EU Policies Boomerang: Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Social Unrest

New DPC Policy Note By Bodo Weber & Kurt Bassuener

Executive Summary and Recommendations

The social discontent manifest in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), begun with violent protests in Tuzla on February 5, spread throughout the Federation, was a new phenomenon. But it was long in the making. As manifest in demands for non-partisan and technical governments, much of the general population has clearly lost hope that the country’s political system can represent them or deliver any meaningful change. Such misgivings are well-founded: the problem is structural and institutional, not simply a question of who occupies given offices. It is hard to see any solutions being arrived at institutionally – or the current political menu offering hope of meaningful change at the ballot box in October.

The protests arose for legitimate reasons, were anti-incumbent and anti-establishment, not ethnic in nature, and appear to have spontaneously grown and spread. But existing political elites have sought to either redirect this anger or harness it, often with ethnic and ethno-territorial argumentation.

This situation owes directly to the EU-led international posture of the past eight years. Hopes that the EU enlargement process would impel reform and progress by BiH’s political class were shown to be clearly misplaced by late 2006. Yet larger EU member states, especially Germany and France, as well as the European Commission and EEAS, hew to this failed policy to the present day, attempting to mold the Bosnian reality to their preference to avoid further responsibility and entanglement. The rules-free environment engendered by this policy allowed BiH politicians unlimited room for venality and irresponsible action (and inaction). Such a policy was bound to have a nasty confrontation with reality. It has finally arrived.

Berlin, Paris, and Brussels in particular – and the international community in general – need to heed this wake-up call and finally launch an overdue comprehensive policy needs assessment on BiH. Elements of this must include the following:

  • Leaders of key EU member states and of the US need to clearly signal to the political elites in Bosnia that they must refrain from deliberately trying to inflame the current situation or face painful consequences.
  • To be credible with such a policy, the EU must demonstrate that it takes its responsibility to maintain a safe and secure environment seriously. To do so, EUFOR requires reinforcement so that it has the strength and mobility to deter threats to the peace.
  • Now that popular dissatisfaction has been so clearly manifest, the EU and broader international community must attempt to catalyze this into a constituency for positive change.
  • EU leaders need to make use of the 2014 election year to – in cooperation with the US and other relevant actors – develop a new, unified Bosnia policy approach.
  • The still-prevailing obsession in Berlin, Paris, and Brussels to eliminate OHR – either literally or effectively through disuse, must finally cease. Until the Dayton structure of the state is replaced by a system that allows real political accountability, it must remain a vital part of the international architecture.
  • Only Germany can lead such a policy shift. During the Munich Security Conference in January, German officials announced a new era in Germany foreign and security policy, with the country embracing its international responsibility. Bosnia is the first occasion to transform this pledge into actual policy.

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