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BOSNIA AND
HERZEGOVINA

 
  
  

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
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: 181 - (26/01/13)

The state of Bosnia and Herzegovina holds the international community, it seems, in an almost perpetual state of concern. This state, the heartland of bloody internecine fighting in the 1992-1995 period, was divided into two separate entities by the Dayton Agreement of 1995, a constitutional settlement which has been subject to repeated challenges, and continual criticism. A weak central government, a heavy emphasis on ethnic fault lines and a failure to protect minority rights are all recent criticisms levelled at the state by both European and internal observers. In New Nations' World Democracy Audit of 2012 it falls into the fourth division, at 77th place in the democracy rankings, lagging behind its Balkans neighbours, and signalling its numerous shortcomings. Criticised heavily by the president of the Serbian entity, Milorad Dodik, as an 'experiment conducted by foreigners', fears of secession remain high. In addition to this, economic concerns hang over the nation, which has the lowest economic growth in the region. The state's cultural heritage is also suffering. On Oct 4, 2012, Bosnia and Herzegovina's National Museum closed after 124 years due to a lack of funding, as the weakened and unfocused central government failed to supply it with funds, a death knell for the entity's common cultural heritage.

To begin it is necessary to examine the most pressing issue: political instability. After 16 months without a central government, in February last year the deadlock was broken and a government finally formed. This has not, however, heralded the era of stability some had hoped for. In comments made to the UN Security Council on November 13, the international peace envoy to Bosnia, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, conveyed his fears that the territorial integrity of the state might be under threat. He cited in particular Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik's secessionist rhetoric and attempts to dissolve Bosnia's armed forces as a significant part of the problem. Notoriously outspoken, Dodik has proved particularly caustic of late. In a New Year's Eve interview with a Belgrade daily, he alleged that the West is financing a movement to overthrow him, feeding $10 million to the opposition and NGOs in order to unseat him. He has also fanned the flames of regional ethnic conflict, by offering to house Kosovo's Serbs in Republika Srpska. The international reaction has been castigatory. US Assistant Deputy Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Philip Reeker, sharply rebuffed the comments made by the politician as "mad and odd". On a recent visit to Sarajevo, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton similarly cautioned Dodik, stating that it is "totally unacceptable that 17 years after the war ended, some still question Bosnia and Herzegovina's sovereignty and territorial integrity […] Such talk is a distraction from the problems facing the country and serves only to undermine the goal of European integration. The Dayton accords must be respected and preserved, period."

The Secretary of State also threw her weight behind Bosnia and Herzegovina's EU bid, saying the state "belongs in Europe". She and many other political commentators believe that Euro-Atlantic integration would be the best path for ensuring its stability. Recognised as a potential candidate member State in 2003, Bosnia's progress has been somewhat faltering. In the European Commission's 2012 progress report, released in October, it was stated that the nation had made 'limited progress in addressing the political criteria for membership in the EU'. It also reported that 'the governments at State level and in the Federation started being reshuffled but political disputes and legal challenges make the outcome uncertain'. A common criticism is that querulous factions prevent real progress from being made. A current impediment is an element of the state's constitution which decrees that only representatives of the three largest ethnic groups, Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats can run for office. The 2009 Sejdic-Finci ruling by the European Court of Human Rights states that a constitution must allow ethnic minorities (for example from the Roma or Jewish minority) to run for top posts.

The Commission's report also noted that 'Bosnia and Herzegovina has made little further progress towards a functioning market economy'. Nonetheless, there have been some steps forward. On December 19, the state signed a WTO accession deal with the European Commission. The EU noted that the conclusion of the agreement is a key milestone on "Bosnia and Herzegovina's path to becoming a member of the international trade body." EU integration certainly offers economic benefits, of which the country is getting an initial taste. The EU has announced that is going to invest €84.8 million in Bosnia and Herzegovina to finance reforms in the judicial and parliamentary sector that will help the country achieve its European integration goal. Financial ties between Bosnia and Herzegovina are strong, with the EU as its main trading partner, accounting for almost 73% of its exports and more than half of its imports. Even if the report of October showed scant progress, the rhetoric on Brussels' part is very much pro-accession. European Commissioner for Enlargement Štefan Füle recently commented, “the EU continues to prove its commitment to the European perspective for Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is now crucial that an effective coordination mechanism is put in place by the authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina to make the best use of EU support, for the benefit of the country's citizens.”

Economic issues are, some would argue, integral to the current political problems unravelling. It was noted by a number of observers that Milorad Dodik's increasingly provocative comments, and the particular allegation of a Western plot to overthrow him, could have something to do with his party's poor performance in regional elections in October. His Alliance of Independent Social Democrats took a severe beating, with the electorate apparently disillusioned by his failure to bring about positive economic changes. The country is facing a recession, unemployment is high (as it is across the whole of the region) and public sector salaries have been slashed. In November, up to 40,000 teachers and police officers took to the streets in protest against a 10% pay cut planned for public workers this year. Growth is predicted at a sluggish 0.5% this year. The International Monetary Fund has approved a two-year, $520 million loan to Bosnia to assist the government's economic programme to tackle insufficient growth, but this will do little to neutralise the major issues. Corruption remains systemic, as noted in the EU's report: 'The business environment continues to be affected by administrative inefficiencies, unreliable contract enforcement and a weak rule of law'. The political infighting prevents cohesive economic reforms from being made. Ivana Korajlic, of Transparency International Bosnia, which monitors corruption told the newspaper Balkan Insight that she did not expect any serious steps in fighting this problem over the next year due to the reform process, which whilst attempting to address the problems at an institutional level, is also slowing action.

Deepening economic problems in a state with a history of instability and restive factions are raising alarm bells. This not the only matter that draws attention to the history of conflict. A lack of observance of human rights is problematic, says Srdjan Dizdarevic, executive director of the Sarajevo House of Human Rights. He is blunt about the nation's right record. "There's no political will to embrace the modern concept of human rights where an individual and individual's rights come first. Pre-war concepts, collective rights of ethnic and religious groups still dominate here." NGOS are misunderstood by the authorities and in the case of Republika Srpska, are maligned by accusations of being funded by the West and serving foreign political goals. To mark international Human Rights Day, the Youth Initiative for Human Rights organised mock burials in Bosnia-Herzegovina's three largest cities of Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Mostar, in protest against a lack of understanding of rights issues.

Amidst all of this of course the 90s conflict is revisited through the war trials of those involved at the ICTY in The Hague. On December 13, the UN war crimes court convicted former senior Bosnian Serb army commander General Zdravko Tolimir, described as the right hand man of Ratko Mladic, of genocide, for his part in the Srebenica massacre of 1995. Ethnic tensions are far from being a thing of the past and communities remains highly sensitive to any behaviour deemed threatening. At the United Nations New Year's Eve concert, Serbian vocal group Viva Vox Choir performed the "March on the River Drina", a song known to be favoured by ultranationalists, prompting a flurry of outrage from Bosniak groups. A letter was penned in protest noting, "the concert was a scandalous insult to the victims of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina because the orchestra played the infamous and offensive Serb nationalist song 'March on the River Drina […] The genocide that occurred in Srebrenica and Zepa, and other parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was conducted by Serbian aggressors while blasting this song as they raped, murdered, and ethnically cleansed the non-Serb population." On January 14, it was reported that a bomb blast had destroyed a war memorial in the city of Mostar. The town, divided between Bosniaks and Croats, saw heavy fighting in the 1992-1995 war. Valentin Inzko said he was "appalled" by the attack and appealed for calm.

It can but be hoped that ethnic tensions can be managed and that violence does not contaminate the everyday lives of the country's citizens. Certainly it appears that the nation's politicians are failing to secure a peaceful and well-functioning democracy for its citizens. Many blame this on the Dayton agreements, which, critics say, were short-sighted and inadequate while others accuse today's politicians of failing to act. Dwelling on the past will not necessarily ensure a more positive future for the country which is facing an uphill struggle on all fronts. The reluctance of the political elite to embrace a forward looking, ecumenical approach has seen the country lose a great deal in political, economic and cultural terms. It is to be hoped that 2013 will bring some changes.
 

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