jeers. The fact that the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina have lost faith in their politicians is hardly surprising. Another matter designed to bring a sense of pan-ethnic unity and healing, the national anthem, has reflected a manifest lack of will on the part of politicians to enforce positive changes. Since its adoption 13 years ago, various commissions representing the three constituent ethnic populations of the state have repeatedly failed to agree on lyrics for the anthem. A competition in 2008 to provide words was greeted with 339 entries and one was selected unanimously. Parliament, however, rejected it. A new commission to come up with lyrics has been announced, but many are sceptical since the previous one spent two years prevaricating at a cost of 50,000 euros. Psychologist Srdjan Puhalo comments, "The Bosnian political elite, namely Bosnian Serbs and Croats, are trying to keep ethnic divisions in place and they don't want to install anything that can lead to the creation of a national [Bosnian] identity." When singing the anthem is required individuals tend to use the words of their previous anthems.

Another frustrating failure on the part of the government relates to bilateral citizenship. Government critics have complained that nearly 500,000 citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina who reside abroad and hold dual citizenship will be forced to give up their citizenship in one country if the BiH parliament fails to meet a January 1st 2013 deadline to amend the country's citizenship law. In 2011, the Constitutional Court ruled that the government has six months to revoke the law's two articles, 17 and 39, that condition dual citizenship on bi-lateral agreements, but the government has not as of yet, made any moves to do so. The government has also failed to conclude bilateral citizenship agreements with other states, apart from Sweden. This means that a large community of the diaspora, among them highly skilled professionals, may be forced to renounce their homeland, or their adopted nation. As the largest number of Bih citizens currently living abroad are Bosniaks who fled the ethnic cleansing during the war, or were expelled from their homes, many say this move represents yet another attempt to undermine the Bosniak right to exist. Zaim Pasic, president of the World Diaspora Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina, complained to the SE Times, that the failure to make progress on dual citizenship is squarely the result of politicians. He was quoted as saying,” all three groups of politicians are considering only whether it will benefit the interests of their ethnicity."

Again on the matter of ethnic difference, politicians gathered on July 13 to discuss the possibility of changing the constitution in order to remove discrimination against Jews, Roma people and other minorities. This has, for several years, been a sticking point in terms of Bosnia's possible accession to the EU. According to the constitution drawn up as part of the Dayton Agreement in 1995, only Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks can reach the highest offices of state. In 2009, following a suit filed in 2006 by two prominent Bosnian public figures, Dervo Sejdic of Roma origin and Jakob Finci of Jewish origin, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the exclusion of Jews and Roma from Bosnia's highest state offices is unlawful discrimination. Ireland, the 2012 chair of the Organization for Security in Cooperation in Europe - an intergovernmental body, had urged on July 11, that the government ensure Sejdic-Finci be addressed. "There is no excuse to discriminate against anyone, especially minorities," Irish European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton said during her visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. "This is especially important in a post-conflict society." With a Jewish population of merely 1,000 people in Bosnia-Herzegovina, this ethnic group has found it difficult to make their voice heard.

Most are highly sceptical as to whether constitutional change will take place - and argue that if it did, it would make scant difference to actual practice. Some suggest that the prejudice exists at a broad politico-cultural level, and that making legislative amendments will scarcely change this. On the matter of constitutional change, on July 13 the International Crisis Group released the first of two policy briefs on constitutional reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Entitled Bosnia's Gordian knot, the report begins with the gloomy statement: 'Bosnia and Herzegovina's system of government has reached breaking point and the country's path to European Union membership is blocked'. The report goes on to refer to a 'crisis of governance in the federation and the Republika Srpska'. It notes 'highly inefficient' institutions and politicians who blithely 'ignore difficult policy choices and seem immune to domestic or international pressure'. The reports also highlights concerns, raised elsewhere, that Croats, the smallest group of the three constituent ethnic groups, are prevented from influencing state policy. Another report will be published in 2013.

Following talks on accession held on 27 June, the EU made it clear that accession to the bloc will only be possible if this constitutional problem is righted. Following the meeting, a road map was agreed upon, laying out on the steps the Balkan state must take in order to officially apply for EU membership. The first step is amending the constitution to make it compliant with Sejdic-Finci ruling. Many are sceptical as to whether this will be achieved. The problem, many argue, goes far beyond that which is highlighted by the EU or the Crisis Group. In a recent analysis of the Crisis Group's findings, academic Jasmin Mujanović points out that the ongoing emphasis on consociationalism made by the international community (which indeed underpins the Dayton agreements) perpetuates a stalemate in which ethnic identity can be engineered and exploited by politicians, of the kind which, she argues, provoked the bloodshed of the early 90s.

At the moment it seems that sceptical voices are the loudest when it comes to the progress of Bosnia Herzegovina. That the most cynical views are held by the citizens themselves, is a dark sign, given that for many the wounds of the war have scarcely healed. It can be hoped, since EU accession is one policy area on which the representatives of all three communities apparently agree, that compliance with the Sejdic-Finci ruling will be achieved in a timely fashion and as a result, further steps towards European integration. If so, this could herald a new period of cooperation and renewed momentum.


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