Forward to The Past

Results of the Bosnian general elections should be official by now, though it was already obvious on Tuesday that ethnic parties triumphed convincingly. Though agency reports over the past several days have made a great deal of that outcome, as usual they refused to let facts get in the way of a good story. Much was made of rather unimportant details, while the truly significant developments were either ignored or misrepresented. Well, what else is new?

Points of Departure

Over the past two years, ethnic parties were kept down by the Imperial Viceroy, not the ballot box. Leaders of the ethnic Croat HDZ were banned from holding public office, and a bank close to the party was raided and forced to shut down. The Serb SDS had won the last election, but chose to take a back seat in a coalition government with a leftist Democratic Prosperity Party, after threats from Washington that the party would be banned outright. Only the Muslim SDA, led from behind the scenes by Alija Izetbegovic, was in outright opposition, but even that was somewhat deceptive. The Social-democrats (SDP) could only rule with the support of SDA’s splinter wing, Haris Silajdzic’s Party for Bosnia, whose program differences with the SDA are nearly nonexistent. The SDP thus found itself at the mercy of Izetbegovic’s dark horse, with Silajdzic blocking all meaningful reform while blaming the SDP for failing its voters.

Winners and Losers

So while the HDZ rebounded and the SDS increased its influence, the SDA jumped back on the top of the Muslim political heap, while the Social-democrats were soundly defeated. Another loser, after a fashion, was Silajdzic. Though he will remain allied with the government, he was unable to parlay his insider advantage into a senior partner position. Once again, as before, he will be Izetbegovic’s lackey.

Yet most agency reports have focused on the HDZ and SDS victories, neglecting this restoration of ancien regime among the Bosnian Muslims. One explanation for this can be found in last week’s AP report, which referred to the SDA as "centrist" and Silajdzic’s party as "moderate," even as it acknowledged both were dominated by Muslims. Since there are no Muslim nationalists, by definition, they can’t have achieved a surprising comeback.

Revolt at the Altars

The second October surprise was the unprecedented low turnout at the polls, somewhere around 55 percent. On some visceral level, most Bosnians refused to worship at the altar of democracy because they understood the predatory nature of their rulers. Between incompetent or evil politicians, and the Imperial viceroy who made the real choices, they knew their vote would not have made a difference. Unfortunately, they most likely abstained out of despair and resignation than out of real protest. As it happens so often, the winners will interpret their silence as approval, not acrimony, and the civic religion will endure.

Empire Wins Again

Despite the glum pronouncements of Imperial media, Viceroy Ashdown was oddly upbeat about the election. He characterized the vote as a "cry for help" from Bosnians tired of corrupt politicians, even as they elected and restored some of the most corrupt kleptocrats ever. He then endorsed the ludicrous notion that the SDA was not really nationalist, saying it "had done the most to move to a center moderate ground."

"Let’s wait and see. I would judge these people on what they do in the future. Justice and jobs will be the acid test for the future government," quoted the AP. There is a saying in Bosnia that the wolf may change his fur, but never his nature. Ignoring folk wisdom can be perilous. But perhaps Ashdown isn’t really ignoring it at all?

Ashdown’s plea to his subjects a month ago, to "give us a mandate for reform," was assumed to be support for "reformers," but that really depended on Ashdown’s definition of the term. How about the "centrist" SDA, or the "moderate" Party for Bosnia? If he and his masters actually desired a nationalist victory, that would explain the odd pronoun usage ("us" and "we") in the September statement. With the nationalists in office, Bosnians will now see Ashdown and the Empire as their saviors, as opposed to a necessary evil.

Several things now begin to make more sense. There is a direct correlation between ethnic quotas in public service and the power of ethnic politics. Thanks to the quotas, the ethnic parties won the election of 1990. Their power slipped when quotas were relaxed a few years after the war. This spring, the quotas were imposed again, as part of a constitutional reform aiming to protect the "rights" of all Bosnians. It was one of the last acts by the departing Viceroy Petritsch, seen as an important reform. As the elections have shown, it was important indeed.

Finally, there is the uncomfortable truth that ethnic parties are much easier to control. They can be subjected to blackmail and pressure over their wartime conduct, the literal skeletons from their closets dragged out whenever the Empire finds it convenient. SDP had few such skeletons, and its leader, Zlatko Lagumdzija, had the temerity to treat Bosnia’s occupiers as equals, not masters.

Repeating History

Bosnia’s political landscape now looks eerily similar to that of 1990, when ethnic parties dominated the republic and ran their power struggles straight into the inferno of civil war. The parties’ presentation has changed since, but their goals have not. The SDS and HDZ still believe in identity politics as the way to power. The SDA and its splinter-puppet continue to publicly advocate a "citizen state" (counting on Muslim numerical superiority), while privately encouraging militant expressions of Muslim identity.

Politically, Bosnia has now come back to 1990. The result of quotas and ethnic politics then were: war, destruction, massive loss of life and property, and a comprehensive loss of liberty. What their results will be now is anybody’s guess. And while it may seem they can’t be any worse, that’s just more wishful thinking.

From a larger perspective, it should be obvious by now that the Empire does not mean well to the people of Bosnia, and it never did. To Empire’s leaders, the "Balkans savages" are chump change, a tool for promoting global power and influence, nothing more. They promise prosperity through platitudes about European integration, but the EU super-state is already there. They promise American values, but the only ones that seem to be taking root are the "values" currently destroying the American Republic: identity politics, kleptocracy, and violence.

Perhaps subconsciously, many Bosnians seem to have learned the lessons of recent history, as evidenced by the mass abstention from voting. But the large number of émigrés to the West seems to indicate they have not grasped the depravity of Empire just yet. Until they learn that lesson as well, history will have a tendency to repeat itself.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.