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Bosnia and Herzegovina: a country with no future


The future of Bosnia and Herzegovina looks bleak: poor economy, high emigration rates of the young and educated population, unemployment, poverty and corruption

Nemanja Plotan Nemanja Plotan

Although Bosnia and Herzegovina have a rich history, recent actions suggest it sure won't have a rich future. Its history is full of events which can be characterized as mildly controversial, because the three ethnic groups (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats) who call the country home all share a very toxic relationship among themselves, which swings like a pendulum from love to hate and from peace to war. This relationship was largely influenced by the geopolitical shifts between different colonial powers that ruled over the Balkan peninsula, two of the most prominent of them being the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman Empire.

The colonial policies of these powers created strong class and religious divisions between these three ethnicities, and their effects can still be felt to this day. Large rates of islamization within the population in Ottoman Bosnia was the first class division felt  between the Muslim and non-Muslim population. Austro-Hungarian foreign policies were very aggressive towards the Serban population in B&H, with a focus on the “div ide et impera” principle, whose purpose was to hinder the attempts of Serbia to create a large south-Slavic country on the borders of the A-H Monarchy.

In the aftermath of the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian civil war in the 1990s, all three nationalities, in an attempt to create a positive self-image, instead created a “collective self-victimisation of [their] own in-group”, marked by a belief by each group that they had been undeservingly harmed by another. This poses a serious threat to long-term political resolution, as it fosters the dichotomy of victim and perpetrator along ethnic lines, moral relativization, subjectification of war and the externalization of responsibility.

The Dayton Accords, whose main purpose was to stop the civil war, resulted in the creation of one of the most complicated political systems in the world. It divided the country into two political entities: the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) which was predominantly Serbian, and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was further divided into geographical zones called Cantons, where the majority of Bosniaks and Croats live. These complex systems each has its own government headed by a prime minister who represents his (or her) own ethnic group, and features a complicated system of parliaments, ministries and assemblies, a Foreign High Commissioner and three foreign members of the constitutional court, which has 9 members overall. Many view these court representatives as undemocratic, since they are not elected by the citizens of B&H. These complex structures not only hinder each Canton’s ability to perform well economically, it also enables high rates of corruption and nepotism, ranking the country among the most corrupt at in the 111th place among a total of 180 countries.

Due to the high unemployment rate of 16.85%, including one of the world’s highest youth unemployment rates, Bosnia and Herzegovina has one of the highest emigration rates (compared to the global population) in the world, with 44.5% of the overall population having already left the country. Its flag is neutral, with no intrinsic meaning to anybody who lives in the country, and the anthem has no lyrics, which alludes to the further problem of identification with the country. All sides are currently dissatisfied with the status quo, with Bosniaks pushing for a unitary model, Croats wanting their own separate entity and Serbs calling forsecession.

The leader of the Bosniak majority party, Bakir Izetbegović, threatens to respond with war to any attempt to secede from the country, leaving the bitter taste of his father's Islamic Declaration, which calls for a fundamentalist, Islamic state, in the collective memory of Serb and Croat population. The fact that Bosnia and Herzegovina still has strong connections with radical Islam leaves no doubt in the minds of Serbs and Croats that the best solution lies in the separation and the dissolution of the country.

The future of this country looks bleak, which is reflected in poor economic performance; high emigration rates of the young and educated population; high unemployment, poverty and corruption rates; and no feasible political solution in sight, with tensions reaching their highest point since the end of the civil war. It is a question therefore, of whether the people in the Balkans will ever live to see an end to this geopolitical powder keg and the possibility to lead a normal and peaceful life.

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