Bosnia and Herzegovina has made it perfectly clear that its future lies in the European Union, despite the bumps in the road posed by corruption, nationalism and the scars of history. EURACTIV Spain reports.
“We deserve to be in the European Union,” Bosnia and Herzegovina’s prime minister, Denis Zvizdić, told journalists yesterday (24 November).
“In terms of geography, our philosophy and our way of thinking, we have always been a part of Europe,” insisted Zvizdić, who also warned that the process of integration going on in the country, as well as the rest of the region, with the EU and NATO should be spend up, in order to stop the Balkans going “in the wrong direction”.
The fact is, 70% of Bosnians support the country’s bid for EU membership, exceeding the figures recorded in countries that are already members of the bloc.
“If we decide to go in a different direction, the Balkan countries will remain a headache for the region,” he added.
Zvizdić pinned this “different direction” on Russia and the influence it is trying to exert on the region. However, he was confident that the EU and NATO would not allow things to “take a wrong turn”.
Zvizdić also insisted that his country is winning the battle against omnipresent corruption and improving the economy, as well as reducing the enormous and ineffective public administration.
But he did concede that a lot of work remains to be done.
Dario Jovanović, head of NGO Pod Lupom (Under Scutiny) was far less optimistic than the prime minister: “The main problem is corruption. It’s a farce.”
Jovanović, whose organisation is dedicated to ensuring fair elections, said that it was commonplace that people faced dismissal unless they voted for a certain party, electoral zones are manipulated and nepotism is rife.
Corruption can easily take hold in Bosnia due to the complicated structure the state inherited after the 1995 Dayton Agreement, which brought to an end three years of war and divided the country up along ethnic lines.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is made up of two autonomous entities: the so-called Republika Srpska, which is mostly Serbian, and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is mostly Bosniak and Bosnian Croat.
This complex structure has three parliaments, a thousand deputies and 167 ministers, all for a country of just four million people, with an average monthly salary of 425 euros and a 47% unemployment rate. Roughly 25% is considered hidden employment.
Half of workers are employed in administration and many secured their jobs through personal contacts, not on merit.
Despite the enormous economic and social problems, which two years ago sparked waves of protests, politicians continue to concentrate on ethnic divisions.
“They don’t talk about roads, electricity or cleaning up our streets. That’s regretable. They have achieved things, but if you look at the political rhetoric, the result is that the nationalist parties are consolidating their grip on power,” said Khaldoun Sinno, of the EU’s delegation in Sarajevo.
It’s a nationalism that is worsening among young people, Sinno warned, as they did not live through the civil war or in Yugoslavia, where Croats, Serbians and Bosnians often lived together without any problems.
Despite these challenges, Sinno has no doubts that there is a solid path towards European integration and things are advancing gradually.
In February, Bosnia requested candidate status to join the EU and now the European Commission is in the process of assessing the country’s progress on economic matters, anti-corruption, rule of law and coordination between the autonomous regions and the central government.
Although the country’s authorities expect to have been granted candidate status by 2018, Sinno was clear that no fixed date should be set for that to happen.
Despite the strong pro-Europe leaning (57% in the Serbian region, 87% among Bosniaks and Croats), the EU official acknowledges that there is still scepticism among the Balkan nation’s citizens, who still resent Europe’s lack of action in the war:
“There is an emotional element, people look at the 1990s and think: they abandoned us then, are they going to abandon us again?”
The EU is the main trading and investment partner of Bosnia. From 2007 to 2017, the bloc will have injected €855 million there.
This funding far exceeds that of Russia, which is still believed to be somewhat of a guardian angel by Serbians, or the Arab countries, which are heavily involved in real estate.