Editor’s Note: This article was written by former ADV author Sofia Sousa.
Political unrest and lack of shared vision – these are some of the words that could best describe both the political and economic situation that citizens have been living in Bosnia and Herzegovina for the past 20 years. In fact, while having 3 presidents, 14 parliaments, over 150 ministers and around 3.8 million people, BiH is seen by many as a fragile state lacking common vision, clear goals and progress. Such fragility has not only been preventing the country’s economy to prosper, but it has also been creating barriers for BiH’s path towards the EU integration process.
In order to understand the situation that is behind such political instability one should look at the civil war that took place in BiH almost 20 years from now. It started in 1992, when Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was considered a multiethnic republic, full of Muslim Slavs, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs, passed a referendum for independence. However, the fact that not all Bosnian Serbs agreed on this referendum resulted in one of the cruelest chapter in the breakup of Yugoslavia, whereby Muslims fought alongside Croats against the Serbs. These brutal fights resulted in a process called “ethnic cleansing” with massacres against different ethnic groups. Also numerous citizens were expelled from their homes by the Serbs so that they could get exclusive areas, being able to control about 70% of Bosnia territory in the end. Although worldwide condemnation against these brutal massacres took place, there was no effective international intervention regarding what concerns human right issues for Bosnian civilians. The lack of international intervention made it possible for the Croats to launch a war in order to get control of central Bosnia and the Muslim portion of Mostar, which was the capital of the Herzegovina area, which consequently led to the increase of the bloody massacres and a process of genocide.
Despite all the international ceasefires and attempts to achieve a resolution of the conflict in the country, none of the conferences or charges against suspected war criminals has been successful in solving the conflict in the country. Only in March 1994 the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, which had been established in 1993, was able to negotiate brief local ceasefires, which ended up in making the Croats agree on a Muslim-Croat federation, together with some pressure from the U.S. Still there have been more massacres in 1994 and 1995 in Sarajevo and also other cities that had been called “safe havens” for Muslim citizens by the United Nations in 1993. However, after the Serb-held territory was reduced in Bosnia from over 2 thirds to just less than 1 half, which was the defined percentage for the Serbian region in the peace plan, the Dayton Peace Agreement was finally signed in December 1995, resulting in the end of the Bosnian war.
Thousands of people died during the war, millions of citizens became refugees and the country hasn’t still been able to find competitiveness in its economy, as well as effective solutions in its political system. One can argue that it has not become clear who the winners and the losers of the Bosnian war were, after the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed, which can actually explain the existing divisions in the country. Unfortunately, BiH has remained a fragile state, having achieved a GDP per capita income of 28% of the EU average in 2012 and being ruled by a complex Constitution and complicated legal structure, as well as a weak enforcement of the legislation in place. The power lies with two largely autonomous entities – Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska, which are responsible for most of the social and economic issues occurring in the country, and there is still low consensus between these entities and different government levels.
Such complexity in the economic and political system has been leading to unemployment rates of 27.6%, reaching the youngest generation mainly. Besides, there haven’t been strong incentives towards Foreign Direct Investment, which is not only due to the complex system in place, which actually prevents Bosnia from being attractive for FDI, but also to the lack of motivation of younger people. In fact, in a country where government spending has not been growth-oriented, where business is done through corruption in the public and private sectors and where bureaucracy seems to make every process difficult, one can easily understand the lack of initiative of the youngest generation to contribute towards growth. In addition to the difficulties faced by the Bosnian economic environment there is also the issue of inequality of the social system taking place in the country.According to the World Bank statistics, social assistance is inequitable, meaning that a lot of money has been spent in BiH, but such spending only covers 20% of the poor people in the country. These statistics show us that a better distribution of the spending needs to be done, implying as well that a shared vision and political will are needed among the Bosnian political representatives.
One of the reasons why there is a lack of planning regarding socio-economic development may be related to the fact that we have no idea how many citizens live in BiH nor how many people returned to the country after the war. The first census after 1991 is now taking place, which may give us a better notion of statistics such as the number of population in the country, the total number of registered persons, households and housing units at all institutional levels. The overall data will be officially known in 12 to 18 months from now. In a country with such lack of political will, economic planning and where the legal system is complex, being able to have access of the information obtained from the census will be crucial to provide a first step towards public policy planning, as well as to give BiH an opportunity to work on its way to the European Union.