Posts Tagged ‘ Politics ’

Five Months Until the New Government?

The recent general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina took place on October 3, 2010, but the process of forming a new government is far from finished.  Reports from the Central Election Commission show that the number of invalid ballots for the election of members of the state presidency, and also other levels of government remains high. These reports show that more than 100,000 ballots were invalid for members of the Presidency alone, which is 100 percent more than all previous elections thus far. The Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) has requested a thorough investigation due to the high number of invalid votes for the Bosnian Serb President, and in response to the marginal win of SNSD Nebojsa Radmanovic over Mladen Ivanic of the PDP.

 

The Central Election Commission began a recount of votes in several polling stations on October 15, 2010, in the presence of election observers.  It is necessary for 38 polling stations to recount the ballots for all levels of government and 19 polling stations must count the ballots only for certain levels of government. Then the Central Election Commission is currently trying to determine the results, which means consolidating the numbers from ordinary polling stations, polling places where voters voted absentee,  electors who voted by mail, etc.

 

The formation of a new government after general elections in BiH has been a lengthy and difficult process in the past.  Aside from the setback of the invalid ballots, it may now take weeks or even months to form new governments at the state level, in the Federation of BiH and in the Republika Srpska. It remains to be seen how much time it will take the 2010 election winners to agree on power sharing and whether or how a coalition will be established.  Judging from the past, High Representative Valentin Inzko voiced doubt that a national coalition would be formed before February 2011.

 

Image from Radio Free Europe

 

Bosnia Izbori 2010

Election Posters (Getty Images on SEtimes.com)

Sarajevo is plastered with leftover election (izbori) campaign posters, with the faces of candidates covering every billboard, car window, and wall in the city during the last month.  Yesterday around 1.5 million people, or 56% of the eligible voters in BiH (not including diaspora) cast their ballots.  Voters elected the central presidency, the central parliament and assemblies for the two entities. In the Serb-run entity, Republika Srpska, they also voted for a president, while in the another entity, the Muslim-Croat Federation voters chose district assemblies.  This is no easy feat in a country with three presidents representing Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats.  Over 8,000 people ran for seats in parliament, representing over 60 political parties.

The preliminary results show that moderate Bakir Izetbegovic, son of former President Alija Izetbegovic, won the Bosniak presidency seat representing the Party of Democratic Action (SDA).   His father is known for being the first president of BiH and wartime leader.  Bakir Izetbegovic talks about a new era for Bosnia, and claims to be more prepared to work with other ethnic groups than his predecessor Haris Silajdzic.   He, along with the current Croat member of the presidency Zeljko Komsic who won another four year term, both ran on campaigns that support a unified Bosnia.

Izetbegovic Casts his Vote Yesterday

The Serbs had a tighter race, with Nebojsa Radmanovic (current Serb representative of the tripartite presidency) only 3% ahead of the next candidate, Mladen Ivanic.  Thirteen percent of the votes for the Serb presidency were considered invalid, and the Serbs are demanding an investigation into election fraud.  Radmanovic advocates for the separation of the Serb entity from the rest of the country.

Most of the politicians in BiH ran on campaigns that appealed to their own ethnic group.  The electoral committee will continue to count votes and to determine the leaders of Bosnia, announcing the official results in a few days.  The international community carefully watches the elections, as Bosnia strives for a future in the EU and in NATO.  Hopefully the winners can bring about positive change in this divided country.

Sources:

euronews Izetbegovic’s Son Wins Bosnian Presidential Seat

NPR Preliminary Results Show Bosnians Divided on Vote

Euractiv History invites itself to Bosnia elections

Language Lessons

Many of my friends and family from home ask me the same question:  What are the differences among the Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian languages?  I understand their confusion, because last year I studied Serbian language at the Centre for Serbian as a Foreign Language at the University of Novi Sad in Serbia.  Lately I speak of my commitment to improving my Bosnian language skills now that I live in Sarajevo.  Most people in the United States still think of the language as Serbo-Croatian, and always I carry a pocket Croatian dictionary in my purse.   This probably sounds confusing to many people, so here is a brief explanation for clarification.

For centuries, the dialects of the South Slavs have developed independently with slight regional variations.  By the mid-19th century, writers and linguists worked to standardize the language, and they began to call the unified language Serbian-Croatian (or Croatian-Serbian).  In 1918, the first Kingdom of Yugoslavia named the language Serbo-Croato-Slovene, making the previous efforts to create a supranational language official.  In 1929, the names of the country and language were changed to Yugoslavia, in order to eliminate ethnic divisions among the people.

Communist Yugoslavia did not solve the language issues, but it suppressed ethnic tensions to some extent.  In 1954, groups of Serbian and Croatian intellectuals signed the Novi Sad Agreement, which stated that Serbs, Croats, and Montenegrins speak the same language with some differences in pronunciation.  Many Croats were uneasy with this declaration, and viewed it as Serbia’s attempt to assert political dominance over the region.  Following the political pressures in the 1980s and 1990s, the forced merging of the languages ended, and speakers called the language whatever they wanted.  The wars surrounding the breakup of Yugoslavia emphasized differences among the people, and language politics became very important.

It is impossible to provide a short explanation of language politics in the former-Yugoslavia.  However it is most important to state that Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, and Montenegrins can easily understand each other, despite the different names for the language.  In a recent B92 article, a Croatian linguist states that everyone in Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro are speaking the same language.  She speaks of how emphasis on small regional language differences is a mask to spread political intolerance.

Constantly, I am reminded of my Serbian professor who told me that in the former-Yugoslavia, the small differences matter most to people.  Although everyone can easily understand one another, language is an important factor of national pride.  In Bosnia, everyone has the right to education in their “own language”  and differences are emphasized.  In Serbian schools, children are taught in Serbian in  the Cyrillic alphabet.  Similarly, schools with Bosniak Muslim or Croatian majorities emphasize their own regional dialects and spellings. For example, Serbs say uvek and Bosnians say uvijek (always), gde and gdje (where), lepo and lijepo (beautiful).  The differences are hardly noticeable in conversation, but greatly matter to teachers and parents when it comes to educational and classroom settings.

In conclusion, most people would agree that the people of these four countries speak the same language.  Internationally, this language is usually called Bosnian-Serbian-Croatian to be as politically correct as possible.  International organizations are working to ease the tension over language in the Bosnian education system.  For my own purposes, it does not matter that I studied Serbian language last year and now I live in Bosnia.  For the purposes of my CV however, I can say I speak three languages when I really speak only one.  🙂

My collection of books- Serbian dictionary in Cyrillic, Bosnian dictionary, pocket Croatian dictionary, Serbian workbooks, Bosnian workbooks.....

For more information, please read the recent B92 article on linguistics here. (In Serbian)

Also, wikipedia provides explanation on the differences between Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian here.

How Convenient: Mladić’s Family Wants Him Declared Dead

Although the international community patted Serbia on the back for cooperating with the trial of Radovan Karadžic, the arrest of Ratko Mladić remains a key condition for progress towards EU membership.  General Mladić was the chief commander of the Bosnian Serb army during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-1995. At the end of the war, he was indicted by the U.N. court in The Hague for allegedly ordering the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims in 1995 and for his involvement in other atrocities of the war. Currently he faces charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

I am pretty skeptical of the YouTube videos that circulated this time last year of Mladić at his son’s wedding, however he probably is hiding in Serbia somewhere. And let’s be honest- it’s really not that big of a country. Karadžic lived in Serbia for several years, parading around as an alternative healer with a fake name, and even speaking at medical conferences in front of hundreds of people. Serbia had many opportunities to arrest him, but sometimes the country seems to protect its own.

Now Mladić is probably the most-wanted fugitive in the world. With an increasing pressure from the international community and a strong desire to join the EU, Serbia claims to be stepping up efforts to arrest him. However, I had a good laugh today when I read the latest news. The family of Mladić wants to declare him dead. The family would like to unfreeze his pension and stop the harassment directed towards them. Milos Saljic, the family’s lawyer stated: “The family has decided to stop the agony because it has long been convinced that Gen. Mladić is no longer alive.  No one has seen him for seven years.”

The chairman of the national council in charge of cooperation with the Hague tribunal, Rasim Ljajic, said that by making this request Mladić’s family “is making a mockery of state institutions” and that the request would in no way affect the ongoing search for his arrest. Under Serbian law, a person could be declared dead if s/he is over the age of 70 and there is no information about the person for more than 5 years. However, Mladić is only 68. According to his family, he was last seen 7 years ago and not in good health.

These naïve attempts by the family of Mladić to end the search are pretty amusing. As I wrote on this blog before, I remember sitting in a bus from Kosovo to Serbia, staring at a portrait of Mladić prominently displayed next to the driver. This war criminal is still a hero for many extreme nationalists in Serbia. Although the death of Mladić would certainly be convenient for the family and for the country seeking EU membership, somehow I think the search will continue.

Painting Politics: Why Edi Rama Matters

Edi Rama

A former painter turned politician, Edi Rama is the chair of the Socialist Democrat party in Albania and the capital city of Tirana’s three-term mayor.  While teaching at the Academy of Arts in Tirana, he was active during the anti-communist revolution and he co-authored a book in 1992 condemning Enver Hoxha’s regime.  The book called “Refleksione” discussed thoughts on emigration, economics and the future of Albania. Rama criticized the Democratic Party because of its corruption and more specifically, he often spoke out against Sali Berisha while abroad during his time as an internationally recognized visual artist.  Now that he is mayor of Tirana, it seems as though Rama is still struggling with the same fights today.

Albania applied for NATO membership on April 1st of last year, and submitted its application to join the EU less than a month later. It now has to receive a positive European Commission assessment of its preparedness for accession talks to be recognized as an official EU candidate.  The country’s future looked a bit brighter until the parliamentary elections on June 28, 2009. Prime Minister Sali Berisha’s right-wing Democratic Party (DP) and its coalition partners won the vote and a second term with a marginal 1.5% victory over the Socialist Party (SP), led by Edi Rama. The SP contested the election results, claiming they were manipulated, and called for a thorough investigation into the poll and a recount of votes, but Berisha rejected that demand. As a result, the SP, which won 65 of the 140 seats in parliament, has been boycotting the assembly since September, thus paralyzing the adoption of EU required laws. While the ruling DP-led coalition has a 75-seat majority in parliament, most of the bills the country must pass to make further progress on its EU integration path would require a three-fifths majority — 84 votes.  The point is that Albania’s government has not functioned since September because of this boycott and a year that could have been used to start adopting EU law was wasted.

Edi Rama's Colors

Rama has a bold style when it comes to reform, and he rid the city of many illegally constructed buildings, expanded roads, and built many parks.  Although I have not been to Albania (yet), I first learned the name Edi Rama when I read about the brightly colored buildings in the capital.  Sparking a great deal of controversy, Rama issued a decree to paint the gray communist buildings with bright, even a bit garish colors.  They bought red, blue, yellow and green, and even mauve, lilac and taupe and the city was transformed.  I like the idea of this project for many different reasons.  Even though I have not been to Tirana, I’ve spent enough time in East Europe to know that communist buildings can be a bit…gray.  Also, this project taught the residents of Tirana to share responsibility for their city.  This aesthetic and political act prompted many other social reform projects, and even livened up the art scene in Tirana, which now has an international contemporary art biennale.  In my opinion, however, the biggest success of what is now known as “Edi Rama’s Colors” is that the project gives visible evidence to social change, using the city itself as a canvas.

Despite Rama’s positive reforms and popularity, he led this boycott of parliament, which created a lasting political crisis and paralyzed the government.  He felt that the elections were fraudulent and he is unwilling to let the Socialist Party remain the opposition for another four years.  The EU, USA, Council of Europe and OSCE have tried to mediate talks between the parties, but neither side will budge.  The OSCE mission in Albania says that the country’s elections never meet international standards, although some progress was made during this last round.  In fact, in every election held in Albania since the end of the communist era in 1991, the “loser” has complained, accusing the “winner” of electoral fraud.  This election was no different.  Rama led a series of protests around the country over the past 6 months, but currently, they seem bigger and more exasperated than ever.  This weekend tens of thousands of people protested in Tirana starting on Friday, demanding a recount of the votes.  Some people are even claiming that they will not leave the square until the recount takes place.  Tents were erected, and a few hundred people (including a couple of dozen parliament members from the SP) are not giving up.  There are even talks of a possible hunger strike.

Because I am a former art student who now studies East European history and politics, I have a bit of a soft spot for Edi Rama.  He often makes comparisons between politics and conceptual art, and I appreciate his passionate and bold reforms.  However, I think that this stalemate in Albania’s parliament has lasted way too long.  I think that Edi Rama seems like the type of person who sometimes creates messes and doesn’t know how to fix them.  He must have thought the boycott of parliament would work by now, but he needs Plan B.  Are hunger strikes really the answer?  And what is the point of the OSCE monitoring elections?  The OSCE says that the elections are never up to international standards, but do they have the power to do anything about it?  Probably not.  If the elections were democratic in the first place, Berisha wouldn’t mind a recount, but most likely he knows he does not deserve to be in power.  Finally, I wonder when these politicians will think less about their own power, and more about the future for Albania.  Albania is ready to start making the necessary reforms on the path to EU membership.  First however, the country needs to wait out the several decade long bickering of archrivals Sali Berisha and Edi Rama.

Czesław Miłosz on Sarajevo

Living in Poland, it certainly  is hard to ignore Czesław Miłosz, the great Polish poet and prose writer of Lithuanian origin who won the Nobel Prize in 1980.  I took a class on Central European literature last semester with the leading scholar on Miłosz and attempted to analyze his methods of representation of the visual arts in poetry in an essay for the class.  Even though I spent a great deal of time looking through his volumes of poetry for the essay, I just noticed his poem on Sarajevo today.  The poem introduces the book The Black Book of Bosnia: The Consequences of Appeasement and it  was included in his volume New and Collected Poems: 1931-2001, which was published in 2001 only a few years before his death.  When this poem was printed on the front page of a Polish newspaper, it was criticized for being anachronistic.  Still, I think Miłosz passionately and beautifully expresses the international abandonment of Bosnia in his poem.  Miłosz understands from firsthand experience about countries that cease to exist.  In his poem about the siege of Sarajevo he warns that inactivity – here in the case of Western Europe – will be punished by fate.

Czeslaw Milosz

Sarajevo

-Perhaps this is not a poem but at least I say what I feel.

Now that a revolution really is needed, those who were fervent are quite cool.

While a country murdered and raped calls for help from the Europe which it had trusted, they yawn.

While statesmen choose villainy and no voice is raised to call it by name.

The rebellion of the young who called for a new earth was a sham, and that generation has written the verdict on itself.

Listening with indifference to the cries of those who perish because they are after all just barbarians killing each other.

And the lives of the well-fed are worth more than the lives of the starving.

It is revealed now that their Europe since the beginning has been a deception, for its faith and its foundation is nothingness.

And nothingness, as the prophets keep saying, brings forth only nothingness, and they will be led once again like cattle to slaughter.

Let them tremble and at the last moment comprehend that the word Sarajevo will from now on mean the destruction of their sons and the debasement of their daughters.

They prepare it by repeating: “We at least are safe,” unaware that what will strike them ripens in themselves.

Discrimination Against a Hero

Jakob Finci, a hero during the recent wars in Bosnia

In 1991, Jakob Finci was one of the founding members of the organization La Benevolencija Sarajevo.  He served as the organization’s first vice-president and later as the president in 1993.   Finci was born immediately after his parents were liberated from an Italian concentration camp in 1943 to an old Jewish Sephardic family. Of the community of Sephardi Jews who had first settled in Sarajevo in the mid-16th century after they were expelled from Spain, most did not survive World War II. Through the organization La Benevolencija Sarajevo, the remaining Jewish people of the city played a unique humanitarian role during the Bosnian War (1992-1995). Founded by the Jewish population, which remained neutral throughout the conflicts, La Benevolencija’s members acted as mediators between the three warring parties: Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs. The Jewish community learned to use their unique status to help civilians in the city under siege. As war broke out in Slovenia and Croatia, the organization managed to supply medicine to the elderly Jewish people trapped in Dubrovnik. In Sarajevo, they began to stock food and medicine anticipating the war to spread.

Once the war broke out in Bosnia in 1992, La Benevolencija organized the first evacuation of the elderly and children. Most of the Jewish population had evacuated the city already, and so the group began to offer their services and supplies to all. They opened a free pharmacy in Sarajevo during the siege, which supplied 40% of the city’s medicine. Finci proudly states “People used to say, ‘If you can’t find it in the Jewish pharmacy, it isn’t in Sarajevo.'” The organization also opened a soup kitchen, which served 300 hot meals a day, 7 days a week to anyone in need. Also, La Benevolencija opened a school for children, which eventually became ethnically mixed. As I work on my master’s thesis dealing with education reform policies in Bosnia, I am surprised to learn about this early form of inclusive education- the school, comprised of students from the different ethnicities of Bosnia, learned about living together in peace. Finci, as Jewish and therefore a neutral person, was also able to negotiate with the various warring sides and eventually they smuggled approximately 3,000 refugees of all backgrounds out of the city as “Jews.” Eventually, the organization became an ethnic mix and was regarded as a symbol for empathy.

The 1995 Dayton Peace Agreements that acted as a ceasefire agreement, created a constitution for an independent Bosnia, and partitioned the state (into the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina, Republika Srpska as well as the Brcko district) were mostly a United States sponsored solution. Richard Holbrooke, the chief negotiator on the project, tried to appease the three sides of the conflicts. When the leaders of the three main communities couldn’t agree who would control a particular institution, Holbrooke’s solution was to give them one each. Today, Bosnia’s political system is a mess as a result of this method of “pleasing” the three sides- Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs are represented at each level of government and an internationally appointed High Representative oversees the whole system. Thus, the political system in Bosnia contains a huge amount of waste and is completely dependent on the international community.

But what about the other people in Bosnia, namely the Jewish and Roma people? These groups are extremely marginalized, lost in the aftermath of the war. The Bosnian constitution distinguishes between two categories of citizen: “constituent peoples” — Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs — and “others”: Jews, Roma and other minorities. Therefore, Jewish and Roma people are unable to run for high office, as the parliament is divided into equal seats for Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats. In December, the European Court of Human Rights slammed Bosnia for barring Jews and Roma from running for high elected office, ruling that Bosnia had violated provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibiting discrimination and upholding the right to free elections. Bosnia is supposed to amend their constitution before the general elections that will take place in October this year.

Jakob Finci is a hero in Bosnia and fought for the rights of all people in the country. He risked his life to supply medicine, food, education, and the means for evacuation to civilians at risk from all sides. During those difficult years, he envisioned a peaceful and inclusive country- not one that would ban him from political office 15 years later. He has decades of legal and humanitarian experience, but he is not allowed to run for high political office in Bosnia solely on account of his religion. With the support of Minority Rights Group International and along with Dervo Sejdic, another prominent political figure who is of Roma origin, he brought the case to Strasbourg for a breach of human rights. The lawsuit resulted in the demands last December that Bosnia revise its constitution.

Constantly I am thinking about the international intervention in Bosnia and Hercegovina in the last couple of decades. How could the international community let people die in Sarajevo for years before they intervened? The situation was so desperate that Muslim representatives went to Washington, DC and begged the United States to bomb their own country and people so that the situation would end. Finally, the Dayton Peace Agreements were signed, leaving people like Slobodan Milosevic very pleased and Bosniak Muslims destroyed. The international community, namely the United States, did not create a long-term solution for the future of the country; rather, they solidified ethnic divisions and perpetuated ethnic hatred and discrimination, as seen in the constitution of Bosnia today. The state of Bosnia and Hercegovina cannot continue to function as it does currently. Just yesterday, Bosnia was admitted to the Membership Action Program for NATO, which puts it on a fast-track to membership, and the country aims for a future in the European Union. The international community claims to support Bosnia’s full integration into the European community, but would never accept any responsibility for the disorganized state of the country. The European Court of Human Rights will speak out in outrage against the constitution of Bosnia, but where should the country begin its reforms? In Dayton in 1995, the document signed ensured that the war would never be over. My hope for the future of Bosnia is that soon, people like Jakob Finci can participate in high levels of government.

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