Freedom in the World
Bosnia and Herzegovina
The reform process in Bosnia and Herzegovina stalled and nationalist rhetoric continued to rise in 2010, as the country prepared for the October parliamentary and presidential elections. The elections were peaceful and met basic international standards, although political pressure on the media increased.
Formerly a constituent republic within socialist Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is among the most ethnically diverse countries in the region. The bulk of the population consists of three ethnic groups: Bosniaks, who are mainly Muslim; Serbs, who are Orthodox Christian; and Croats, who identify with the Roman Catholic Church. As Yugoslavia began to disintegrate in the early 1990s, BiH was recognized as an independent state in April 1992. A 43-month-long civil war ensued, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of people and the forced resettlement of approximately half of BiH’s population.
The 1995 the Dayton Peace Accords brought an end to the war by creating a loosely knit state composed of the Bosniak-Croat “Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina” (the Federation) and the largely Serb “Republika Srpska.” The final status of the Brcko district was decided in 1999 by a special arbitration council, which defined it as a self-governing administrative unit that is formally part of both the Federation and Republika Srpska. The Dayton Accords gave significant authority to international civilian agencies such as the Office of the High Representative (OHR). However, despite years of considerable efforts by the international community to aid the country’s integration, most aspects of political, social, and economic life remained divided along ethnic lines.
A coalition government formed in early 2007, following October 2006 elections, proved to be highly unstable, particularly due to a thorny working relationship between Serb leader Milorad Dodik of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), who was determined to maintain Republika Srpska’s autonomy, and Bosniak leader Haris Silajdžić of the Party for BiH (SzBiH), who sought to create a unitary BiH. Meanwhile, most Croat officials advocated further decentralization and the creation of a third constituent entity for Croat-majority areas. Despite these tensions, in June 2008 the European Union (EU) and BiH signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement, a key step toward EU membership.
In March 2009, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko was appointed as the new high representative. Long-standing tensions between the OHR and the Bosnian Serb leadership continued in 2010, with the latter challenging several of Inzko’s decisions.
In a step condemned by the OHR, in February 2010 the parliament of Republika Srpska adopted a law that would make it easier for the authorities to hold referendums on national issues, raising the possibility of a popular vote on secession. Later in February, the Peace Implementation Council, the international body charged with overseeing the postwar development of BiH, postponed the closure of the OHR due to the country’s failure to meet the required conditions, such as agreement on the distribution of state property between the central authorities and the two entities, the census law, and other items. The census law was particularly contentious, as the main parties have been unable to agree on whether census forms should include questions about ethnic affiliation. While the Serb authorities generally favored collecting such data, most Bosniaks opposed it because the Bosniak population in Republika Srpska decreased during the civil conflict, in large part due to the policies of “ethnic cleansing.”
Parliamentary and presidential elections took place in October 2010, bringing a power shift to several government bodies. The SNSD remained the dominant party in Republika Srpska, with Dodik stepping up his nationalist rhetoric ahead of the vote and continuing to raise the threat of Republika Srpska’s secession. Dodik himself was elected president of the Serb entity, having served as its prime minister since 2006. The more moderate and largely Bosniak Social Democratic Party (SDP) secured the plurality of seats in the Federation at the expense of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the SzBiH, the latter of which experienced major defeats. The Croat Democratic Union of BiH (HDZ BiH) remained the most popular party among Bosnian Croats.
In the tripartite presidential election, incumbent Željko Komšić of the SDP was reelected as the Croat member of presidency. In a surprise victory, Bakir Izetbegović of the SDA, the son of the late president Alija Izetbegović, defeated the incumbent Silajdžić in the race for the Bosniak seat. SNSD incumbent Nebojša Radmanović narrowly defeated Mladen Ivanić of the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) to become the Bosnian Serb member of presidency.
According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the elections were generally held in line with international standards, though irregularities were observed at some polling stations, including instances of family and group voting, overcrowding, and procedural infractions. Most parties and political leaders focused on policies that would appeal to the nationalist sentiments of their respective ethnic groups. Political pressure on the media and threats against journalists increased in the run-up to the elections, with reports of government interference, intimidation, and surveillance.