2013 was another lost year for Bosnia and Herzegovina as political deadlock persisted. Civic activism crossing ethnic boundaries is the EU’s best bet.
For years, the EU’s key demand to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has been to implement the Sejdić–Finci judgment of the European Court of Human Rights and end discrimination against the small number of individuals who do not belong to any of the three constituent communities (Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs). Although Bosnia’s continued failure to so prevents it moving to candidate status, no member states are willing to actively push for relaxing conditionality to avoid BiH slipping behind other countries in the region. In 2013, there were some positive signs in BiH. In particular, there was an outpouring of popular anger over the failure to issue babies with personal documents needed to travel abroad for treatment and to pay war pensions on time. These developments raised hopes for a civic turn in the country’s politics, which have traditionally been fragmented along ethnic lines. The BiH football team’s qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil also bolstered the sense of togetherness in a divided society.
However, ethnic divisions remain and the first census carried out since 1991 raised fears that they might even deepen. While the results will not be announced until mid-2014, they may show a decline in the Croats and even Serb share of the population because of large-scale emigration. Such data could in turn fuel centrifugal tendencies and challenge the power-sharing system underwritten by the EU and the US. In a speech in Belgrade in November, Serb leader Milorad Dodik argued that BiH should split into two. Because of its dysfunctional politics, BiH also lags behind in a number of technical areas covered by the EU. The European Council and officials on the ground are frustrated by lack of progress in key sectors such as public procurement and the fight against corruption. The country is under threat of losing some funds under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance programme.
The EU’s concerns are shared by the US, but there has so far been no major joint push to break the deadlock.