The Balkans and the Crisis
During public demonstrations in Sarajevo, February 2014.

The Deadlock in Bosnia

Published on 20 March 2015 at 13:47
Luca Bonacini  | During public demonstrations in Sarajevo, February 2014.

“Last year, Bosnia was rocked by a wave of protests [...] driven by poverty and unemployment,” writes Buka, a magazine in Banja Luka, in the Serbian area of the Republic of Bosnia. The protests started in the city of Tuzla and “rapidly spread across the rest of the country”. Town halls and government ministries were set alight by citizens tired of the inertia, corruption and economic stagnation engulfing the country. As Buka reports, Bosnia shares with Albania the dubious distinction of Europe’s poorest country, according to Eurostat figures. “Purchasing power here is a third of the European average,” Buka writes. “Only one in two inhabitants of working age are active and, of these, one third are unemployed.”

As for the government, —

whether at the local or national level, it has no strategy for developing the country beyond respecting the pact for growth and employment imposed by the European Union. But even this has not produced the desired results within the Union. Bosnia is between a rock and a hard place, shaken by a conflict similar to what is happening between northern and southern Europe. It is bound to the dogma of austerity and too indebted to find financing on the open market. As for the citizen committees that organised the 2014 protests, they have either disappeared or been absorbed into more “institutional” movements.

Faced with this situation, Buka observes, the right-wing populist parties, currently in power both in the Croat-Muslim Federation and the Serbian area, find themselves in a deadlock, since —

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the only way to achieve social harmony would be to borrow more from international lenders at an exorbitant cost, a solution that would quickly become unsustainable. This is leading to fears of more protests like those of February 2014. And the government will have no choice: with a fall in tax revenue, it will have to cut public spending. [...] Ultimately, these protests, until now mainly attracting workers and small business owners, could increase in scope and become a real threat.

Right-wing intellectuals claim that Bosnia-Herzegovina can only be saved by radical reforms, like the transfer of state power to private companies. It is hoped that they would be able to kick-start growth with the liberalisation of the economy. But it is a plan that requires time, and Bosnia cannot afford to wait.

The difficult economic situation has been compounded by the arrival of another destabilising factor as unexpected as it is unsettling: the Islamic State (IS) has come to the region, as a journalist for La Stampa reports from Gornja Maoča.

“Cleansed” of its Serbian population during the war, this village in the east of Bosnia has become a hotbed of salafism. The mujahideen who settled there after the war have imposed Sharia law, and IS flags were recently hung from balconies and windows before they removed by the police.

Gornja Maoča is “a base” for Muslims from the Balkans who want to join the ranks of IS, Le Temps explains. According to official estimates cited by La Stampa

130 Bosnians have left to fight in Syria and Iraq alongside the Islamic State, and at least 30 have been killed. But these are optimistic figures to avoid generating panic.

For Le Temps, “Bosnia has (once more) become a fertile land for recruiters of jihad.” During the war —

the country had been one of the most important destinations for the new “globalised” jihad that flourished after the end of the conflict in Afghanistan, but the islamist “seeds” did not take root. The tradition of tolerance so ingrained in Balkan Islam repelled them, and Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Islamic community remains a respected part of society. […] The “safety net” of a tradition unique to the Balkans’ “European Islam” cannot hold any longer. The challenge is serious, because the Islamic communities in the Balkans occupy an essential strategic position, serving as a stop-off point on the route to the Middle East and maintaining connections to a diaspora that spreads right across Europe.

The call for a jihad is a direct consequence of the economic situation, a head of a local NGO tells the Geneva daily newspaper: “with endemic unemployment hanging over the region, Islam is often the only escape from social misery.”


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