Bosnia and Herzegovina’s new political class seems to accept that a unified country remains more of an ideal than a reality, yet are far from agreeing on a joint solution to move forward. It also remains unclear as to whether they have anything different to say than the old guard on EU reform, and whether they really listen to the demands of civil society.
By Dr. Ulas Doga Eralp*
This month marks the 20the anniversary of the controversial Dayton Peace Agreement that put an end to the bloodshed in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The architect of the Agreement, the late Richard Holbrooke, admitted that Dayton was no silver bullet for solving Bosnia’s complex problems. Still the Agreement held and post-conflict Bosnia turned into this strange bureaucratic creature that locals and internationals complain on a daily basis. Still considering that democracy in action means representative governmental institutions, plus a transparent and tolerant political culture, it is safe to say Bosnia has a little more to travel.
Liberal democratic paradigm suggests that the basis for a strong democracy precludes a powerful middle class. Powerful middle class is expected to support centrist politicians and demand an emergence of a new political cadre who is transparent in work and responsive to criticism. One clear indication of how far Bosnia has travelled is its new cadre of politicians. The question that remains to be answered though is whether Bosnia’s new political class lives up to this definition. First, let’s define who constitutes Bosnia’s new political class. These are a group of people who are relatively new to politics regardless of age, but largely young people who were teenagers during the war. For that reason they are well-versed in the looming structural issues of the Bosnian society across both entities such as high unemployment rate among the youth, lack of opportunity, corruption and frustration against an ineffective bureaucracy. Across all political parties new faces pop-up.
The new political class seems to accept that a unified Bosnia-Herzegovina remains more of an ideal than a reality. The reality is a fragmented society, a divided political space, and a stagnant economy at its best. However, it is difficult to say that the new politicians of Bosnia agree on a joint solution to move forward. The Euro-Atlantic integration process is thawing once again. Once Sarajevo submits an application for EU membership in January 2016, would minimal cooperation between the entities be enough for progress? Does the new political class say anything new that is different from the old guard on the EU reforms? Do they raise their voices for the protection of individual liberties and freedoms? Do they really listen to the demands of civil society?
Until these questions have definite answers Dayton will remain in place whether you like it or not. So Happy Dayton everyone!
*Dr. Ulas Doga Eralp is a scholar and practitioner of international conflict, human rights, development and democratization. He has a PhD from the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, and currently works as a Professorial Lecturer at the International Peace and Conflict Resolution Program of the School of International Service (SIS) at American University in Washington, DC.