The way ahead for Bosnia and Herzegovina

Zlatko Lagumdzija, President of the Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina and a Member of Parliament, discusses the future for his country

Issue 2, Volume 48, 1999

As the world leaves behind the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, we in Bosnia and Herzegovina are celebrating the tenth anniversary of the first democratic elections that officially ended communism. In November 1989 the one-party system in Bosnia and Herzegovina was replaced with three one-party nationalisms. Instead of transition to one democracy we ended in three ethnocracies. The newly established concept of governance by three ethnic parties led the country into ten years of nationalism and fear, corruption and misery.

Four years of war resulted in more than 5 per cent of population killed and more than half the population displaced or expelled from their homes. After ten years of running the country, after receiving US$5 billion in donations for reconstruction from the international community, and four years after signing the Dayton Peace Accord, the government composed of ethnic parties is declaring an optimistic goal: to reach two thirds of the 1990 gross domestic product by the year 2002.

Problems of corruption, crime, unsuccessful privatisation and economic transition, people still living outside their homes, the dissolution of society state and crises of morale, are just some examples of the questions which are being avoided by nationalists. Their answers to any problem are always the same: fear, segregation and nationalism.

The Bosnian conflict was not the clash of civilisations or ethnical groups but the struggle between two contending concepts of governing people who come from different ethnical, cultural or religious groups. Those two concepts can be seen as a way of seeing 'others'.

The first concept treats others as a strength, the second as a weakness of the community. The first one sees others as an opportunity, the second as a threat to the community. The first is represented by social democracy, multi-ethnicity and the concept of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state with a civil open society. The second is represented by ethnocracy, nationalism and separatism.

As part of the former, the Social Democratic Party of Bosnia Herzegovina (SDP), three years ago won 5 per cent of the votes, one year ago it got 15 per cent of votes, and now the SDP is running to strengthen that rising curve in next year's elections. That is why we fight against the concept of governance which still uses the old communist principle: 'the system is good; it is people that should be changed'. We believe quite the opposite. People are good, but we need to change the system. Cults of state, nation and false myths should be replaced by ideas of the state, freedom and justice. That is the basic difference between the current concept of government and what we call the third way for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

What is our third way after communism and nationalism and what kind of leadership is able to mark out that way?

Today, we can say that the third way for Bosnia and Herzegovina contains amongst other things the following properties:

· reconciliation, repatriation and reintegration of the country as a multi-ethnic civil society;

· the building of anti-corruption mechanisms as a precondition for any kind of progress;

· the reconstruction of state institutions that must be more active, democratic and legitimate along with an adequate judiciary;

· economic reconstruction based on attracting foreign investment;

· the primacy of the market in economy interpreted with economic common sense, but not as a political dogma or a new religion;

· an active public sector which corrects market distortions;

· sustainable development in the global economy;

· public expenditure focused on marginalised and socially vulnerable parts of society;

· investment in education and creativity;

· the construction of an overall social welfare system;

· and promoting European Union standards in all aspects of social and economic activities.

In order for the country to take that path, a leadership is needed, completely different from the regrettably usual state of affairs of leaders being followed only by helpless followers for religious or ethnic reasons.

We do not need a quasi-feudal and bureaucratic leadership that relies on the concept of local Croatian ancient 'bans' , Bosniac old style 'beyes' and Serbian medieval 'dukes', but on teams gathered into an integral network of creative individuals and efficient organisations that share a common vision and come from all segments of society including various ethnic and religious groups.

The leadership of the third way for Bosnia and Herzegovina requires creative thinking from each team member, and leaders whose entire intellectual strength is directed to building a country where people will be able to say: "I care and work for Bosnia and Herzegovina, because I know that it cares and works for me".

People of Bosnia and Herzegovina are going through five years of 'shrunken' time since the end of the war.

In 1996 people realised that massive killing and war was over. In 1997 ruling parties were still producing the fear of 'others' as a major driving force in society. In 1998 people were losing hope for the future and feeling helpless and resigned. This year can be treated as a year of mass disillusionment that nationalism can deliver anything but corruption of political leaders and society in general.

This is the reason why next year should be seen as a year of switching the paradigm in which social democratic forces of a multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina are leading a change in the current concept of governing the country from nationalistic to civil society premises.

In this respect, one of the key issues today is the need for reform of the election system, since the existing interim election law just maintains and stimulates further ethnic divisions. It is clear to the people that there is a will for change and it is also clear that nationalists oppose that change.

Therefore, the creation of permanent election law under the supervision of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, according to the principles of European civil society is a primary political issue. It determines not only how long it will take for the nationalists to leave the political scene, but also the level of success of the efforts of the international community. One recent proposal made by the OSCE, which should represent the international community's standpoint, unfortunately offers another chance for ruling nationalists. We must hope it will be changed.

In some months from now I expect that Milosevic in Yugoslavia and Tujman in Croatia will no longer be in power. General elections in less than a year from now in Bosnia and Herzegovina will mark the fall of nationalism and the rise of social democracy.

One of the major questions is what should be the role of Bosnians on one side and the role of international community on the other? Or what is the role of Bosnian social democrats and what is the role of those social democratic parties which are ready to participate in a 'local' issue such as Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The reason for not fully implementing the Peace Accord in four years may be found in a simple fact that the international community was leading the process and even doing things while local forces were only following the process or even hindering it.

There is no solution for the people of Bosnia until we switch the roles. Local forces have to lead the process and to do the things on the ground. The international community's role can be efficient and effective only as it supports the evolution of a local political culture capable of creating and initiating its own future.

The same thing applies to social democrats. The SDP of Bosnia and Herzegovina has to grow stronger in order to became the leading political party after general elections in 2000 and to lead its own country on a new concept of governing. Our objective is to become a real part of a united Europe, because we do not want to return to 19th century and to the rule of the idea of isolated national states.

That is a condition of peace and stability in the region, as well as in Europe as a whole. Moreover, Europe is our destiny. We cannot escape from it even if that idea has entered some minds.

Those who are interested only for their nation and for their territory, those who think only in categories of fast short-term gains, those whose political goals are based only on daily manifested political attitudes, will have no chance of influencing future directions and forms of a united Europe, nor of surviving as part of a developed and civilised world. This applies to Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as to anyone else in the modern world.

I will close with a contemporary Italian poet who offers us a theme for Bosnians as well as for the global social democratic outlook: "We are all angels with one wing. We can fly only by embracing each other."



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