In Bosnia, politicians block economic progress and insist on ethnic divides

SAN FRANCISCO — The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina have come together to put a simple request in front of their politicians, asking them to do their jobs, stop compromising the future of B-H children and sabotaging the country.

The massive and peaceful demonstrations started in Sarajevo several weeks ago and have since spread to other cities throughout the region. The nongovernmental agencies and citizens from other B-H cities: Banja Luka, Mostar, Prijedor, as well as neighboring country capitals of Zagreb, Croatia and Belgrade, Serbia and many cities in the world have organized local protests and initiated petitions in support of B-H citizens.

The crisis was ignited by the failure of legislators to agree on a new law on how to determine the 13-digit identification numbers assigned to every citizen. The previous law lapsed in February, leaving all babies born since then without the identification documents necessary to travel abroad or see a doctor.

As a result, a three-month old Belmina Ljevakovic was unable to leave the country to get an urgent stem cell transplant in Germany because the dispute over the law prevented the baby from getting a passport.

Shortly after, another baby, Berina Hamidovic, died after living for 45 days because she was unable to leave the country in time for a medical procedure. The  government of Sarajevo canton in which she lived refused to give her parents the equivalent of around $1,000 for her treatment in Belgrade, which infuriated people across B-H and the wider region and united them across ethnicity and nationality.

The four-year Bosnian conflict of the early 1990s devastated the country and took many lives, and the after-war period has nearly finished the job. The Dayton Peace accord was brokered to end the war, but has multiple key defects and has left the country of four million with a complex power-sharing system, excessive and impotent jurisdictions and a bureaucracy in continuous political paralysis.

More than 2 percent of the population perished during the aggression in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Many of them died or were executed in concentration camps. Today, almost 20 years after the end of the war, all the Bosnian groups are still in a war-like situation: Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks (Muslims), Jews, Roma as well as “contemporary Yugoslavians,” people who consider themselves as Bosnians and Herzegovinians.

The explanation is that corrupt politicians keep blocking economic progress and insist on ethnic divisions. As former Ambassador Swanee Hunt put it so well: “Tensions among Bosnian groups were the result, not cause, of the war. The main sources of conflict were economic stress and political opportunism. Understanding the root causes would have informed our response and removed our justification for inaction.”

The international community’s envoy in Bosnia, Valentin Inzko, has exclusive powers he can use, but he never done because of the same rationale — that Bosnian politicians should be held accountable. However, the Dayton Peace Accord, brokered by the same international community, is the primary reason Bosnian politicians have amnesty no matter what they do or don't do. At the same time, people of B-H are forced to live amid that paradox, held hostage by political elites who insist on ethnic divisions and hatred, which enable them to plunder the country.

The attitude of the international community, European Union and European countries toward Bosnia and Herzegovina during and after the Bosnian aggression, has been controversial, to put it mildly. Europe has yet another chance to do some good, amend its wrongdoing and provide real support to Bosnia. It can stand by Bosnia’s people and apply more pressure on current politicians to do their jobs and leave their political party agendas aside.

Europe owes that to Bosnia.

Marsela Pecanac grew up in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and witnessed the aggression in 1992-1995. She is a former private banking executive at Raiffeisen International in Vienna, Austria, and currently a vice president at New Resource Bank in San Francisco.