Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken

Dutch Diplo Talk

Progress Reports and Elections

20 Oct 2014

On the 8th of October, this country again got nothing but bad marks on its annual report card from Brussels – ‘the worst ever’, as some observers saw it. Four days later, the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina went to the polls.

The message from the European Commission to the political leadership – and to the Bosnian voters, for that matter – was clear: ‘another year wasted, another year of almost total stagnation’.

It was the same depressing mantra and I have been reading EU progress reports off and on since 2003: ‘some progress, no progress, little progress, very limited progress, no tangible progress’ and my absolute favorite: ‘preparations are still at an early stage’ – and this for the seventh year in a row.

I know it takes editorial genius to avoid the tired clichés of Bosnia’s Autumn Package. But, more imaginative expressions, like ‘a reluctant forging ahead’ or ‘only partial steps forward’ or ‘inadequate headway and constrained improvement’ , would not hide the ugly truth that this country ‘remains at a standstill on its European integration path’, as you can read on page 2 of the EU Enlargement Strategy Paper 2014.

It seems that a bad report card, irrespective of the wording, has lost its bite. The BiH leadership accepted the verdict from Brussels like schoolboys resigned to failure, resigned to the idea not to move up to the next form.

The politicians are used to hearing bad news from Brussels, but the voters had reasons enough not to accept this state of stagnation, what’s more: they had reasons enough to be hopping mad. To name but two:

food processing companies and dairy farmers were robbed of their main export market last year, because, since October 2005 – that is nine years ago – successive governments, including the last one, did absolutely nothing to prepare the country for the day Croatia would finish negotiations and would enter the European Union.

Five months after the waters rose and the hillsides slid down on homes, shops and farms, administrators and politicians still have no plan how to help their citizens. Instead, one party leader had the nerve to blame the ’13 unsynchronized levels of government with overlapping authorities, designed by the international community’ for their failure to act. It’s a cop-out and the voters know it.

In these circumstances, one would expect that a thoroughly frustrated electorate would call the ruling parties to account.

But ‘here Eurocrats and diplomats don’t vote, local people do’, to paraphrase a well-known columnist: ‘even when local people say otherwise, their ethnicity speaks for them’.

Was that indeed the case, during the Baby Revolt of June 2013? During the street protests and in the plenums? And when, after the floods, they left their homes in Sarajevo and Mostar en masse to help any Bosnian who needed it? I sincerely hope not.

Anyway: it meant a vote for SDA, a vote for HDZ and a vote for SNSD. Of the incumbent parties, who were all in their own way responsible for the umpteenth bad EU Progress Report in a row, only the SPD got a real mauling.

Pondering the provisional results, the Eurocrat and the diplomat are left with many questions:

About the quality of the alternative choice – was it really that awful?

About the absence, two decades on, of a generation of 30-somethings who think the groove of patronage, prejudice and promises of protection against – yes, against whom exactly? – is a thing of the past.

Is that huge, but loose and fragmented constituency for a more modern and more equal Bosnia, that some analysts have identified, really out there?

And if it’s there, what will it take to mobilize that part of the electorate?

What can, if anything, the diplomats and the Eurocrats do to help to create an environment in which potential agents of change will emerge?

Big questions, but no answers yet.

So, the prudent thing is to concentrate now on the practical and the immediate. To quote from the Progress Report: ‘after elections, concrete reform steps should be taken swiftly’ and ‘the new political leadership owes it to the BiH citizens to provide the country with clear directions.’ But above all: ‘on all levels, governments need to be formed quickly’, May I add: preferably, with a fair share of women in visible and responsible positions? The NGO sector in this country is blessed with many ambitious and capable women, so why not?

That is, as they say, already quite a challenge.

I am convinced that, whatever coalition emerges after the inevitable application of quantum mechanics to vote counting and the distribution of seats, had better show, as a minimum, some concrete results before that symbolic date of the 7th of February 2015.

Reopening the National Museum, perhaps? The nucleus of a state ministry for agriculture, for instance? And what about a National Flood Protection Plan?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, if the new government meets just a few objectives everybody can agree on? Or some goals at least, that this loose and fragmented constituency for a more modern and more equal Bosnia, can subscribe to? If only, so that the nation may escape ’the fire next time’.

If the new government can pull that off by early February, it has a certain chance to avoid a rerun of the protests, but it can definitely look forward to a Progress Report with less clichés in October.

This blog was posted earlier in

Photo:  Elias Bizannes

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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.