To contact Peter
in response to these reports or any of his articles,
laws; "Hospice care"; Activism vs. emigration
Soon after I arrived in Sarajevo, I met with my friend Jadranka,
a tireless activist for human rights and women's rights—one of the
few who has never given up, and has stayed in the struggle for the
Barely had we sat down to coffee in the Baščaršija, when Jadranka asked me,
"Where in the world is there a country where the prime minister is
on trial in the morning, and runs the country in the afternoon?
Maybe Botswana? If he had any decency at all, he would resign. We're
in the twilight zone here."
Jadranka was referring to Federation Prime Minister Fadil Novalić,
who was arrested
in the late spring of 2020, not long after the advent of the Covid
pandemic. He was suspected of having a hand in murky dealings that
involved the purchase, via a raspberry cultivation firm, of a
hundred Chinese ventilators of questionable quality at inflated
prices. The raspberry company had no license for the importation of
medical equipment, and it appears that the overcharge on the
ventilators was connected to a kickback scheme. The trial of Novalić
and his confederates has gone on in the most lethargic way.
There has been precious little outcry about what is at the very
least a strong appearance of cronyism and graft—probably because the
10.5 million KM is small potatoes compared to other instances of
runaway corruption in the country. So Novalić carries on,
occasionally going to trial in the morning, and running his entity
the rest of the time. This is just one of many
reasons why so many people I talk to start many discussions with the
phrase, "In a normal country..."
In this not-normal country, as in so many others, it is hard to get
to the bottom of a murky scandal to find out what has really
happened. Rumors and theories abound, but facts are in short supply.
The much more long-lasting and disturbing scandal is that of the
widespread mystery of the killings of Memić
and Dragičević, which I mentioned in the first
report of this series.
I talked with Kurt and Valery of the Democratization Policy Council.
Both expressed consternation (particularly at the timing), some six
weeks after the fact, at the former High Representative Valentin
Inzko's decree of new laws outlawing genocide denial and
glorification of convicted war criminals. These laws and the
sentiments behind them are needed, of course. They are the result of
ongoing agitation on the part of anti-denial activists in Bosnia,
and probably of quite some sleepless nights for the well-meaning
Inzko. But a week after the decree, he was on his way out, leaving
the new HR Christian Schmidt holding the bag.
One question is whether Inzko even had any support from the Peace
Implementation Council (PIC), the international structure holding up
the office of the HR under Dayton. It is very doubtful. This is just
another manifestation of the weakness of the PIC over the last
years. Inzko was a placeholder for an international community that
had lost interest in Bosnia-Herzegovina. So when he took the
initiative—with remarkably bad timing—to act on his conscience, it
was as if he had swatted the proverbial hornet's nest. What happened
next, and has been ongoing since late July, is called a "crisis,"
and you can read all about it here.
One reason for the consternation with Inzko's move is that it gave
Dodik an excuse to make a crisis. But wasn't that ruckus always
happening, and eventually going to come to a head? Now it looks like
it's coming to a head. What is certain is that everyone in the
country is more nervous and fearful than before, and that Dodik
continues to manipulate that fear in an expert manner. But there are
two more sides to the dynamic of instability. After Dodik, the
second side is the response of the "pro-Bosnia" actors, that is, the
political leaders in the Federation.
The third side is the international community. I have heard from a
number of people in Bosnia about their view of the internationals.
Valery and Kurt, for starters, were not impressed with Schmidt's
capabilities; he was still overly involved with politics in his home
country of Germany, and he didn't know much about Bosnia. Likewise,
they were understandably gloomy about the American and European
envoys who have been sent to negotiate over an "electoral reform"
that looks to set up a gerrymandered system that will entrench the
reactionary and corrupt Croat nationalist HDZ in power forever.
I commented that the internationals appear to be comfortable with "stabilocracy"
(stability over justice and recovery). Kurt responded, "I call it
'hospice care.' Except with hospice care, you at least worry about
the comfort of your patient. Here, we [the international community]
are worried about our own comfort."
I asked my friend Jakub if he thought that the internationals really
understand what kind of a person Dodik is. He said, "Maybe they
know, but they don't care. And maybe they think that we are just the
'Middle East—oriental, and all that,' even that maybe we'll start
killing each other again. They are, after all, observing the arming
that's going on in Serbia. What is worrisome is that the
international community has been so passive, and there are new
trends from Western Europe that are supporting Serbian policies. Or
is that even new? Unfortunately, in geopolitics, Bosnia-Herzegovina
is not that important. The international community behaves as it's
New Zealand, or Nepal. They've more or less washed their hands of
Jakub asked me if I expected a new foreign policy from Biden. But I
don't expect anything. I watch and observe that Biden is, naturally,
concerned with Russia and Ukraine, and that appears to be a much
bigger problem than what's going on in Bosnia. Biden inherited a
declining empire that had been kicked down the road by his
predecessor, coming out rather the worse for wear. In 1995, Biden was
the question of genocide (and his Secretary of State is familiar
with Bosnia as well), but a generation later, he is continuing
Trump's policies in the Balkans—passively, if not actively. This has
already turned out to be a big mistake, as it's giving away the
store to Dodik (For more on this, read the last six months of my blogs).
So no, I don't expect new ideas from Biden. I expect relatively
refined behavior compared to that of his predecessor (not a hard
thing); not much imagination; and much bumbling.
Jakub responds that some people hope Biden will intervene: "We often
think that we are the center of the world, and that Biden thinks of
Bosnia-Herzegovina as soon as he gets up in the morning. Whenever we
are in good relations with America, it's good for Bosnia. It would
be good if we could strengthen the relationship."
I talked to Nermina and others about domestic politics. She was
evaluating the drama of the past few months: "People say it will be
better in Bosnia. No, it will not be better, not by itself, and
there aren't people who will make it better. People think Schmidt
will do something, but it is like a chess game. The worst thing is
to underestimate your opponent. Or to have all your pieces in the
wrong positions, and you think that some judge will help you and
solve your problem. No, why should people think that some judge will
come and solve things, an artificially-concocted crisis?
"The international officials will employ appeasement to solve the
artificial crisis that was created by the Serbs. The crisis was
coming; Inzko knew that it was coming, and Dodik knew it. Still,
Inzko made it happen. If I were Dodik, I would give Inzko some kind
I said, "We call it Christmas in July."
Nermina: "With this totally artificial crisis, Schmidt's hands are
tied. And Dodik is leading the performance, completely undermining
his opposition in the Republika Srpska. He is dominating the
I asked my friend Damir if he saw prospects for change among any of
the political parties in either entity. Of the opposition,
"pro-Bosnia" parties in the Federation, he said, "All of them have
betrayed any trust they may have deserved, because they had a chance
to make a difference. They made promises that they did not keep. A
politician from Naša
Stranka came into power in one municipality of Sarajevo and promised
that he would help develop parks—something that has been taken away
in so much of Sarajevo. Then he was elected, and now there are
fences around Crni Vrh, above Ciglane, and they are preparing to
build 7-floor buildings; they are pushing out the Romany population
that lives there. There are people who are investing money, and they
don't want the Roma around.
"If you have that kind of fascism in a
progressive party, that racism, then imagine what NiP will do! And
we've known about the SDP (Social Democrats) for 20 years. Naša
Stranka is even worse: they are just a clique. It will be ten years
before some reasonable new party will arrive."
I asked Damir if upcoming elections would bring a change, perhaps
take Dodik out of power? He said, "No, they need to arrest him, and
not just him. The population could live so much better if we just
arrested around 10 people."
I asked how much change that would really make, given the deep
entrenchment of the corrupt system. Damir: "All of those
organizations are very centralized. If you pull out the main
operator, they will just collapse. Maybe there are some honest
people in some of those organizations; maybe those people can change
something. But there is no genuine opposition in the RS, and in the
Croat-controlled areas, there is no other party than the HDZ. Here
in the Federation, we have a hundred nuances of the SDA [splitoff
parties such as the NiP]. And in the SDA, you can't find five honest
"Now we are one of the poorest countries in Europe. Not just in our
pockets. We lost not only money, but ideas. You can see that by
looking around you. Now the calculation in Sarajevo is how many KM,
what percentage you will take from any transaction. Everything is
monetized; it is really neo-liberalism now. The wife of Bakir
(leader of the SDA), Sebija, is director of the hospital. If this
kind of situation happened in a normal country, it could not be
possible. You can't do that in Bahrain, or the US. It is the
Balkanization of an institution."
Activism vs. emigration
Damir continues, "There are two styles of 'democracy' in
Bosnia-Herzegovina. One is the Republika Srpska. There, it is in the
style of Belarus. You cannot talk about problems. In Bosnia, it's
the Ukrainian style: you can talk, but no one gives a damn. You can
talk about everything."
I told Damir a joke this reminded me of, that I had heard in
Yugoslavia about 40 years ago, before the end of the Soviet bloc. A
dog from Czechoslovakia goes up to Warsaw, Poland, to check out the
dog scene. He meets some kindred dogs. Warsaw dog complains, and
says "Rowr, we can't go anywhere, have anything, nor do anything
here! How is it by you, down there?" Prague dog: "It's great! We can
bark as much as we want."
Damir: "It is true, that is the situation. But if the cases of Memić
and Dragičević could be concluded, it would help things."
I commented that
it was good that there was some solidarity among ordinary people
between the entities. Damir: "There is a little bit, but the Covid
pandemic makes things harder. It is harder to move. And in the RS,
the police beat activists on the street. They beat them like cattle.
"We have a real problem now, in that we are having a hard time
finding activists, even to do ordinary logistical work. Everyone has
left for Germany. It is really tough to organize anything. If you
want to generate any kind of activity, people expect money. In the
years after the war, you could find people to do volunteer
activities for free. We would spend some of our own money, for
example, to get books for a school. Now, people are not willing to
spend a couple of hours a week in their own neighborhoods. All there
is is Facebook, 'click-tivism.'
"And it is a shame, because this is potentially such a rich country.
We could produce enough to feed ourselves, and we could generate
enough energy. We have plenty of sun, plenty of water. But nobody is
talking about this. We're talking about flags, 'constituent
nations.' Who should really give a damn about those things? There is
no education. That's why we have vaxxers on one side, anti-vaxxers
on the other; it's just one more issue to divide people."
"Not to be completely negative," Damir continues, "there are some
good things going on in Bosnia-Herzegovina. People are organizing
locally around environmental issues, for example, about setting up
mini-dams, about garbage and pollution. The first step is picking up
garbage; there are tons of it close to the roads. People are
volunteering, cleaning up, going to the riverbanks, to the woods,
taking away tons of garbage. And there is communication across
entities, among people from Foča,
On this score, Nermina was characteristically unhopeful. "All the
young people, a few years older than me, and a couple of years
younger than me, are leaving. And the biggest question is, who will
go to war? Only the guys who are paid to go. Nobody should go to
war, but still, nobody should have gone to war in Yugoslavia, in
that nice, socialist country where everyone had a guaranteed future.
There was free education, health care, a decent retirement fund;
they threw it all away. So, why wouldn't they throw away this
In this same dark mode, Riza asserted that on the Bosniak side,
there's a lack of concern about what's happening outside of
Sarajevo: "We are not aware as a people, a nation, that we have lost
half of our country, demographically. We look at the map: there's no
Bosnia there in Gacko, for example. It is now Serbian land. We have
to come to terms with the fact that we have lost our territory. The
only people who can get anything back in a city like Višegrad,
Zvornik, or Foča, are the Bosniaks who have been able to become
local officials. They're not able to achieve anything for the rights
of returnees or the displaced.
"So there's not
really a reaction from Bosniaks in Sarajevo to much of what's going
on elsewhere. What if Dodik declares independence, what will happen?
I don't think Bosniaks here will react...people will continue
drinking coffee in the kafanas. Even if someone burned down
Višegrad, nobody would care. They didn't care in 1992, so why should
they care now? And if Dodik declares independence, and there are no
shells falling around Sarajevo, they won't care. And Dodik is quite
smart; he knows that any armed conflict will be bad for him. So he
is probably going to keep saying, 'Ok, let's just divide
This, of course, is the "non-violent" route to secession, and it's a
real scenario. I can't say it's optimistic, but it's less
pessimistic than the war option. This is the direction things are
going in Bosnia-Herzegovina today. There is some possibility that
either the pro-Bosnian leaders, international officials, or ordinary
patriots will react in time to prevent it. But I'm not making any