Bosnia elections: rival ethnic groups claim victory


bosnia 1ZASTAVA-BIH-1-604x270Nationalists from rival ethnic groups claimed victory in Bosnian elections on Monday, but it seemed likely that their power would be curtailed by an electorate frustrated at economic stagnation and corruption, the Guardian’s Julian Borger reports from Banja Luka:

Milorad Dodik, a secessionist with strong ties to Moscow, was leading by two percentage points with about 80% of the vote counted in the race for the presidency of the Serb half of the country, the Republika Srpska (RS), which he has long vowed to lead to independence. He said his policy would be for the RS to function “less and less an entity and more a state”.

Even if Dodik manages to hold on that lead, he could find it harder to run a government in the main Serb town of Banja Luka. Although his party emerged as the biggest single block in the RS assembly, it now controls less than half the seats, meaning opposition parties may be able to form a ruling coalition if they were able to overcome their differences.

Dodik’s ally, Zeljka Cvijanovic, was facing defeat by a more moderate candidate, Mladen Ivanic, in the vote for the Serb seat on the Bosnian state presidency, in which Serbs, Croats and Muslims, known as Bosniaks, share power. Ivanic is seen as potentially a more cooperative partner in the tripartite presidency, which could help strengthen Bosnia’s weak central institutions.

“Ruling majorities got less votes than the opposition on all levels. Bosnia seems to have voted for change, the question is whether the post-election coalition negotiations will respect the will of the people for change,” said Reuf Bajrovic, the head of the Emerging Democracies Institute.


Transitions and the angry middle class

The global middle class is growing, but the hoped-for smooth democratic transitions have not occurred, says a leading expert.

Instead, what we have seen – from São Paulo to Caracas, from Sarajevo to Kiev, and from Istanbul to Bangkok – are clashes between an increasingly angry middle class and governments that have broken faith or taken them for granted, according to Jack Goldstone, Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University.

“These are movements of the angry emerging middle class in countries at a crossroads. If we examine the background to recent events in the Ukraine, Bosnia, Thailand and Venezuela, we find that despite the geographic distances that separate them, these countries are remarkably similar,” he writes:

Yet, democracy in the sense of majority rule is not what people are seeking. The middle classes in the Ukraine, Bosnia, Thailand and Venezuela are demanding greater accountability, and are challenging regimes seen as corrupt, out of touch and which form obstacles to a better future. Perhaps, most important, is what these events portend for the world’s largest democracy — India. Just as in Turkey, Brazil, Thailand and the Ukraine, India is developing an urban middle class that aspires to a better life.

Yet, just like these countries, India cannot yet provide that middle class the assurance of security and stability. Also, like these countries, the fruits of modernisation are being very unevenly distributed across the population, and this problem is made worse by rampant corruption. What the people of India want, just as the angry middle classes in these four countries do, is a government that is accountable, responsible, and effective in moving their country further into the modern world.


Russia’s aggression based on anti-democratic Eurasian ideology


Russia’s attempt to control Ukraine is based upon Eurasian ideology, which explicitly rejects liberal democracy, Yale University’s Timothy Snyder writes for The New Republic:

The founder of the Eurasian movement is an actual fascist, Alexander Dugin, who calls for a revolution of values from Portugal to Siberia. The man responsible for Ukraine policy, Sergei Glayzev, used to run a far-right nationalist party that was banned for its racist electoral campaign. Putin has placed himself at the head of a worldwide campaign against homosexuality. This is politically useful, since opposition to Russia is now blamed on an international gay lobby which cannot by its nature understand the inherent spirituality of traditional Russian civilization.

Responding to Western sanctions widely dismissed as derisory, Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said it was good that the U.S. and Europe are doing something, but it’s not enough:

Aslund said a serious response would be sanctioning all the big state companies, freezing Russia’s foreign reserves and investigating all the top Russian officials for money laundering. Given their more measured approach, American and European officials are clearly hoping not to have to go that far.

“Is the West prepared to do something serious so it can stop Putin?” Aslund asked. Monday’s move was an “insufficient answer” that indicated the West’s answer was “either ‘no’ or or ‘I don’t know.’” Russia opens door to annexing other territories.

Nadia Diuk, vice president of the National Endowment for Democracy, said on a recent PBS show that Kaliningrad could act a base of operations for all kinds of incursions into non-Russian territory. Both Poland, a former Soviet satellite, and Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, are now NATO members, largely because of their fear of Russia.

“The actions of Russia’s legislature set in place more than the possible incorporation of Crimea into Russia,” said the Atlantic Council’s Adrian Karatnycky. “They also open the door to the incorporation of Georgia-breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and Moldova’s Transdnistria – as well as the rapid incorporation of any new territories Russia may invade in Ukraine or elsewhere. In short, unless sanctions and counter-measures by the U.S. bite and bite hard, Crimea may be the beginning of a wider process of Russian territorial expansion,” he contends.

“If Russia incorporates Crimea, Mr. Putin will not stop there. Look to Transdnistria’s and Gagauzia’s annexation…. .  Russia could soon have new territories close to the EU’s eastern border……In short, Mr. Putin is openly at war with the West, seeking to halt the expansion of democratic Europe and opening a Pandora’s box of new Russian annexations, military invasions and the projection of Russian forces westward to the EU’s borders. These are ominous developments”.

USSR symbolically lives on

“The west is accustomed to thinking the Soviet regime ended in 1991. But symbolically, it lives on,” says Andrey Zubov, a liberal historian who sparked a fierce debate when he compared Putin’s move on Crimea with Hitler’s grab of the German-speaking Sudetenland in 1938, the FT’s Kathrin Hille reports: He says that while Ukraine’s moves over the past decade to open historical archives and publicly debate famine and deportations under Stalin allowed the country to shake off its Soviet past, Russia failed to take this step. The majority of Russians fear such upheaval, he argues.

“Looking at revolution in Ukraine means looking at the spectre of revolution in Russia, too. In that sense, the fight for Crimea is not just the fight for a piece of land, it’s the fight between two world views.”

Ahead of Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, Levada, Russia’s most independent pollster, found that more than 70 per cent of Russians believe Russian speakers in Ukraine are either in real danger from bandits and nationalists, or at least that their rights are being infringed. According to the poll, 67 per cent see radical Ukrainian nationalists behind the aggravation of the situation in Crimea, while only 2 per cent blame the Russian government.

“A two-week campaign of propaganda and disinformation, unprecedented in post-Soviet times, has created a powerful effect and mass approval of Putin’s policy towards Ukraine,” Levada said. “This tactic to manipulate public opinion...has provided a negative mobilisation of a large part of the Russian population and revived its dormant imperial complexes.”

Homo Sovieticus mentality

“Soviet propaganda and historiography indoctrinated Ukrainians and Russians into the belief that they should be forever united and that Ukrainians seeking independence were traitors, Nazi collaborators or the agents of NGOs financed by the west,” says University of Alberta analyst Taras Kuzio:

True to his homo Sovieticus mentality, Putin really does believe there was a US conspiracy behind the Orange Revolution and Euromaidan.

The majority of Russians have never seen Ukrainians as a separate people, as Germans see Austrians, for example. Instead, they see them as Prussians see Bavarians and view an independent Ukraine as an historical aberration. Putin, unlike his predecessor Borys Yeltsin in the 1990s, has never respected Ukrainian independence.

Putin, although he claims to feel empathy for the Soviet Union, has never understood the deeply felt patriotism that the Soviet regime inculcated in Ukrainians and other non-Russian peoples and their loyalty to republican borders. Putin also habitually confuses ethnic Russians with Russian speakers. In the USSR, the non-Russian republics had their own Soviet institutions such as a republican communist party and academy of sciences, which Russia never possessed. Soviet Ukraine, the second largest Soviet republic, had the largest republican communist party in the Soviet Union.

“In Moscow there were only Soviet institutions, leading to a conflation of Soviet and Russian identities, evidence of which we see in Putin. Russia alone of the 15 republics never declared independence from the USSR,” Kuzio writes for the FT’s Beyond BRICs blog.

Russia’s opposition has not escaped the taint of Eurasian ideology, observers suggest.

Dissident anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny recently laid out his position in a nuanced, long blog post.

“Call me a Slavic chauvinist but I believe the most important strategic advantages for Russia in this world are not oil, nor gas, nor nuclear weapons, but friendly (even fraternal, which already exist) relations with Ukrainians and Belarusians,” he said, appealing to the view that Ukraine is not like a foreign country, given that the first Slavic state had its capital in Kiev.

Mr Navalny also said Mr Putin’s real motivation was to stop a revolution that could unseat his own corrupt regime, and argued that the rights of Russians were less under threat in Ukraine than in most other former Soviet republics.

“The attempt by the EU and America to co-ordinate their announcement on March 17th of sanctions against Russian officials served mostly to highlight their differences. America’s list of seven Russian and four Ukrainian officials subject to visa bans and seizure of assets overlapped with the EU’s 21 names. But the American list included, crucially, three figures from President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle—among them Dimitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, as well as two presidential advisers, Vladislav Surkov and Sergey Glazyev—which the EU omitted,” writes the Economist.

“The United States and Russia have both crossed a Rubicon in the Ukraine crisis, and Washington must now confront the likelihood that if the standoff continues, it will dramatically alter relations on a much larger map than Eastern Europe, inviting Russian recalcitrance in crisis zones as far afield as East Asia, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan,” writes Michael Hirsh in The National Journal.

“Beyond depriving Putin of recognition of his spoils, the West needs to send a powerful message about the wages of ‘sin’–in this case, unilaterally challenging the sanctity of borders. Targeting a few senior Russian officials for sanction should be only the beginning. And the Obama administration and international allies should stop citing international law and instead adopt more aggressive rhetoric noting that Russian expansionist aspirations are illegitimate and threaten peace on the continent,” writes Council on Foreign Relations analyst Stewart Patrick.

Russia’s nationalists feel their hour has come, the FT’s Hille writes:

Alexander Dugin, a rightwing ideologue who has long called for Russia to rebuild a Eurasian empire, says triumphantly that while Mr Putin, as a realist, has not followed his ideological advice in the past, their lines have now crossed.

“[The referendum] is the seal of creation of a new era. Monday marks the end of the unipolar world,” he says. “If there is no attack from Nato before the vote, then that’s a geopolitical, strategic and moral victory for Russia – Obama said ‘yes, we can’, but Putin has shown him ‘no you can’t’.”

Mr Dugin envisions a “Russian spring”, under which Europe would drift away from the US and close ranks with Russia, while Moscow would use its new power to help other countries around the world to “break loose of American hegemony”.

While few even in Russia share such expectations, political observers agree that Mr Putin has moved to the right during his third term, including an increasing clampdown on the free media. The Russian public’s yearning for new strength and identity could compel him to stay there.

“In western Europe, our positive history starts with the beginning of our democratic history, and we don’t embrace past periods such as colonialism, slavery, national socialism. But in Russia, history did not start in 1991,” says Alexander Rahr from the German-Russian Forum.

He argues that Russia’s view of its own history, which stresses the role of heroes and strong leaders, puts the country on a different trajectory from that of the west. “It is about repelling enemies, preserving its own form of Christianity and protecting the fatherland – all concepts that in Europe sound very old-fashioned,” he says.

Unrest in the Balkans: Is Dayton Dead?

Bosnia-&-HerzegovinaThe Balkan region is facing its worst social unrest since the end of the war in 1995, as thousands of people in Bosnia-Herzegovina have taken to the streets over the past two weeks to protest against unemployment, poverty and corruption. The protests began in the northern industrial city of Tuzla on February 5 and quickly spread to Sarajevo and at least five other cities, reportedly leaving over 140 police and 20 civilians injured.

The public anger fueling the unrest has defied the country’s rigid divisions, drawing participants from across ethnic and religious lines. It has focused attention on the dysfunction of post-war Bosnia and the viability of the Dayton accords that ended the war. One protester in Tuzla told RFE/RL’s Balkan Service: “[The politicians] have been doing whatever they want for twenty years. We are asking for resignations. They destroyed our factories, they turned our kids into hooligans and it’s time all of that stopped.”

You are invited to join RFE/RL experts in a discussion on the next steps for the Balkans:

RFE/RLive — Unrest in the Balkans: Is Dayton Dead?

(Will be streamed live on YouTube and Google+ once Hangout begins)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

10 a.m. (Washington, DC) / 4 p.m. (Prague & Sarajevo)

Gordana Knezevic – Director of RFE/RL’s Balkan Service since 2008, and previously an online editor with Reuters News Agency in Canada, regularly contributing to the Toronto Star and CBC Radio while there. Before relocating to Canada, Knezevic lived in Bosnia, where she was the Deputy Editor of Oslobođenje, the internationally recognized Sarajevo-based daily paper which never stopped publishing during the Bosnian War. For her work there, she was honored in 1992 with the Courage in Journalism award from the Washington-based International Women’s Media Foundation.

Dzenana Halimovic - Sarajevo Bureau Correspondent who joined RFE/RL 2004 after previously writing for “Oslobođenje,” “Vecernje novine” and “Start” magazine, and reporting for the political magazine show “Posteno govoreci” on the state-run BHT television channel. Halimovic was part of the team that produced a series on war crimes issues for XY Films, which won the Erasmus Euromedia Award. She has received an Amnesty International Global Human Rights Award and the 2003 BiH Journalism Union Award for investigative journalism, 2003.

Brian Whitmore, Moderator – Europe Desk Editor for RFE/RL’s Central Newsroom and the writer of “The Power Vertical” blog.

Post questions in advance and follow updates for live links to the Google+ Hangout on Twitter and Facebook.

Spring at last in Bosnia-Herzegovina?


Photo by Nidžara Ahmetašević

Two years ago, Jasmin Mujanovic wrote that a “Bosnian Spring” was the country’s only hope for a brighter future. Now, the spring has come, and with it, the storms, she contends:

For nearly twenty years, Bosnians and Herzegovinians have suffered under the administration of a vicious cabal of political oligarchs who have used ethno-nationalist rhetoric to obscure the plunder of BiH’s public coffers, says Mujanovic, a Visiting Scholar at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University:

The official unemployment rate has remained frozen for years at around 40 percent, while the number is above 57 percent among youth. Shady privatisation schemes have dismantled what were once flourishing industries in Tuzla and Zenica, sold them off for parts, and left thousands of workers destitute, with many still owed thousands of dollars in back-pay. Pensions are miserly too; the sight of seniors digging through waste bins is a regular one in every part of the country, while the wages of BiH’s armies of bureaucrats and elected officials have only grown.

The protests that have erupted across Bosnia in recent days were in some ways no surprise, Florian Bieber writes from Sarajevo:florianbieber-sarajevo

While the JMBG protests fizzled out last year , nothing was resolved and it was clear that new protests would occur, just when and how remained unclear (this also clearly emerged from the discussion at the conference on protests we organized in Graz in December, see here, here and here). What was a surprise was the extent to which they quickly spread from the first protests in Tuzla across Bosnia and the degree to which the occupation and burning down of government buildings became a central feature. Here are some features that have struck me in following the debates and the protests themselves in recent days:

Another defining feature of the protests is the combination of social grievances with dissatisfaction with government and corruption (see here how this fits into the larger picture), Bieber notes:

It is thus not just about opposition to the particular form of economic transition that Bosnia experienced, but also about the state capture. Now, a question that will not be easily settled is the degree to which the Dayton superstructure is to blame. I have been generally skeptical about scapegoating Dayton (here I disagree with Eric Gordy’s otherwise very insightful remarks on Bosnia), not because it is good, but because there are other causes. Many cities in Bosnia are badly governed, including Sarajevo, but Dayton has nothing to do with the functioning of the cities. The reasons that the cities (and cantons) are mismanaged, is less their institutional set-up, but the political elite that governs them. …While the Dayton constitution is far from ideal, talking of changing it is different from actually changing it (I am thus sympathetic to the argument Jasmin Mujanovic makes, but worry that it would not help the protests to achieve change and rather get bogged down in constitutional debates a la Sejdić-Finci, I have written more about this earlier). Constitutional reform has been the third rail of Bosnian politics since the war; it is divisive and will risk bringing ethnicity into the debate.

The fury on display in the streets of BiH over the past few days was an ugly sight, Mujanovic writes for Al Jazeera:

But what is still more hideous has been the past twenty years of corruption, thieving and manipulating on the part of the entirety of the BiH political establishment. Already, they have attempted to deny any personal responsibility and to offer duplicitous temporary solutions. It is much too late for them.

For the people of BiH, however, this is merely the beginning. Tumultuous days are no doubt ahead, but as long as the citizens of this little land do not forget the fear they inspired in their rulers tonight and continue to press their demands, together, they may yet usher in a truly democratic Spring.