Bosnia has recently been wracked by angry public demonstrations. In this regard, it is far from unique among central-European countries. Over the past year, there have also been significant anti-government protests in new EU member states such as Romania, Slovenia and Bulgaria, as well in two more established member states, Poland and Hungary. But what sets Bosnia apart is that it is directly controlled by the European Union (EU) through the Office of the High Representative. Moreover, Bosnia is a model for EU-managed democracy that is becoming increasingly widespread.
As has been seen with other protests in central Europe, Bosnians are angry at unemployment, deindustrialisation, and the corruptness and ineptitude of the political class. With high unemployment, falling wages and no economic growth, Bosnia’s situation is particularly disastrous.
The protests began in the town of Tuzla in early February and quickly spread to other cities, mainly in the Bosnian-Croat federation part of Bosnia. Government buildings were set alight in Sarajevo and other towns, and citizens’ plenums have sprung up. The initial reaction from the current high representative, Valentin Inzko, was to panic and threaten to call in the troops. The protests have since calmed down but there are still pockets of fighting, and the Sarajevo canton assembly has agreed to some of the demands of the Sarajevo citizens’ plenum.
Inzko’s initial reaction apart, the EU has generally been telling Bosnian leaders they need to listen to their people, take responsibility for the political and economic mess and make reforms that will hasten EU entry (Bosnia’s application process is currently frozen). Carl Bildt, a former high representative, said the solution to Bosnia’s problems is in the hands of its elected officials: ‘At the end of the day, Bosnia is the responsibility of the elected politicians of Bosnia.’ Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign-policy chief, urged Bosnian leaders to show leadership and resolve the crisis. Other political figures such as UK foreign secretary William Hague have argued that the EU needs to make more effort to encourage Bosnia to apply for EU membership.
This presentation of Bosnia’s problems is an astonishingly dishonest inversion of reality, even by the EU’s standards. Far from being outside the EU, Bosnia is a state created, maintained and preserved by the EU. Moreover, through the Office of the High Representative, Bosnia is directly controlled by the EU. A succession of past-it European politicians and bureaucrats have overseen Bosnia and intervened in every aspect of its political life, including sacking elected politicians, overturning laws, and removing police chiefs, judges and ministers. The level of control and interference has been astonishing. As Miroslav Baros has pointed out, the high representative has exercised powers even surpassing those of nineteenth-century colonial governors.