Tricked for long enough, it is an event to shatter illusions. An extraordinary thing happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina: the parties that represent the Bosniak people, and those with their specific civic vision (identifying as pro-Bosnian), agreed on a set of priorities to form a joint government on all levels, together with a group of Croat parties, led by the HDZ BiH. The latter representing the Croat population by gaining the majority of their votes has been frequently called as obstructionist unwilling to compromise for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina. How is it possible, after different advocates had us convinced for a long time that these parties were eternal enemies, that they coalesce in principles?
Those who had a black-and-white opinion like that were successfully duped in the first place. The trouble for such domestic and foreign experts is that they never understood BiH in its specificity. It goes wider than BiH. They treat the Balkans not as a separate regional subsystem worthy of independent variables, but as a scheme able only to imitate.
However, the politics in BiH is so thoroughly realist to the point that it irritates and demotivates. One needs to look no further than the demographic situation. It is its inner-systemic feature. This especially confuses those who hope to bypass the aggravating need to treat BiH according to given circumstances. After all, moulding something within a presupposed theory is much easier.
But let’s forget that for the sake of a more positive message. The fact that the parties of social democratic ideology, jointly with Bosniak and Croatian people’s and populist parties are on their way to form a coalition based on common program principles, should make you slightly animated about the future of the country. It should also make you reflect on its heterogeneity.
Furthermore, it should convince you to change your lenses when viewing such a complex society. Finally, it might just persuade you to treat BiH as an entity worthy of special consideration. That is if you have the country’s interest in your heart.
All coalitions so far have been based on a ‘partneriat’, a form of keeping up with the Michels, and von der Leyens of the EU. It meant maintaining the status quo of the country, based on an unrealistic set of goals within an unfunctional institutional landscape. It operated on high hopes and expectations, instructed by the desires of the international community, and the subsequent intention to contradict them. The political process (or the appearance of it) was maintained because of the inner-systemic ‘resourcefulness’ demonstrated by the parties that occupied it. Now, this might continue, no doubt.
However, the new agreement offers a unique opportunity to change the political environment. As mentioned, it might give rise to coalitions based on a political program. Secondly, it might restore trust among the peoples, or at least display its prospect.
Thirdly, it might unblock the European path of BiH, with or without its teleology. Fourthly, it offers the parties a chance to show their true face: it is up to the civic parties to prove that their citizenry is pluralistic, and it is up to the ethnic representatives to prove that their representation has a common goal.
External and internal difficulties might hinder these developments. Both are democratic, to the degree that they are theoretical. External ones concern the fact that parties of Bosniak voting preferentiality are to face a fierce backlash from the proponents of the party that received the most Bosniak votes individually – SDA. This might impact their cohesiveness factor. Also external, but equally intricate issue arises from Republika Srpska. To form a government on the state level the coalition must include also Serb parties from the aforementioned Entity. Its leading party’s commitment to a common vision remains plagued by the changing geopolitical circumstances, requiring a lot of sacrifices from all sides to find a common ground. Not impossible, but exceptionally challenging task.
Internal problems arise from the ideological difference of the actors that occupy the political landscape within the mentioned ‘coalition in principle’. Some are exclusive to their political vision; some are concerned with plain political bargaining.
Nevertheless, these issues are sure to multiply. Those actors which do not share a set of specific goals with the entirety of the country in mind might obstruct the government (or even the process of its formation) because of their unrealistic expectations, or uniform, relentlessly unchanging convictions.
Therefore, there are several possibilities for the development of the political situation in BiH. The first one would signify having a unique BiH way of political functioning – a heterogenic political system able to confront obstacles by realistically tackling them when they arise. It accepts antagonism bound to emerge but turns it into political agonism. Secondly, the government is formed but certain parties remain committed to particular goals, seeing political problems as insoluble contradictions.
The government still operates but on differentiated mechanisms, with a specific pace depending on the subject. Thirdly, conflicts that might arise on the state level are ‘downloaded’ to the Entity level (or vice-versa), resulting in limited and perhaps inconspicuous progress. Finally, there is always the possibility of things falling apart or reassociating.
The process might even stall in its formation. Party quarrels can take over on all levels of government simultaneously, and the government (if formed) would perhaps continue to operate but in a non-functional manner. Other possibilities also arise, especially the one regrettably associated with the BiH (such as the blockade of the government as a consequence of disagreement on key issues or political reshuffling), but they are contrary to the purpose of this article: to inform readers about political novelties.
Let us hope that the new ethos of political participation and governance forms. The one that considers the sacrifices needed for enabling a functioning political system, accepting the heterogeneity of the country. The one mandated by the historical (in a Hegelian fashion or not) continuity. On the contrary, nothing changes, and that truly looks to be the most inconsequential outcome of all.