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Last Monday, a Serb Nationalist who opposes the state of Bosnia & Herzegovina recently won a seat in Bosnia’s tripartite presidency. Causing alarm for some, a celebration for others.This election only consolidated the deep control that ethnic parties have over the political landscape. Many voters further embraced their ethnic allegiances by supporting parties on ethnic lines. These parties are dominating their regions and conducted Nationalist campaigns which engaged in past wartime rhetoric.
This is a cause for concern in the already highly divided country. Furthermore, it may exacerbate complications for those who envisage Bosnia one day becoming a member of the European Union (EU) and NATO. As said by Marko Attila Hoare, political analyst and Balkan historian:
Yesterday’s election, much like previous elections in Bosnia, will serve to perpetuate the political deadlock and make the country’s EU and NATO accession difficult.
Turnout in the vote is reported at around 53% of the 3,352,933 eligible voters, according to the Central Election Commission. Elections in this small European country in the Balkan region are complex due to the nature of the federal system.
The state is divided into two entities, the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), and the Muslim-Croat Federation (of Bosnia & Herzegovina). The collective presidency is thereby formed of one member of each of the three ethnic groups.Milorad Dodik is Nationalist leader of the single largest party in Bosnia and looks set to dominate Serb national and regional politics. Dodik himself is known to be pro-Russia. He has advocated a secession of the Serb Republic and the creation of an independent state, or integration into Serbia, arguing that the Bosnian state has failed. His ally Zeljka Cvijanovic was elected to take over Dodik’s former job as president of the Serb region.
The largest Muslim Bosniak party, the SDA, secured the most votes in the Bosniak-Croat Federation. Its candidate Sefik Dzaferovic won the Bosniak seat in the collective presidency.
A coalition led by the largest Croat party HDZ, won the most votes of Croats in parliament and in the majority Croat cantons. However, its leader Dragan Covic lost the seat in the presidency to Zeljko Komsic, seen as a more moderate figure.
International monitors said the election was generally peaceful, though there were some reports of violations of the voting process.
At first glance, it appears somewhat curious and abnormal for a democratic European country such as Bosnia & Herzegovina to have three incumbent presidents. Surely this would be chaotic and inefficient? However, one has to understand the history and political situation that made it possible for this to be the case.
From 1992–1995, Bosnia experienced an extremely violent and bloody war. The conflict had its roots in the breakdown and eventual collapse of the Former Yugoslavia, and ethnic tensions between the Serbs, Bosnian Muslims and Croats. The conflict resulted in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 people, including concentration camps, and ethnic cleansing. The Srebrenica massacre in July 1995, stands out in most people’s minds as the single worst event perpetrated during the war; as a genocide of more than 8000 Bosniaks at the hands of Bosnian Serb army. These were some of the most abhorrent and brutal atrocities since World War II.
This led to the political system that we have today and has been in place since December 1995, when the Dayton Peace Accord was signed. The agreement brought to an end the years of fighting, and came about after great pressure from world powers including the US, UK and Russia for all sides to sign it. The agreement created the two entities that still exist in Bosnia today and form part of a federation. Moreover, it created the strange system of a rotating presidency whereby the president rotates every eight months through the leaders of the different groups, allowing for ethnic power-sharing.
The system remains controversial. Whilst bringing the violence to an end, it is criticised for not solving the conflict but rather just freezing it in time and entrenching nationalism.