The Grim and the Funny of Bosnian Elections

The coming general elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina (October 12) won’t solve anything. This is the earth-shattering conclusion of the analysis by Antonio Cortiñas, from the Elcano Royal Institute in Spain. Cortiñas, a former Spanish officer "with diplomatic and military experience in the Balkans" blames Bosnia’s political order and claims "inability to solve real problems continues to be the distinctive hallmark of BiH for both local and foreign players in the country." And so, whoever comes out on top in the races for local, entity and state officers, "[n]either the people will see their problems solved nor will the EU achieve any of its objectives for the country."

Setting aside for the moment why anyone should give a fig for "EU’s objectives" for any country, this analysis is a heaping helping of the obvious. One hardly needs Capitan Evidente here to explain that governments are very good at causing problems, but generally terrible at solving them. Especially if they themselves are the biggest problem of all.


As dysfunctional countries go, Bosnia is hardly unique. The very country hosting the EU capital, Belgium, has been torn between the Francophone Walloons and Dutch-speaking Flemings forever, and actually beat out Bosnia in 2011 for the longest post-election wait to form a government, clocking in at 541 days (to Bosnia’s 452).

That said, blaming Bosnia’s dysfunction on the Dayton Accords is specious: time and again, the point of failure has been the Muslim-Croat "Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina", set up by the 1994 Washington Agreement. Though EU and US proconsuls have repeatedly tried to "reform" the country by getting rid of the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska) – which would require changing the Constitution cemented by the Dayton peace treaty – they haven’t touched the Federation and its 10 provinces, each with state-like powers.

While the Serb Republic has had a functioning legislature and government throughout, the Federation has gone long stretches without a government, while the "deep state" composed of local party bosses runs the show in Muslim and Croat districts respectively. No wonder why elections can’t and won’t change a thing.

Vote or Suffer!

That has not stopped the EU and even the US government from trying, though. In the second half of September, USAID ran two TV adverts telling the Bosnians to "Vote or Suffer" (see here and here). The adverts were accompanied by an Embassy blog post, co-authored by the US Military attaché (!) and the USAID director for Bosnia, accusing the current government(s) of embezzling flood aid funds. Both the Muslim-dominated government in Sarajevo and the Republika Srpska authorities rejected the accusation outright: aid could not have been embezzled, as not a single penny of what was promised by the West had actually arrived!

Despite repeated protests from both entities, USAID and the Embassy have not retracted the blog post or the videos, claiming instead they were merely part of a democracy promotion campaign. Such interference into a country’s internal affairs is not only against the Vienna convention regulating diplomatic conduct, but entirely illegal if attempted within the US.

But the story doesn’t end there. Apparently, the first USAID video features bright orange in the design of the "Vote or Suffer" splash screen at the end. Orange is the color of the "Democratic Fronta" (sic), a splinter party started by Zeljko Komsic, Croat member of the Bosnian Presidency since 2006. Because Komsic was a candidate of the Social-Democrats (SDP) and received mostly Muslim votes, the two major Croat ethnic parties have objected for years that he wasn’t "Croat enough." Turns out he wasn’t a social-democrat either.

Where did the DF get the money for an extensive and expensive advertising campaign they’ve been running? Why was orange such a dominant color in the threatening USAID videos? Bosnian Internet-portals have offered a potential explanation: Denis Challenger, DF candidate for local legislature in Sarajevo, is the son (they say) of Ela Challenger, USAID Deputy Director for Bosnia…

Add to that the Imperial sympathies for rioters who, in February this year, torched government offices Maidan-style in several Muslim-majority cities while demanding "change," and the purported Western concern for Bosnia’s well-being begins to sound far less genuine.

Off-Color Revolutionaries

Meanwhile, in the Serb Republic, the Empire has been trying to get rid of the ruling social-democrats (SNSD) and their leader, Milorad Dodik, as they’ve successfully defended the Dayton order from social engineering "reforms" since 2006. Empire-controlled media and "civic activists" have been demonizing the incumbent government for months.

These efforts, however, have been as lazy as they’ve been transparent. Copying the preparations for the October 2000 Belgrade coup, they’ve created a coalition of opposition parties and dubbed it "Alliance for Change". It’s a recycled term, previously used for another US-midwifed coalition – in the Federation, 14 years ago. The coalition’s linchpin is the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), once led by Radovan Karadzic (currently being slandered by the Hague Inqusition), just as the current quisling regime in Serbia is led by the "reformed" Radicals and Socialists – all demonized by the Empire in the 1990s as "greater-Serbian ultranationalist aggressors." Residue of such propaganda lingers in the Western coverage of the election, with the Guardian describing the SDS as "right-wing" and the incumbent SNSD as "centre-left (though in reality, nationalist)."

To make everything even more obvious, the SDS candidate for president of the Serb Republic, Ognjen Tadic, actually said he would "love to be the Vucic of the Serb Republic", referring to the current quisling PM of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic.

Recycled and Pointless

Though Bosnia’s reality is indeed grim, the election circus has its humorous side. As noted earlier, the Empire has reused a name from 14 years ago for its pawns in the Serb Republic. Others have resorted to "recycling" as well. A major Bosnian Muslim party is running on the slogan "Strength Through Unity" – pillaged either from "V for Vendetta," or Benito Mussolini. The former chief mufti, now a private citizen, outright pilfered two Western designs – from Virginia Mennonites and a Las Vegas casino.

Yet trying to be original has its perils as well. Posters for the party of a Muslim oligarch proclaimed a "Tsunami of justice and strong development." In a country that’s been hit by catastrophic floods twice this year…

For all that Antonio Cortiñas is "Captain Obvious," his analysis is essentially correct: the coming elections aren’t likely to change a thing. To borrow a line from Emma Goldman, if they could, they’d be illegal. Empire’s open interference is more likely to backfire than actually bring its stooges into power. Moreover, the very reason to play Ultimate Social Engineer has been rendered moot: instead of being grateful to the Empire, hundreds of Balkans Muslims (Bosnian as well as ethnic Albanian) have joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

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.