Borysfen Intel

“Bosnian Spring”: Causes and Forecasts...

February 18, 2014
<p>“Bosnian Spring”: Causes and Forecasts...</p>

The Independent Analytical Center for Geopolitical Studies “Borysfen Intel” affords ground to the analysts generation for expressing their point of view regarding the political, economic, security, information situation in Ukraine and in the world in general, according to their personal geopolitical studies and analyses.


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Andrey Pospelov, Candidate of historical sciences, Professor of the Department of Modern and Contemporary History of Odessa I. Mechnikov National University.

Almost four months confrontation on the streets of Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, made ​​our citizens very closely follow the development of modern domestic political situation or crisis in the confrontation of power and society (or individual, but still organized its representatives). Behind the shadow of our own problems, to which is chained the attention and foreign analysts, journalists and supporters, somehow very softly are represented in our information environment largely similar, but much more radical (in the initial stage, at least) the events in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Meanwhile, taking into consideration the historical experience of the Balkan Peninsula in general and of the above-mentioned country in particular, “Bosnian Spring” has not only exposed the bleak situation of this Slavic state, but in the future may entail consequences, radicalism and tragedy of which is now hard to imagine.

On Tuesday, February 4, 2014, the authorities of the third largest Bosnian town of Tuzla announced the closure of 4 newly privatized, but already bankrupt plants and the dismissal of several thousands of its workers without severance pay. For the last few years of the modern history of Europe, the situation is quite standard, which did not shadow forth anything other than a local perturbation of the thrown out onto the streets workers and office employees. Such things have recently often happened in France and Spain, Greece and Cyprus. And therefore in a very unusual country — Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H), nothing serious was expected.

The next day, about 600 laid-off workers came to the building of the local administration — canton, with purely economic demands — to save plants and to pay back wages (which some of them had not seen for more than two years). The Police did not let them in. In response, from among the protesters eggs and stones flew at the guards of order. The letter reacted accordingly, but the protesters were quickly joined by local football fans. And so it began.... By the end of the day 17 people, mostly Police officers were in hospital beds, and 24 protesters — behind bars.

The next day, to the streets of Tuzla took several thousand demonstrators supported by no fewer protesters in other major Bosnian town — Mostar. But the demands of disgruntled citizens were already clearly political in nature — resignation of the government and the punishment of politicians responsible for the sudden impoverishment of the population. After several hours of peaceful demonstrations, clashes broke out. Seeking to oust the wave of protesters from the local administration buildings, Police used special means. This only angered the demonstrators and they stormed cantonal administrations. The Police, reinforced very quickly, almost did not resist and quickly retreated, having left behind the burning buildings.

Тузла. 7 февраля 2014 г.Tuzla. February 7, 2014
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February 7, radical protests had already swept the republic's capital — Sarajevo. However, here the Police seemed to have firmly taken control of government buildings, which almost the whole day had been in a kind of siege by demonstrators. But in the evening those buildings were in a flame too. Protesters began throwing firebombs at the besieged building of the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Police Special Task Force, using rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons and stun grenades, pushed away the radically minded young demonstrators, but while waiting for fire brigades, a complex of buildings of the capital's neighboring Canton was attacked. As a result, almost completely got burned not only central government agencies, but also the State Archives of Sarajevo, along with the unique collection of documents from the Austro-Hungarian Empire of 1878-1918 period that was in it.

Тузла. 7 февраля 2014 г. Здание администрации кантонаTuzla. February 7, 2014. The Canton administration building.
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The situation was escalating with each passing minute to such extant, that 2 hours since the beginning of Sarajevo clashes and the information of dozens of casualties on both sides, the President of the Croat-Muslim Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Zivko Budimir addressed demonstrators with the request to stop the riots. In vain. By February 8, buildings of cantonal administrations in Tuzla, Mostar, Bihach, Travnik and Zenitsa were destroyed and burnt, as was the building of the central government in Sarajevo. Under the pressure from protesters, February 7-8 resigned heads of cantons of Zenica (Mugib Huseinagich), Sarajevo (Suad Zhelkovich), Tuzla (Suad Chaushevich) and Unsk-Sanski (Hamdia Lipovach), and in Mostar resigned the chief of the local Police. The number of victims by the end of February 10 reached 400, more than half of them in the capital (144 demonstrators and 138 Policemen). More so, on Sunday in the evening of February 9, the Police Chief of the country Himsko Selinovich resigned, thus recognizing the fact that the government was not controlling the situation.

Сараево. Около 17 часов 7 февраля 2014 г. пылающее здание («президентский дворец») Президиума Боснии и Герцеговины.
Sarajevo. About 5pm, 7 February, 2014 — burning building (“Presidential Palace”) of the Presidium of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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What caused such a strong and radical reaction of people in this Balkan country, compared with which, radical actions of our fellow citizens in Kyiv and some other Ukrainian cities look (strange as it might seem), quite modest? The answer to this question should be sought primarily in the fact that in Bosnia and Herzegovina have got uniquely mixed political and economic problems, many of which are quite familiar to us, while others seem very strange to us.

To begin with, current Bosnia and Herzegovina, inhabited by Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims, is not so much a state, as a formal union of actually two almost independent entities — the Croat-Muslim Federation and the Serbian Republic in Bosnia. At this, Bosnia and Herzegovina arose as a kind of compromise in November 1995. Then, in order to stop the going on since the end of 1992 war of “all against all”, under the USA, NATO and European Union's pressure, were signed the Dayton Agreements. According to them, the former Yugoslav republic, in almost equal proportions, was divided artificially into two states, of which the Croat-Muslim Federation, in fact, was also an artificial form. The collective government body, acting as President of the B&H became the Presidium, which included one representative from each of the ethnic groups of the country. At this, the Croat-Muslim Federation got a new administrative-territorial division, consisting of 10 cantons. Guarantors of the Dayton Agreements were: the USA, Russia, Germany, Great Britain, France and the EU representative. In fact, what, ​​at least in the Western world, is called Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croat-Muslim Federation, is the territory controlled not so much by its own government, as by special representatives of the UN. Theoretically, such a situation applies to the Serbian Republic in Bosnia, but its leaders, unlike Muslims and Croats, have been trying to act independently or even “stubbornly”.

It is clear, that under the circumstances, any well-defined governing the country was out of the question, as between the leaders of Croats, Serbs and Muslims were constant disagreements, many of which were in the nature of elementary squabbles, the roots of which, oddly enough, were in the distant past — in the period of the Second world War (as well as the reasons for the Civil War of 1992-1995). Naturally, such a compromise structure of government actually did not help making elementary decisions, to make which took years. For example, to set bus fares in Sarajevo, took 3 “presidents” 6 years of talks!

Strange as it might seem, but the situation had been worsened by foreign economic and foreign policy ties, established during the bloody Bosnian civil war of 1992-1995 and informally fixed by the results of the Dayton Agreements. Republika Srpska in Bosnia since 1995 had been living thanks to Belgrade's significant financial assistance, while the Croatian community in Bosnia almost completely depended on Zagreb's “word and deed”, and after Croatia in 2013 had joined the EU, also on the support of the European Union in the whole. Bosnian Muslims were in a much more complicated situation. Officially, they had been supported by the USA, Turkey and some Islamic states, although the EU had been helping them too, but only within the Croat-Muslim Federation.

At this, the created during socialist Yugoslavia, fairly powerful economic base of Bosnia and Herzegovina (under J. Broz Tito's concept, Bosnia and Herzegovina had to be the industrial base of the rear of the SFRY in case of a crisis or war), was very slowly recovering after the bloody civil war of 1992-1995. Naturally, any all-Bosnian enterprises were out of the question — the recovery was solely within either Republika Srpska or the Croat-Muslim Federation, and only thanks to foreign help. As a result, in B&H there appeared 2 or even 3 separate ethno-economic areas, the strength of which was just a shadow of the pre-war republic. The economic crisis which began in the whole Europe in 2009, had led to the fact that B&H's economy actually ceased to develop. How could it develop, if the very complicated political system created even more confusing and cumbersome bureaucracy, spends on which had been annually increasing within 7-20 %. Foreign investors simply feared to invest even into the revival of some medium-sized enterprises in B&H. Industrial modernization was out of the question. And all this — despite the fact that in 2008 B&H and the EU signed the Special Trade Agreement and Association Agreement, which created almost ideal conditions for joint economic operations.

As a consequence, the only way out could be a private initiative. But in the poor and politically unstable country (or rather in its part — Croat-Muslim Federation), it took very paradoxical forms. Due to rampant corruption and an extremely weak and contradictory legal framework, the total privatization of the remaining state-owned enterprises had led to the fact that they were bought only in order to be broken up into a number of components that could be quickly sold individually, putting at least one fifth of them in the informal sector of economy. Moreover, such “trade”, which was held in violation of the already not perfect laws, led to the fact that nobody defended the rights of workers of privatized enterprises.

As a result, in B&H there has never been formed the middle class, unemployment rose sharply — to 44 % of the total working population — the largest figure in Europe (although according to official statistics — only 27.5 %), more than 20 % of the population was below the poverty level, and among Muslims, in several localities, according to unofficial sources, even famine began. But quickly was formed a layer of the newly rich oligarchs, taking out their profits from such transactions to the EU countries. And in order to consolidate their positions within B&H, these businessmen were actively going into politics and by the beginning of 2014 they had actually formed the basis of the administrative apparatus of all the 10 cantons. It is clear that at these positions they were still largely solving their own problems — a situation eerily reminding the Ukrainian reality. Little wonder, such “politicians” became the target for the protesters' anger. For example, in Zenitsa, demonstrators threw into the river a few dozen cars of officials, and in Brčko, for certain period of time the mayor of the city had been taken hostage.

How did the country's leaders respond to these events, already called “Bosnian Spring”? Amazingly, they proved to be surprisingly restrained. Politicians at all levels made conciliatory speeches. Moreover, on February 8-9, the arrested in Sarajevo demonstrators were released under the quickly adopted by the Presidium of B&H amnesty. As stated on February 8 Zeljko Komšić, representative of Croats in the Presidium, “The responsibility for everything lies with us (politicians — the author's remark)”. Bakir Izitbekovich, representative of Muslims in the Presidium echoed his colleague, “The leadership of the country should meet the protesters' demands and hold early parliamentary elections. I think that people want the regime to be changed. I think that within three months we need to give citizens a chance to elect those they trust: the current state of affairs does not work anymore” .February 10, Željko Komšić, agreed with his colleague, saying that his own resignation for him would be “a great relief”, but unlike him, B. Izitbekovich made ​​it clear that he was not going to leave his post.


Желько Комшич: «Ответственность за все лежит на нас»
Željko Komšić
: “Responsibility for everything lies with us”
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Бакир Изетбегович: «Я не собираюсь покидать свой пост»Bakir Izetbekovich: “I'm not going to leave my post “
Photo: Elvis Barukcic / AFP

Was it this statement or blatant passivity of the authorities that provoked the second wave of demonstrations in the morning of February 10, although since Saturday, February 8 protests having suddenly engulfed 20 Bosnian towns gradually began to soften. Again in the streets of Sarajevo, Travnik, Livno and some other cities were people with now much more clear demands: resignation of the federal government and all the cantons' administrations, reducing politicians' wages and benefits, adoption of laws on the origin of the assets, prosecution of the alleged misuse of power and introduction of the system of transparency in government spending. Fearing an escalation of the situation, the government of the Croat-Muslim Federation canceled classes in schools for the next few days and allowed employees of local administrations to stay off work, and on 11 February it declared about meeting demands of the protesters.


Сараево. Воскресенье 9 февраля. Радикальные протесты уступили место мирному митингу.
Sarajevo. Sunday, February 9. Radical protests gave way to a peaceful meeting.

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Against this background, the protests in Banja Luka — the capital of the Serbian Republic in Bosnia, which took place on February 7-8, were peaceful and smaller, due to a more stable situation in this part of B&H, almost mono-ethnic composition of the population and established ties with Serbia, which gives the republic an economic and political assistance. According to Russia's great expert on the former Yugoslavia, director of the Center for the Study of the current Balkans crisis of the Institute of Slavic Studies, a political expert on the Balkans at the Headquarters of the UN Peacekeeping Forces in the former Yugoslavia, Doctor of Historical Sciences Helena Gus'kova, “In the Republika Srpska, regardless of what we say about the crisis, and challenges of economic development, there is no basis for rebellion”. Such a statement seems very optimistic, but it is indirectly confirmed by at least the fact that the Serbian representative of the Presidium of B&H Neboisha Rodmanovich, has not commented on the crisis situation in the country yet.

But the EU officials are already talking, and the rhetoric of some of their representatives cannot be called peacemaking one. Thus, February 9, UN High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, having confirmed that the basis of the current protests in the country was social inequality, said, “In case of an escalation of the situation, we may need to consider sending EU troops there”. The former (in 2000-2010) President of Croatia Stipe Mesich called for a general revision of the Dayton Agreements in order to “create a separate Croat education in B&H”. And this is just the beginning — on the 11th of February about the NATO's representatives spoke about possibility of sending their troops to B&H.

Валентин Инцко: «Если ситуация в Боснии будет обостряться, то нам нужно подумать об отправке туда вооружённых сил Европейского Союза»
Valentin Inzko: “If the situation in Bosnia continues getting worse, we will have to consider sending troops of the European Union there”.

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However, on Monday, February 10, Foreign Ministers of the EU countries discussed the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina at their meeting in Brussels, without making any specific decisions. But then the main result of the meeting has been a very restrained position of the official Brussels.

“It is important to ensure that those who want to protest could do it peacefully, in the absence of any violence and being protected from any violence. We strongly condemned the acts of violence committed. Most importantly, leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina should hear what representatives of the population say, and responded to their immediate concerns — economic concerns, high youth unemployment and political problems that have not left our agenda”, said EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton.

So what's next?

It is quite obvious that the current Bosnian crisis was caused solely by socio-economic factors, especially in the Croat-Muslim Federation, coupled to the specific kind of political organization of the country. Largely artificial, Dayton Agreements, in principle do not suit either Serbs or Croats. From a political point of view, they are more beneficial to Muslims, but in economic terms, over the past 19 years, they have given them almost nothing. Moreover, the situation in the Muslim enclave in social terms is not just critical, but also explosive. Despite the fact that in 2012 the European Union approved of the Sarajevo’s desire to join the Organization after B&H has demonstrated some economic successes, such a prospect now looks ghostly. Not only that, but by definition the country needs structural reforms, which there is nobody to carry out — on October 2014 in B&H are planned parliamentary elections, that is why the current politicians of the country have taken a waiting policy. To all this, statements made by some representatives of the EU are heating up the situation. For example, in the sense that according to the Constitution of B&H, the execution of which now is being very closely monitored by the European Union, early parliamentary elections are not provided for. And because of this, one of the main causes of the current protests — incompetence of politicians–oligarchs — by definition, cannot be eliminated within the nearest months. As a result, slowly but surely the prospect of these tumultuous events in Bosnia and Herzegovina turning from the socio-economic crisis into a political crisis or even conflict. Taking into account not only the current situation, but also the historical experience, this kind of crisis, sadly as it is, can lead to a new Balkan war. Russian and Serbian experts are warning about this, but in the EU, despite the general concern about the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, do not worry about such a prospect.

Surprisingly, but this is very interestingly reflected in the information space. Already on February 10 the number of publications on the situation in B&H dropped dramatically, despite the fact that the crisis in the country is by no means over, and protests continue to shake cities of Croat- Muslim Federation. So maybe the EU has really taken a course in full support of the existing Bosnian authorities with all the consequences (including the republic's joining the European Union (for purely political reasons), in the situation when the country has not fully met the requirements of the Union). And NATO, according to Russian analysts and the official Belgrade, is seriously thinking about elimination of Republika Srpska? If so, then the “Bosnian Spring” will be delayed, and its result can turn out not joyful.

Where this will lead — time will tell.

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