ISSN 2330-717X

General Elections In BiH: Political Changes Are Required, But Are They Possible? – Analysis

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The ninth general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina will take place on 2 October 2022. At the elections, members of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, representatives in the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, representatives in the House of Representatives of the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, President of the Republika Srpska, two vice-presidents of Republika Srpska, representatives in the Republika Srpska National Assembly (NSRS), and representative in the assemblies of 10 cantons in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina will be elected 

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The BiH Central Election Commission (CEC) verified a total of 127 political subjects (72 political parties, 38 coalitions and 17 independent candidates) as eligible to participate at the elections of 2 October 2022. Following the required verification, a total of 750 regular candidate lists with a total of 7257 candidates, including the independent candidates, were confirmed. The CEC also verified the candidate lists for award of compensation mandates. The central electoral register includes a total of 3,368,666 registered voters, including 69,966 voters who had applied to vote from outside BiH (by mail or in diplomatic-consular offices). The electoral threshold is set at 3%.

Elections marked by Russian influence in BiH

The Unites States of America have made $2.2 billion available in long-term investments under Foreign Military Financing to bolster the security of Ukraine and 17 of its neighbors; including many of our NATO Allies, as well as other regional security partners potentially at risk of future Russian aggression, including Bosnia and Herzegovina. A testimony of the Russian role in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the visit by Member of the BiH Presidency Milorad Dodik (SNSD) to Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is announced for late September 2022, that is in the eve of the general elections in BiH. Dodik no longer hides that he serves Russian interests, which are primarily related to retailoring of borders, prevention of membership of BiH in NATO, possible dissolution of BiH and causing destabilization in the region. The Russian corruptive network has eroded the institutions of the EU, as well as BiH.

The latest information that the Soccer Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina has adopted a decision on participation of the BiH national team in a friendly soccer game with Russia on 19 November in Saint Petersburg, is just yet another testimony of the engagement of Russia in BiH. 

One should also not forget the role of the President of the Croatian Democratic Union BiH (HDZBiH) Dragan Čović as a proponent of Russian interests. Namely, several years ago he publicly invited Russia to increase its presence in BiH wanting to see more of Russia present in BiH.

The last report[2] of High Representative Christian Schmidt to the UN Security Council provides an illustration of the complexity of relations in BiH, and particularly the possible breakout of conflicts. The situation in BiH further intensified after the launch of the Russian invasion on Ukraine on 24 February 2022. 

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According to analysts, the fight for Bosnia and Herzegovina takes place in the cities and the streets of Ukraine, because the outcome of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina will depend on the outcome of the Ukraine crisis. There is a real risk that Russia will attempt to compensate its failure in Ukraine by exporting the conflict, in example, possibly on the Western Balkans, that is Bosnia and Herzegovina. Therefore, just as the leading security-intelligence and defense institutions have warned, it is important to deploy an US military contingent to the BiH Brčko District, because a part of the  Brčko District Police leadership and political structures  are under the influence of Russia. This was also reported by the renowned US magazine Foreign Affairs[3]. Political representatives of Serbs in the District had refused to meet with High Representative Schmidt during his visit to the BiH Brčko District. 

Geopolitical circumstances suggest that there is reason for increased concern over Russian interference in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the coming weeks. Namely, there will be attempts to use the existing situation to cause instability in BiH and, essentially, bring into question the legitimacy and results of the elections. Numerous and strong cyber-attacks have been recorded in the region, which calls for caution and readiness to (re)act. The Russian focus on BiH will not stop after the elections either. For years already Russia has been using disinformation and cyber-attacks to influence the democratic processes. BiH appears to be particularly vulnerable to cyber-attacks, because it does not yet defined critical infrastructure and what needs to be protected. The announced meeting between Dodik and the Russian President Vladimir Putin is an extension of support to Dodik’s attempts to win votes. This is something that Russia does not do only in the eve of elections or in the run-up to elections, but has been doing over a prolonged period of time. Indicators of intensive Russian influences have been recorded in almost all European countries since 2014.

Key threats to BiH come from EU and NATO member countries- example of Croatia and Hungary 

In the constellation of existing political relations, the negative actions of EU and NATO member countries, specifically the Republic of Croatia and Hungary, in and towards BiH give rise to concern.  

In Croatia the history of World War II is being revised. The highest representatives of Croatia openly interfere in internal political affairs of BiH and (ab)use Croatia’s membership in the EU and NATO in that respect. Croatian Prime Minister, Andrej Plenković (HDZ) and Croatian President Zoran Milanović (SDP) interfere in the process of adoption of constitutional changes and election law in BiH, as well as institutionally fabricate and propagate the thesis about Bosniaks being a so-called Islamic threat. At the same time Croatia is openly revising the history, affirming Ustashahood and the Independent State of Croatia and has recorded a number of anti-Semitic incidents. This has been detected also by the international community, leading international media outlets and international organizations. As a result, Croatia has become a “black stain” in the EU, and is at risk of becoming a “case country.” Croatia must be excluded from any solution for BiH, because there are five judgments of the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) establishing it as a country that had participated in an international armed conflict (aggression) in BiH and been involved in two joint criminal enterprises (JCE) against BiH. 

In the context of current developments in the region, good news are the democratic changes in Montenegro and the continuation of talks on the path of achieving full-fledged membership in the EU. After joining NATO Montenegro has become a strong factor of stability and peace in the region. The political changes in North Macedonia and leadership of Zoran Zaev (SDSM), brought refreshment and initiated positive processes not just in North Macedonia, but also in the region.

Viktor Orbán’s regime has created a network for investment of capital and a media network in the Balkans. He had established numerous media portals that generate fake news and produce various scandals. The company behind the media portals is connected with the Hungarian public TV network Magyar Televizo (MTV), which supports the Orbán-led Fidesz party. Furthermore, even some intelligence operations get coordinated from Budapest. Hence, there is a so-called “axis of evil” that acts against BiH. 

Analysts warn of the intelligence operation codenamed “Tower”, which is coordinated from Budapest. Currently, an intensive focus is put on FBiH Prime Minister Fadil Novalić (SDA), who impeded a collapse of the economic system of the FBiH. Namely, as more than ¾ of economic transactions in the state of BiH take place in the Federation of BiH, collapse of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina requires a collapse of the economic system in the Federation of BiH. The “Tower” intelligence operations has been expanded to include Member of the BiH Presidency Željko Komšić (DF) as well. The election campaign includes a plethora of elements from the mentioned intelligence operation, which is supported by local political forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina. These elements are primarily aimed against Fadil Novalić and Željko Komšić. In fact, even High Representative Christian Schmidt has been involved in the implementation of the “Tower” intelligence operation, although it cannot be positively established whether he has done that wittingly or has been drawn into it.

Fake patriotism and “production and management of hatred”

The concept of national(ethnic)/nationalistic parties has proven fatal for BiH, as it is not natural to the very essence of Bosnia and Herzegovina and has a devastating effect on the country as its multiethnic, multi-religious and multicultural character are the standing values for which BiH and its citizens are recognized and respected in the world. The leading national parties constantly and mutually produce hatred and manage it. In the past four years, management of the state was rendered additionally difficult by the 2.5 years long Covid-19 pandemic and, over the past seven months, the consequences of the Russian invasion on Ukraine. 

According to the UN report[4] 2022, Bosnia and Herzegovina is on the top of the global list indicating reduction of population by countries as it has the highest population reduction percentage. Namely, BiH has recorded an annual drop of around 1.5%, which means that in the past eight years almost half a million of people have emigrated from BiH. It is assessed that Bosnia and Herzegovina will lose between 40% and 50% of its population by the end of the century. The state level government was either blocked or exceeded numerous deadlines, due to what many opportunities for development projects at the state level were lost and particularly those that were to be supported by the international community. Mild economic growth was recorded in the period from 2018 to 2020, and 2019 was historic by many parameters. Positive trends collapsed in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, a now there is inflation, as well as energy and food crisis. The general assessment is that minimum growth had been achieved over the period of four years, which is however insufficient to keep the population in the country and provide sound instruments for development. Prior to the pandemic and the Ukraine crisis, Bosnia and Herzegovina needed minimum growth of 5%, whereas now the required minimum growth is 7%. 

Analysts believe that the reduction of the population does not happen on its own, but is a result of a systemically poorly managed policy, failure to resolve daily problems of the citizens, such as jobs, employment, economic development, social welfare, healthcare system, school system, etc. With such an approach political leaders block development of BiH, but implement plans of the political structures that do not want durable peace, long-term stability and development. Majority of party leaders use fake nationalism to attract voters, but also produce and manage hatred to ensure their survival in power or arrival to power. However, the ultimate patriotism is to enable citizens of BiH to have a better life and stop the trend of massive emigration from BiH. 

Is there a glimpse of political change in Republika Srpska?

Policy pursued by Milorad Dodik’s (SNSD) boils down to a “one day at a time” policy, without any serious or strategic approach. Dodik’s policy is dominated by arrogance, negligence, insults and belittling of political opponents. Because of the SNSD, BiH is the only country that has not introduced any measures of support to citizens. Namely, for six months already the SNSD has been blocking in the BiH Parliament adoption of a law on abolition of excise duties on fuel and lowering of the value added tax. Instead, Dodik had distributed a one-time budget-based charity in the amount of 25 EUR per citizen. More than a year ago Dodik begun the boycott of the work of institutions of the state of BiH, including the BiH Parliament, which is the key partner to the EU regarding the enlargement process. Deputy President of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) Milan Radovićoffered a serious and comprehensive program of economic recovery based on improvement of the standard of living of citizens, which has been devastatingly degraded by the excessively expensive public investments in Republika Srpska. His program envisages economic growth of 7%, decrease of burdens on the economy and reduction of taxes and contributions from 67% to 52%, increased spending, continuous annual growth of pensions at a rate of 10%, increase of the average salary to the level of 900 EUR in the next four years, increased agriculture fund to 100 million EUR, etc. The latest investment in Republika Srpska is the construction of the Brčko – Vukosavlje highway. For a 41 kilometer section of the highway a loan of 390 million EUR has been taken. This means that cost-wise, that is as far as the cost per kilometer is concerned, this highway will lump together with the most expensive in the world (11.8 million EUR per kilometer), despite the fact that it is to be constructed on a flat terrain and will not include a single tunnel. 

Analysts believe that both Milorad Dodik and Bakir Izetbegović (SDA) have created enormous animosity towards them among members of their parties and citizens, even by their moves that had not been detrimental to the social community. As a candidate for the position of the Republika Srpska President Jelena Trivić (PDP) has a significant lead over Milorad Dodik SNSD), while Mirko Šarović (SDS) and Željka Cvijanović (SNSD) as candidates for the position of the Serb member of the BiH Presidency are currently in a close race. Dodik constantly opens quasi-patriotic topics, while he, his family and members of his oligarchy have reportedly accumulated enormous wealth. In the election campaign it is important to have TV duels of candidates that run for individual positions and not to have the SNSD “hide” Željka Cvijanović from the election campaign and facing Mirko Šarović in a duel. If the elections are free, transparent and fair, there will be a glimpse of political change in Republika Srpska.  

Increased support to Petrar Đokić’s Socialist Party

Milorad Dodik made a strategic mistake when in addition to the Democratic Alliance (DNS) he tried to destroy also Petar Đokić’s Socialist Party (SP), replace it with minor and dubious newly established political subjects, as well as surround himself with individuals with questionable intentions. This factually led to a collapse of one of the longest-lasting coalitions, which guaranteed peace and stability, as well as even prosperity to an extent, but also a secure and stable power to Dodik. Petar Đokić’s Socialist Party is an autochthone left-wing party whose actions are aimed at a broad range of citizens who care for human relations, social justice, social sensitivity and fair social order.

According to analysts, Milorad Dodik’s brutal relation towards Petar Đokić’s Socialist Party has resulted in a contrary effect. Namely, it resulted in a trend of growth of support to the party, due to which the SP will be an inevitable partner to a future coalition. 

Bećirović vs. Izetbegović – change of generations

Over the past more than 30 years, the national (ethnic) and nationalist concept in Bosnia and Herzegovina has devastated the country. Firstly by the war, and subsequently through wrong national-criminal policies that made BiH, which is a country with enormous natural and human potential, the poorest country in Europe. The decision is on the citizens of BiH. Do they want changes or will they support the devastating policies and various clerical-nationalisms with which they had decades of negative experience and which essentially brought nothing good to the citizens of BiH. At the upcoming elections the citizens will have an opportunity to put a pen in their hand and give their vote of support to political changes in BiH. 

The nomination of Denis Bećirović (SDPBiH) for the position of a member of the BIH Presidency, which is supported by 11 political parties, can be a herald of change of generations on the political scene in BiH and introduction of a new approach to politics that will have BiH citizens and the state of BiH in its focus. Bakir Izetbegović (SDA) has already served two mandates as a member of the BiH Presidency and is currently running for the position with the status of a pensioner. HDZBiH President Dragan Čović also has the status of a pensioner.

The election campaign will offer certain answers regarding the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, because the results of the elections indicate whether there will be a new wave of mass emigration from BiH or not. 

Researches have shown that Denis Bećirović personally enjoys bigger support among voters than his SDPBiH party, while in the case of Bakir Izetbegović, his party of SDA enjoys bigger support among the electorate than he personally. The aggression on Ukraine, actions of putinians Dodik and Čović in BiH, emergence of hegemonic projects, saber rattling in Kosovo,  ignorant EU policy towards BiH and membership in EU and NATO, aggressive actions of Russia through its Embassy in BiH, the final stance of Turkey with respect to candidates at elections in BiH, announced serious global economic crisis, attempts of representatives of the international community to bring Bosniaks into an unequal position in comparison to the other two peoples in BiH, constant announcements by a part of EU member countries about division of BIH, unclear stance of the US on internal organization of BiH, will be the key reasons not just for the election of the Bosniak member of the Presidency, but will also have a key effect on the final results within and among pro-Bosnian parties. 

Announced decisions of High Representative Schmidt potential for a new conflict

High Representative Christian Schmidt intends to impose decisions on constitutional changes and election law. Schmidt wants to impose a discriminatory law that would create new ethnic ghettos (apartheid). The Republic of Croatia lobbies for this law to help the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZBiH) and permanently cement the future of BiH. 

Christian Schmidt is from Germany. As he advocates European solutions, which are a part of the legal order in Germany, then he should apply same in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, Schmidt has several restrictions and impediments in the process. He is a recipient of a high recognition/decoration of the Republic of Croatia. He is a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is a sister party to the HDZ, and both are in the European People’s Party (EPP), which already indicates a conflict of interest. Hence, Schmidt is a CSU/EPP party man. The priority should be to implement the judgements of international courts in the following cases: „Sejdić-Finci[5]“, Ilijaz PilavAzra Zornić and Svetozar Pudarić

In June this year party leaders from BiH met with the President of the European Council Charles Michel and agreed that constitutional changes and modifications of the election law will be done after the general elections in BiH, scheduled for October 2022. Imposing that is modifying the election law some twenty days prior to the elections would be reckless and dangerous, as well as become a question of peace and war in the current constellation of relations in BiH and Europe. Imagine a situation in which elections for the Bundestag, or elections in any other EU country, are to take place and that the election rules are modified twenty days prior to the elections. Such a thing is absolutely unacceptable, as it annuls everything that has been decided regarding BiH by the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, the European Court of Human Rights…. Everything positive that has been achieved would be returned to the starting position. This is a project of dissolution of BiH.  It is about putting people into ethnic reservations. All the above prevents the state from functioning, becoming a full-fledged member of EU and NATO. This will set-back all the positive things achieved in the past 30 years. It is a paradox to award to one people bigger, and another people smaller rights on a part of the territory of BiH. The High Representative must not impose discriminatory solutions, or partial solutions, but only solutions that would strengthen the democratic society and state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After all, if any imposing of the Election Law takes place, rights of one constituent people would be increased on one part of the territory, while the right of others would be decreased. The question to be asked is, in example, who will protect the rights of Bosniaks and Croats in Republika Srpska. 

There is also the risk that the announced decisions of the High Representatives will turn a part of the BiH institution away from the West, which would be the end of the idea of enlargement to the Western Balkans and could lead to new geopolitical developments. EU has already done something similar with the Serbs and Serbia, who no longer show specific interest for membership in the EU.

At the time of major geopolitical reshuffling, it would be best if the West would respond in line with the requirements of the time and bring the Western Balkans closer to membership in the EU and NATO, as the announced imposing of the law could take BiH into a different sphere of influence. 

It is key that BiH gets coopted into NATO sooner rather than later, and that Western Balkan countries be awarded membership in the EU. Any delay of membership could take these countries to some other spheres of interest and the Western Balkans would be lost to the EU forever. 

EU is already late with respect to the Western Balkans, because there are plans that have the potential to cause a new conflict in BiH. 

Analysts believe that Christian Schmidt had made a strategic mistake by not initiating implementation of the election results from the 2018 general elections, because the HDZBiH has blocked the establishment of the FBiH Government, election of the President and Vice President of the FBiH and indirectly election of judges of the FBiH Constitutional Court. High Representative Schmidt would have won the support of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina had he, in example, implemented the judgment of the FBiH Constitutional Court and abolished the existence of “two schools under one roof”, which are also supported by HDZBiH. There are 56 such schools in 28 places in the FBiH. With his moves Schmidt is probably pushing Germany into a new debacle on the Balkans, as it had already experienced one in Bulgaria. Specifically, the foundations associated with CDU/CSU had established the politico-mafia-like party of GERB, headed by Boyko Borisov, who had the former German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) as his political guardian. The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) was created on similar foundations. BiH citizens increasingly “actively exercise their citizenship” and oppose the imposing of decisions that deviate from the legislation of the EU and “kill” any idea about a better future of BiH. 

Integrity of election process threatened?

In July this year, High Representative in BiH Christian Schmidt imposed modifications to the BiH Election Law by which he had strengthened the rules for the election campaign and gave the Central Election Commission a right to remove from the candidate list a party or individual that bluntly violates the law. It also defined and prohibited hate speech, regulated use of electronic, print and internet media, as well as social networks in the elections campaign, as well as abuse of public resources in the election campaign. This only seemingly provides for the integrity of the election process, which is jeopardized by enormous amounts of illegal and dubious money that political parties have at their disposal for the requirements of the election campaign. 

Analysts believe that the integrity of the election process is threatened not just through the use of public resources for the purposes of the election campaign, but also through the influx of enormous amounts of illegal and dubious money for the requirements of specific political parties in the election campaign. Therefore, it is necessary to involve the BiH Office of the Prosecutor, State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) and other relevant agencies, because the will of the citizens could be “retailored” with such funds. Such occurrences have been particularly detected in Republika Srpska, which attaches additional importance to the process of monitoring of the election campaign and the very election process, because it is possible that candidates whose election would not reflect the true will of the electorate get elected, which would render the entire election process senseless. The current situation in the BiH judiciary cannot meet the requirements and challenges that the country is to face. 

Political changes are necessary, but are they possible?

It is necessary to invest significant efforts to try to “galvanize” around 50% of passive BiH citizens who do not participate in elections. As a result, not the ones who cast their ballots, but the ones that do not have key effect on the results of elections in BiH. The turnout can be a decisive element for the results of elections and possible political changes. This would create an opportunity for the “awakened” voters, particularly the young ones, to give their vote to the respectable, competent and uncompromised candidates. Bosnia and Herzegovina will need serious policies and even more serious politicians. Maybe the most important success related to the election results will be to stop the trend of massive emigration from BiH, because the most vital part of the population is the one that is leaving the country. In BiH, participation of a larger number of young people and women in politics is reduced to a minimum. Political structures that have been in place for decades already have established barriers for political engagement of anyone who is not under their indirect or direct control, which restricts recruitment of new political elites. Some are considering the option of introduction of mandatory participation at elections for all citizens of legal age and prescription of fees for all the eligible voters who do not participate in elections, just like how it is regulated in some other democratic countries. 

Analysts believe that the world is going through a period characterized by the “shock doctrine”, which means it is possible to make major (political) changes. The Ukraine crisis is an opportunity for the EU to initiate accelerated mechanisms for enlargement. However, this will depend on the existence of political will within the EU to coopt Western Balkan countries into its membership, because there is a real threat that Western Balkan countries could “side” with some other spheres of interest and integrations. Progress in multiethnic societies is inconceivable as long as there is a practice to vote for the candidate who is a member of “one’s own” ethnic community regardless of his or her “profile”, and not to vote for respectable, competent and capable candidates who instill trust and who will work for the benefit of all citizens regardless of their ethnic affiliation. Bearing in mind the previous campaigns, it is difficult to expect that this campaign will be based on real problems and programs. Nevertheless, political changes are possible in a civilized way and with a pen in the hand. The best example of that is North Macedonia and Zoran Zaev. Political changes are necessary for the development of democracy. 


[1] IFIMES – The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018.

[2] Source: 61st Report of the High Representative for Implementation of the Peace Agreement on Bosnia and Herzegovina to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, link: http://www.ohr.int/61st-report-of-the-high-representative-for-implementation-of-the-peace-agreement-on-bosnia-and-herzegovina-to-the-secretary-general-of-the-united-nations/

[3] Source: Foreign Affairs: Bosnia’s Dangerous Path, link: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/bosnia-herzegovina/2022-05-18/bosnias-dangerous-path

[4] Source: World Population Review, link: https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/bosnia-and-herzegovina-population

[5] Source: ECHR, Case of Sejdić and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina, (Applications nos. 27996/06 and 34836/06), link: https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/fre#{%22itemid%22:[%22001-96491%22]}

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