Western Balkans: Road to EU or U-turn?

October 24, 2019

The European Council held a regular autumn meeting in Brussels on 17th and 18th October 2019. Besides Brexit, Turkey, clima change etc the plan was to determine when to start of negotiations with Republic North Macedonia and Republic Albania for their EU membership. As predicted by many analysts in recent weeks, neither Albania nor North Macedonia received a date at the EU Summit to launch negotiations for their EU accession. EU – again – could not decide the date when to start these negotiations.

In addition to the issue of stability in the Western Balkans region, it also concerns the credibility of European leaders. Namely, at the EU summit in June 2018, they decided that they would assign in 2019 a date for the start of negotiations to North Macedonia and Albania, if they meet conditions for the start of negotiations. For both countries, and especially for North Macedonia, this has been clearly achieved.

Although only France openly opposed EU negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania few more EU members quietly agreed this position. Given that the EU has 27 members (excluding the UK), there is always the possibility of different conditions and blockades. According IFIMES  the EU hesitance can have strategic consequences in the Western Balkans and it is due to uncertainty about EU membership and pressures from the domestic public, that certain countries could change their geopolitical orientation.

EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn, who openly supported North Macedonia and was obviously disappointed, told Reuters that “It’s becoming harder and harder to provide a proper explanation (for the delay). If we agreed with our partners on the steps to take, and our partners are delivering, it is then our turn to deliver.”

Indeed! The EU Commission concluded following in its latest [Council conclusions on enlargement and stabilisation and association process – June 2019] report  related to Albania:

Reaffirming its conclusions of 26 June 2018, the Council takes good note of the Commission’s recommendation to open accession negotiations with Albania based on its positive evaluation of the progress made and of the fulfillment of the conditions identified by the Council. In light of the limited time available and the importance of the matter, the Council will revert to the issue with a view to reaching a clear and substantive decision as soon as possible and no later than October 2019.

And related to Norh Macedonia [same report ] as follows:

Reaffirming its conclusions of 26 June 2018, the Council strongly welcomes the historic and unprecedented Prespa Agreement, as well as the Treaty on Good Neighbourly Relations with Bulgaria, and takes good note of the Commission’s recommendation to open accession negotiations with the Republic of North Macedonia based on its positive evaluation of the progress made and of the fulfillment of the conditions identified by the Council. In light of the limited time available and the importance of the matter, the Council will revert to the issue with a view to reaching a clear and substantive decision as soon as possible and no later than October 2019.

EU Credibility?

As a decision on issuing a date to begin enlargement talks has already been delayed on two previous occasions Throughout this period, European Commission officials have argued that it is important to send the right message to the nations of the Western Balkans that have carried out reforms demanded by Brussels. They also assert North Macedonia should be rewarded for settling its long-running name dispute with Greece via the June 2018 Prespes Agreement. To give a date to Albania and North Macedonia about starting entry negotiations to the EU is not a big deal. Once given, negotiations to conclude the 35 chapters of the acquis, if ever concluded, could well require a decade. Therefore, for the bloc to grant a date, is irrelevant.

Practically the Eastern EU enlargement for the moment is stopped. Croatia’s membership was exemption and mistake, Turkey’s EU bid is dead as continent simply has no intention of ever incorporating 70 million Muslims and the rest – such as Serbia and other Western Balkans – are still more or less in association process.

According IFIMES  some experts have been pointing out that 15 EU member countries would not be able to fully meet the membership criteria now, which are required from the Western Balkans countries. They also note that Bulgaria and Romania were admitted to the EU membership, as well as Croatia recently, without imposing so strict requirements of the membership.

One example about (Non)functioning of the EU was the dialogue between official Belgrade and Pristina which was led by the EU as a mediator. The dialogue was a fiasco. No significant progress has been made in the last ten years since the Western Balkans region was left to the care of the EU. The justified questions are, is the EU a reliable partner? Same time many Western Balkan countries and other big actors than EU have been active developers.

 

Croatia as typical example

Croatia is typical example of new European behaviour. Actually, Croatia does not respect the decisions of international arbitration court regarding the cross-border dispute with Slovenia. At the same time, Republic of Croatia does not respect the decision of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Courts for the crimes perpetrated in the former Yugoslavia (MICT), by which certain highly positioned officials of Croatia and Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ) are sentenced by absolute decision for participation in the associated crime against Bosnia and Herzegovina. HDZ is a political party against which the process is ongoing at the district court in Zagreb.

It should be added that the position of Serbian community in Croatia suddenly deteriorated after Croatia became full member of the EU. Serbian community was cooperative and important factor, which contributed that Croatia became the EU member. The audit of events from the Word War II is ongoing in Croatia where the attempts are made to rehabilitate fascist and collaboration armies and present them as anti-fascist. Of enormous importance is the position of Jewish community, which still did not resolve the issue of returning its property taken from them. Audit of history contributed that the Jewish community and other anti-fascist associations independently and in fact separately celebrate anniversary of liberation from the concentration camp Jasenovac that was held by the Ustasha regime. Representatives of the Croatian state do not take place at those commemorations. Pro fascist appearances and speeches of the president of the Republic of Croatia Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (HDZ) and her open involvement in internal affairs in the nearby Bosnia and Herzegovina are evident.  Recently – 2018 – the Croatian government document allows that “Ustasha” (Croatian Nazi brand from WWII) salute “Za dom spremni” (equivalent to Hitler’ “Seig Heil”) can be used publicly.

Croatia – Past and present

Croatia as the EU and NATO member did not resolve open border issues with any of the neighbours except for Hungary, since it inherited that border from former Yugoslavia. Indeed in the Western Balkans it is in conflict with almost all states. The analysts find worrying the fact that the EU and NATO institutions did not react to the behaviour of Croatia when it comes to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, because it is evident Croatia misuses its EU and NATO membership. Many war criminals find their shelter in Croatia.

 

Development without EU functioning

The Western Balkans leaders are aware of the need to take strong steps towards mutual cooperation, which will be aimed at creating better living conditions for citizens and, especially important, stopping the trend of mass displacement of population from the region. Analysts believe that the countries of the Western Balkans must establish strong political, economic, cultural and any other form of cooperation and act jointly towards the EU, as a group of states with clearly defined requirements. Regional cooperation does not mean that the countries of the region have given up their European path and the EU membership, it is important with EU perspective or without it.

One example could be the cooperation within the so-called Višegrad group of countries (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia) which was formed to make it easier and faster for these countries to join the EU and NATO. Therefore, it could be vise for the countries of the region to act jointly towards the EU and / or other foreign policy initiatives.

While (Non)functioning of the EU is obvious the good thing is that many countries in Western Balkans – except Croatia – have been active with their own development work and cooperation. Besides improving their societies e.g. according EU chapters of the acquis they have developed their bilateral and regional cooperation.

Few examples of this:

  • In Novi Sad on October 10, 2019 trilateral meeting between president of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić (SNS) and prime ministers of North Macedonia and Albania, Zoran Zaev (SDSM) and Edi Rama (PS) was held. Declaration of measures for establishment of „small Schengen“ was signed between the three countries. This declaration should help the entire Western Balkans region to start functioning in four key EU freedoms – freedom of movement of capital, goods, services and people.
  • Joint declaration foresees elimination of state border controls and other obstacles to simpler movement in the region until 2021, and also to enable citizens to travel in the region with personal ID card only as well as to find employments anywhere if they have the certificate of their qualifications.Declaration also foresees recognition of diplomas in the region as well as better cooperation in combatting organised crime and support in cases of natural disasters.
  • President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić invited all so-called members of the Balkans six to accept the document about “small Schengen”, regardless of their differences referring to the recognition of Kosovo.
  • The prime minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev said that the initiative for economic networking of the countries in the region should be joined by all six Western Balkans countries (Serbia, North Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo).
  • Also late October 2019 the president of Serbia Vučić held in Belgrade trilateral meeting Serbia-Turkey-Bosnia and Herzegovina and the joint basis for commencement of works on highway Belgrade – Sarajevo was laid, which is one of the important infrastructure projects.

 

Other players

Today still the EU is overwhelmingly dominant as an external partner, as on average 60% of exports from the six Western Balkan countries go to the EU.  However some other players are active in Western Balkans and this activity could be more attractive in future when enlargement process is blocked or at least frozen.  Few examples:

Turkey has been very active in Balkans during recent years; its trade with the Balkan countries increased to $17.7 billion in 2008 from about $3 billion in 2000. Turkey’s banks provided 85 percent of loans for building a highway through Serbia for Turkish transit of goods to the EU. In 2008, Turkish Airlines bought a 49 percent stake of Bosnia’s national carrier, BH Airlines, and other Turkish companies are keen to invest in shops, supermarket chains and hotels. In addition Serbian exporters have been selling their products in Turkey free of customs duties.

Serbia and Israel have signed an Agreement on bilateral trade and economic cooperation. Israeli investors have so far invested over $500 million in Serbia. The major Israeli investments in Serbia are construction of the Usce business centre and Airport City Belgrade business complex in New Belgrade. Some good background for cooperation is that Serbia was the second country in Europe to recognize Israel in 1948 and Israel refused to support the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, leading to admonishment from the United States. Ariel Sharon criticised NATO’s bombing as an act of “brutal interventionism”. Also Israel does not recognise Kosovo’s independence as a sovereign state.

Related to Russia, according NEWEUROPE , the TurkStream pipeline will surface on the shore of the European part of Turkey near Kıyıköy with gas delivery point at Lüleburgaz for the Turkish customers, and a border crossing between Turkey and Greece in İpsala serving as delivery point for the European customers. Gazprom said on 11 October that TurkStream gas pipeline is going to be brought into operation before the end of 2019. “Construction of the receiving terminal on the Black Sea coast near the Kiyikoy settlement is nearing completion. The landfall section in Russia and the Russkaya CS are ready for operation,” Gazprom said.

Also China has found an opportunity to use the Balkans as an entry point into the lucrative European market. The most notable is the Belt and Road Initiative, the ambitious project to build land and maritime networks that will link Asia with Africa and Europe. Chinese companies have also snapped up critical industries e.g. in Serbia such as a copper mine, a steelmaker and a thermal power plant, along with high-speed rail lines, roads and ports.

Last year 3.6 billion euros were invested in Serbia from abroad and that in 2019 there will be even more.In the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD report for 2018, it was noted that inflows in Serbia grew by 44 per cent to $4.1 billion and that Serbia became the second-largest recipient of foreign direct investment among transition economies.

 

My view

If the Balkans find that too many obstacles are strewn about the road to Brussels, they may well be tempted to set out on the shorter road to Istanbul” (Misha Glenny, Balkan political analyst)

The EU was made as peace project after the end of the World War II and it enabled to ensure permanent peace in Europe and long-term stability. In recent past, in the Western Balkans though, several wars were going on. If EU wants peace project to be continued, it needs to be implemented also in the Western Balkans countries. European leaders have often confirmed their support to the Western Balkans and its Euro Atlantic road, however the real actions are missing. One can estimate that with this inability EU will lose its credibility as partner at least in Western Balkans and the countries might find more attractive possibilities elsewhere e.g. from Russia, China and Turkey.

Many – still non-member – Balkan countries, Turkey and one disputed region (Kosovo) have some vision about EU association. While considering this in my opinion three aspects should be highlighted:

  • Why to join? Due the needs of people or due the needs of Brussels or elite?
  • When related to time-line? Association process is long and circumstances are changing, after EU/Eurozone crisis who know what kind of EU if any still exists, same time other regional and global power-centers are rising and options should be open.
  • Where? Now it is open question if country is joining in future to strict federation with martial law, to some sub-category of loose federation, confederation, open discussion forum or free trade zone only.
  • After this the forth question – how – is the easy one.

The best scenario from my point of view could be some kind of EU Lite version. A bit of similar ”privileged partnership” agreement than planned earlier with Turkey. EU Lite should be build simply to EU’s early basics as economical cooperation area including a customs union, the EU tariff band, competition etc linked to idea of the Common Market. EU Lite could also apply a structure of Confederation. Also some kind of fiscal confederation can be shaped. EU Lite could be described also as a political union and there could be some forum for national parliamentarians and party leaders. Federalist intentions, the EU puppet parliament and the most of EU bureaucracy should from my point of view put in litter basket together with high-flown statements and other nonsense.

More background and sources:

IFIMES/ Research – Western Balkans 2019: Does the EU push the Western Balkans countries to the Russian “hug”? 

Key EU documents of enlargement [2019]:


This article first appeared in Conflicts by Ari Rusila blog


Passport Rank 2014: Balkans

July 11, 2014

 

Free movement is one fundamental human rights not only in one’s own country but also abroad. Visa restrictions play an important role in controlling the movement of foreign nationals across borders. They reflect also the relationships between individual nations as well the status of a country within the international community of nations. The main travel document is passport. Citizenship documented in passport regulates the level of free movement over borders; holder of one passport can travel relatively free around the globe while the choices of the holder of other passport are very limited. So passports can be ranked according to the visa-free access their holders.

Visa restrictions change according to the political situation at any given time. For example some 20 years ago citizens of Yugoslavia could travel relatively free, but the breakup wars changed situation completely. The “European perspective” is key concept for integrating western Balkans into EU. For ordinary people freedom of movement might be the main carrot after nearly 20 years of isolation.

My Passport Rank table below ranks passports according to how many countries it gives visa-free access. To table I have collected the Balkan countries and for comparison the best and the worst positions. I have also indicated the change during last two years describing to how many countries more the passport gives visa-free access compared to situation on 2012. As source I have used the data published in “The Henley Visa Restrictions Index”. (Source and more about H&P please visit in their homepage )

And here is my ”Passport Rank 2014: Balkans”:

Passport Rank 2014 – Balkans by Ari Rusila
Rank Passport of country Visa free access tocountries 2014/2012

+o-

1 Finland, Sweden, UK 173 +3-4
4 Denmark, Germany, USA, Luxemburg 172 +3-6
8 Belgium, Italy, Netherlands 171 +3-4
21 Greece 167 +3
31 Slovenia 155 +4
46 Bulgaria, Romania 141 +3-4
59 Croatia 129 +10
71 Serbia 104 +5
72 Macedonia (FYR) 103 +6
74 Montenegro 98 +4
80 Bosnia-Herzegovina 91 +4
81 Albania 88 +4
189 Kosovo 38 +1
197 Pakistan, Somalia 32 +1-4
199 Iraq 31 +1
200 Afghanistan 28 +2

To travel from one country to other is a fundamental freedom restricted however more or less depending about which passport the traveler holds. Generally speaking the freedom of movement has increased a lot globally as well in Balkans. Apart that I would like to point out some trivia. The new Kosovo passport, first issued by the Kosovo Government in July 2008, is still one of the least useful travel documents ever designed. Passports for example from North Korea, Myanmar, Yemen and Syria are more valid than Kosovo passport as well one from the newest countries – South Sudan.

Some half of UN member states was fooled or pressured on for recognize Kosovo’s second declaration of independence, but Kosovo passport gives visa-free access only to less than 40 countries. On the other hand Taiwan ( also UN outsider) has diplomatic relations with 23 countries but its passport holders can travel visa free to 130 countries. In Europe only Pridnestrovie – aka Transdniestria aka Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublica (PMR) – may be a country which passport has less use abroad than Kosovo passport as no country has recognised its independence. From the bright side now the majority of former Kosovo Serbs can have visa-free travel abroad as they are residing in Serbia because they could not return to their homes in Kosovo after ethnic cleansing made by Kosovo Albanians on 1999 and 2004. (My view about Kosovo in my articleCaptured Pseudo-State Kosovo)

Passport is not only travel document – it has also its wider political and business aspects. For example Romania distributes its passports to its Moldovan neighbours (rank 138) so that they can travel easier e.g in EU. Russia (rank 75) gives easily passports to Ukrainians (rank 96) to make stronger ties with Russian-speaking population abroad. During Balkan wars it was also quite popular to give Bosnian passports to foreign Muslim-fighters or Jihadists (and later leading al Qaeda figures) for their support in civil war.

It is estimated that that every year, several thousand people spend a collective $2 bn ( €1.5bn) to add a second, or even third, passport to their collection. Those with money can select from half a dozen countries offering a direct citizenship-by-investment route with no residency requirements. The cheapest deal for citizenship is on the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica (rank 83) where for an investment of $100,000 plus various fees, as well as an in-person interview on the island, citizenship can be bought. In better ranking Cyprus (rank 38) the costs are between €2-5 million depending program. Last year the government of Malta announced proposals to start selling citizenship of its nation to foreigners for €650,000, however after EU pressure applicants will now be required to spend at least a year in Malta in order to qualify. Several European Union countries – e.g UK, Spain, Belgium – or USA do not offer citizenship for purchase outright, but do offer residence permits to wealthy individuals; that include free movement within the Schengen area, in exchange for high fees and the requirement to invest in the country.


The passport rank shows also one peculiarity related to international aid and development. In Balkans besides Kosovo also Bosnia-Herzegovina together with Albania have the worst scores despite the fact that EU and international community have guided and supervised these regions towards “European standards” nearly twenty years with huge state- and capasity building measures and billions of bucks. So has EU failed with this task as those countries without outside supervision are getting visa-freedom earlier?

One could also conclude or claim that the EU is isolating three mainly Muslim European states/regions – Albania, BiH and Kosovo – and Turkey (rank 76, visa-free access to 94 countries) as some in the EU fear the presence of such a large, Muslim community inside traditionally Christian Europe. Of course EU denies political aspects and highlights only the technical ones but from Balkan perspective the impression can differ.


Bosnia on the road to the EU, sorry to Dissolution

October 2, 2010

Young people, they are starting to think that ethnic divisions are normal … if something doesn’t happen to change this, there will be no change.” (Emin Mahmutovic, civic activist)

Despite international community’s state building efforts in Bosnia the country is splitting parts Since war 15 years ago foreign aid has exceed USD 80 bn for artificial creature designed in Dayton agreement aiming multi-ethnic state with EU perspective. As a result Bosnia is now even more divided, with less national identity, 20 percent of population living under the poverty line, with a nightmare triple administration plus international supervising making the country as worst place in Europe to do business west of Ukraine, even as it seeks to join the European Union. (Bosnia this year ranked 116th in World Bank’s ease of doing business index.)

Some historical background

Bosnian war (1992-95) included massive transfer of populations so it was possible to draw new boundaries according ethnic groups. Armed conflict between Yugoslav, Croatian and Bosnian forces and militias, accompanied by massive human rights abuses and violations, led to the displacement of over a million people and the creation of ethnically homogeneous areas within the newly independent – or better say international protectorate – Bosnia and Herzegovina (later Bosnia or BiH).

Dayton Agreement was made 1995 after bloody war had almost finished ethnic cleansing/transfer of populations so that it was possible to draw administrative boundaries according ethnic groups. The agreement split Bosnia into two semi-independent entities – the Serb dominated Republika Srpska (RS) and Bosniak-Croat populated The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) federation. The Croat-Bosniak federation is further divided into 10 cantons, each with its own parliament and government responsibility for local issues.

Administrative nightmare

In general elections on 3 October 2010 will be elected Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three presidents—a Bosnian, a Serb and a Croat—and its two houses of parliament. The Federation (FBiH) alone has three levels of government (federal, cantonal and municipal) each of which has executive, legislative and judicial authority; 13 prime ministers and 14 legislatures. The result is a dense bureaucracy, whose various parts function in competition or open conflict with one another, and a suffocating thicket of confusing and often contradictory legislation and regulation.

The three points of the triangle represent the nation’s three ethnic groups: Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs. The triangle itself represents the geographic shape of the nation itself. The colors represent neutrality and peace, whereas the stars represent Europe.

Each part (RS and FBiH) has its own parliament, government and president but the two are linked by weak central institutions. The Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation and three ethnic groups – Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks – are trying to lead state together and separately. And one could also add, that international supervision is still effective through “Office of High Representative” (OHR).

Ethnic tensions still alive and increasing

While earlier dispute was between Serbs and Bosniaks, last years have showed serious dissension between Bosniaks and Croats and ethnic divisions are deepening at time when Bosnia-Herzegovina is on the stage of transition from an international protectorate to one responsible for its own reform dynamics. Instead of developing its “European perspective”, Bosnia-Herzegovina going backwards remaining an unwelcome, dysfunctional and divided country, with an aggrieved Bosniak (Muslim) plurality, a frustrated, increasingly defensive Serb entity, and an anxious, existentially threatened Croat population.

Before Bosnian war the region was quite secular and multi-ethnic, mixed towns and even marriages were common. Now people live in segregated Muslim, Croat and Serb communities, even in same town the pupils are going to schools of their own ethnic origin. Education, which should foster a multicultural society, has instead been manipulated by each ethnic group. There are separate education ministries, and each draws up its own ethnically based curricula and textbooks. Now it’s common to see young Muslim girls with scarf which earlier was common only by older Muslim women.

While most Bosnian Croats already have Croatian passports and since Republika Srpska residents can apply for and obtain Serbian passports with access e.g to Schengen area, the Bosniaks with passport of Bosnia-Herzegovina can travel visa free only to half of countries compared to their country men with foreign passports.

Radical Islam as issue

One aspect making Bosnia unstable is religion. The question is not only divisions between Catholics, Orthodox and Islam views, but at the center of the issue is the Wahhabi sect, an austere brand of Islam most prevalent in Saudi Arabia and practiced by bin Laden and the Taliban. Wahhabis have been establishing a permanent presence in Macedonia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia and even in Bulgaria. The presence of radical Muslims in Bosnia is linked to the advent of mujahedeen foreign fighters who joined Bosnian Muslims in their battle against the Serbs in Bosnia’s 1992-95 independence war. After Dayton Saudi-backed charities were funding the movement as well investments.

Al Qaeda organized El Mujahedeen Unit in Bosnia in 1995 consisted of 1,700 troops and was part of the Bosnian Muslim Army.

In Bosnia, the issue of Wahhabi influence is one of the most politically charged debates, with Bosnian Serbs maintaining there is a huge presence of Wahhabis in the country and Muslim Bosniaks downplaying the issue and at times claiming it does not exist. Bosnia’s official Islamic Community has been successful in curbing Wahhabi influence saying that even Wahhabi influence reached its peak in 2000 it has since started falling e.g. with measures taken by Bosnian authorities after 9/11.

On the road to Dissolution

During last 15 years international community has squandered more than USD 80 bn to build a multi-ethnic state with some European standards, a country which would have clear perspective to become EU member-state. War-damaged buildings have been replaced with new glass and steel high-rises. However, as I described earlier, divisions and even tensions are increasing between ethnic groups, the war memories are still fresh, the common understanding about history is missing as well any national identity. In Sunday’s elections, the voters will include 18-year-olds who have no memory of the war, but many of them live in segregated Muslim, Croat and Serb communities, they have maybe never met anyone from the other two ethnic communities. A dysfunctional administrative system especially in FBiH has paralysed decision-making, put the entity on the verge of bankruptcy and triggered social unrest.

Rival nationalist parties of the country’s three ethnic groups have a firm grip on power without any real perspective of national consensus. The international community has long insisted that more powers be transferred to central institutions in order to make the country more functional, but Bosnian Serbs strongly reject such moves and insist on retaining their autonomy and even gaining independence with same standards which western powers used in Kosovo case. Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik took the discussion a step forward recently, saying that Bosnia was surviving only due to international intervention and that the time had come to discuss its peaceful dissolution. Also leaders of FBiH’s Croatian parties have over the past few months renewed calls for a separate Croat entity in BiH.

Lessons learned for elections

I know that we are in a difficult campaign for elections. But after the elections, Bosnia’s political leaders, the new government ….will have to make important choices to prepare themselves, to reconcile with European standards and requirements,” (Spanish FM Miguel Angel Moratinos)

Related to European standards Bosnia is applying already some practices from newest EU member-state Bulgaria. Or what can one think about following quote from Sofia News Agency Novinite:

An “innovative” vote-buying practice crafted ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s general elections on October 3 has been described as “Bulgarian train” by the press in Sarajevo. The vote-buying scheme called “Bulgarian train” includes a party activist who hands out filled ballot papers to votes before the polling stations. The voter is supposed to cast the filled ballot, and to bring out an empty ballot from inside the polling station; upon handing the empty ballot to the activist of the political party, the voter receives the promised payment for selling their vote. Then, the political activist fills the empty ballot paper, and hands it to the next willing voter, and the “Bulgarian train” keep rolling throughout the entire election day.

It is unclear exactly why this vote-buying technique described in the Bosnian press has been named “Bulgarian train” but the general association of vote-buying with Bulgaria is easy to explain as Bulgaria’s 2009 EU and national elections were plagued with vote-buying allegations, though only a couple of sentences.

Conclusion

According European Commission’s last country report (e.g. in my Document library ) Bosnia and Herzegovina urgently needs to speed up key reforms. The country’s European future requires a shared vision on the overall direction of the country by its leadership, the political will to meet European integration requirements and to meet the conditions which have been set for the closure of the OHR.

Both in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo many local stakeholders see implemented rules illegitimate and foreign-imposed – and they are right. Internationally imposed solutions are not sustainable, to get real progress the inter-ethnic agreements must be made at local level.

In my earlier article Bosnia collapsing? I concluded following:

Can any country survive without some minimal mutual self-identification across its citizens as a whole? If the shared non-ethnic Bosnian identity is taking steps backwards does this not mean that this artificial western desk-drawer plan is doomed to fail? I am afraid so but maybe it is loss only for those top level designers not for local population.

International Crisis Group estimates that continued worsening of relations among Bosniak, Croat and Serb leaders, compounded by a fiscal meltdown after the 2010 elections, could transform public dissatisfaction into ethnic tensions and violence. I am not so pessimistic the possible outcome could be peaceful dissolution. This should be facilitated also by international community if it is ready to accept de facto situation on the ground more than sticking to old dysfunctional agreements.

Sources:

International Crisis Group report 28.08.2010

WSJ article

Some of my earlier articles:

Bosnia collapsing?

Srebrenica again – Hoax or Massacre?


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