Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

A certain idea of Bosnia – Herzegovina

7 Oct 2014

You will vote next Sunday. First of all: let me be clear. These are your elections. You don’t vote to please the international community, as some people have said, nor do you vote because a foreigner tells you that you have to. These elections are your elections and they offer you a chance to act. But, this is not an advice which party and what person to vote for.

The one thing I would like to say here – and I say this as a representative of a country that still has a strong interest in BiH and is worried about the lack of progress in recent years: ask yourself the question ‘Who should get my vote?’

In a democracy, all elections are important, in particular when seats in several legislative and executive bodies are at stake. However, I sense, that this time the elections in Bosnia have a special feel to them: it’s the first time since the protests and the plenums and the first time since the floods that you will tell by your vote what you think of those who have governed you since 2010 and who seek re-election.

Also, anyone new coming to public office as a result of these elections will first have to convince you and all the other voters that he or she has an answer and a plan to tackle challenges that are as serious as they are pressing:

So: ‘Who should get my vote, this time?’

I have always imagined that, if a person with political ambitions stands for election, he must have a certain idea of the country, of the state and of the society he is going to give his best to: ‘A certain idea of Bosnia’: a clear-headed appraisal of the state the country is in now, a credible view of where it should be going and an inspiring vision of what Bosnia could look like in 5 or 10 years.

Anyway, whoever you are going to vote for has a huge responsibility to drag BiH out of the political, moral and managerial doldrums. I don’t have to recite the whole familiar litany of shockingly depressing facts & figures. Just two:

  • Several hundreds of thousand pensioners live on 330 KM a month in a country, where in less than 20 years’ time 85 of their fellow citizens managed to amass an accumulated fortune of 9 billion Euros.
  • A staggering 10% of all voters, have limited eligibility in the elections to the State Presidency and the House of Peoples. In the next few days you need to check, if the candidate of your choice or the party you consider voting for has that ‘certain idea of Bosnia’. How to create more jobs? How to reform the economy? Ask them, for instance, if they endorse the ‘Compact for Growth’. Remind them that the ‘Compact’ is not imposed by the internationals. Nor is it a piece of well-meaning advice that comes without engagement. Just recall, that too many respected members of your country’s civil society helped to formulate this simple set of objectives for it to be ignored.

Similarly, what are they going to do about reinforcing the Rule of Law in this country? Starting with basic stuff, like respect for democratic institutions and the need for an independent and efficient judiciary. What about their attitude towards respect for the fundamental rights for everyone? And that is e v e r y o n e: the folks from the other side of the IEBL, Roma, gays, victims of war crimes and of sexual violence in times of conflict, the handicapped, orphans and atheists. Nobody left out, because in a potential candidate member of the European Union tolerance and inclusivity must become part of the nation’s DNA.

Moreover, is your candidate of choice looking to and promoting an agenda for the future? Someone with a new narrative, who thinks that in 2014 dragging up grievances from almost a generation ago is tragically unhip and uncool? Is he someone who has enough self-confidence not to give in to the temptation of victimhood thinking?

With your vote, especially, if decided on these issues, you will select someone who has that certain idea of Bosnia, who is best to do that job and will get those results. Once again: these are your elections, and I will not tell you what to do, except encourage you to vote and to ponder the question ‘who will get my vote this time?’

And don’t forget who you gave your vote to on 12 October 2014. The beauty of democracy is that you have the right to hold him or her accountable later. After one year, ask them how far they’ve got in ticking off the six boxes of the ‘Compact for Growth’. Have they started, for example, with finally implementing an effective anti-corruption strategy?

Furthermore, if you’re sincere about Bosnia’s prospects in Europe, and opinion polls tell me you are, look for a candidate or a party that realizes that the EU agenda in front of the nation is still there and that the European Council in April repeated its commitment to you as a potential citizen of Europe.

Your candidate of choice should be thoroughly embarrassed by the fact that, on the road to Brussels, Albania has overtaken BiH. And by the truth that non-compliance with EU standards in the agricultural field is costing farmers and exporters serious money.

I hope you will be looking for politicians who have that ‘certain idea of Bosnia’ and who realize that BiH has to decide soon where it wants to go with its important and promising agricultural sector, its manufacturing industries, energy policy, transport infrastructure and rural development.

If the new government you are about to elect will not identify the strong points of the economy, build them up further and will not address the weaker points, after accession to the EU, BiH’s industry, commerce and agro-business will be wiped out by the full forces of the common market.

You don’t want that to happen, nobody wants that to happen. And if you choose wisely, it need not happen. As a surprising number of successful SME’s has shown: the entrepreneurial potential is there. Likewise, there is a huge reservoir of untapped talent in the people of this country. The floods have revealed the best in ordinary Bosnians – they showed their capacity for solidarity, generosity, pragmatism and a great gift for improvisation, while their politicians and administrators sat on their hands, when not pointing fingers at each other.

No, it need not happen. But without an EU coordinating mechanism and without nationwide sector strategies it will be so much more difficult, not to mention the need some political parties feel to divide this already small economic space of 3.8 million consumers in yet smaller parts. It may not be economic suicide, but it is definitely severe auto-mutilation.

That’s why your party or candidates of choice can’t be escapists, who think divisive oratory is a way out, that it will forever divert attention away from their failures and who are honest enough to acknowledge that there will be no new drawing of maps in the Balkans.

To conclude: I hope that you will vote a generation of politicians into office next Sunday who have that ‘certain idea of Bosnia’ – a vision and a resolve to deal with the real issues: the socio-economic mess, the despair of the ordinary citizen, the inequality, the corruption and the negotiations on EU membership coming to a dead end. And who are prepared to give their best for a bright and prosperous future for all of Bosnia’s children.

I believe you can do it – so should you.

This blog was posted earlier in

Photo:  OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

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About the author

Jurriaan Kraak
Written by Jurriaan Kraak

Dutch ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina

Jurriaan Kraak was born on 24 August 1951 in Jakarta (Indonesia). He started his diplomatic career at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1978. After postings to Mexico and Canada, he worked for twelve years in Brussels at the Netherlands Permanent Representations to the European Union and to NATO. Between 1991 and 1995 he was seconded to the Royal Household as Private Secretary of Her Majesty Queen Beatrix and HRH Prince Claus of The Netherlands and of HRH the Prince of Orange. Prior to his posting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Latvia. He is married and has two children.