Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

Nations in Transit 2009 - Bosnia-Herzegovina

Publisher Freedom House
Author Jasna Jelisic
Publication Date 30 June 2009
Cite as Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2009 - Bosnia-Herzegovina, 30 June 2009, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

by Jasna Jelisic

Capital: Sarajevo
Population: 3.8 million
GNI/capita: US$8,020

The data above was provided by The World Bank, World Bank Indicators 2009.

Nations in Transit Ratings and Averaged Scores

Electoral Process5.004.754.253.753.503.
Civil Society4.504.504.254.003.753.753.753.503.503.50
Independent Media5.004.504.
National Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a4.754.754.755.005.00
Local Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a4.754.754.754.754.75
Judicial Framework and Independence6.005.505.255.004.504.
Democracy Score5.425.174.834.544.

* Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.

Executive Summary

Competitive nationalism among the three main ethnic groups of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) caused near paralysis in state institutions in 2008. As a result, the country failed to achieve concrete progress in addressing conditions relevant for Euro-Atlantic integration. There was also unsatisfactory progress in addressing the objectives and conditions which have been set for the closure of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and its transition into an Office of the EU Special Representative. As a result there was no decision on changing the set-up of the international presence in the country.

The political situation in BiH was partly affected by the Kosovo's declaration of independence in February 2008 as well as by the general elections in October 2008. These events led to a further slowdown of reform. The signature of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU in June 2008 did not change the overall situation in the country, and the six parties of the ruling coalition in the Council of Ministers continued to be unable to place the goal of EU integration and its associated obligations ahead of their divergent political priorities. The themes of the election campaign in the fall were largely unrelated to the everyday concerns of BiH citizens, and the reform agenda, with its promise of economic and democratic development, was almost forgotten.

The presidents of the largest Bosniak, Serb, and Croat parties in BiH – the Party of Democratic Action, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, and the Croat Democratic Union-BiH, respectively – concluded what became known as the Prud agreement in November 2008, laying out a way forward on constitutional reform, the conduct of a census, and other matters related to the closure of the OHR. However, no concrete follow-up measures were taken by year's end.

Throughout the year, leaders on all sides of BiH's divided political scene aimed criticism at the international community. The Bosniak member of the BiH presidency, Haris Silajdzic, sent an open letter to the UN Security Council in December to object to an OHR report that blamed him and other local leaders for the continued political deadlock in the country. Mr. Silajdzic argued that the crisis was caused not by political infighting, but by the international community's failure to secure full implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement.

Milorad Dodik, prime minister of the Republika Srpska (RS), also clashed with the OHR, complaining that it was too deeply involved in BiH politics and should let local leaders reach their own compromises. Moreover, the RS government's claim that it had the right to call a referendum on secession drew repeated rebukes from the international community, including a resolution adopted in October by the European Parliament reaffirming that the BiH's constituent entities did not enjoy autonomous sovereignty and that only the BiH as a single state had membership prospects in the EU.

The slow pace of reforms during the year prompted the Council of Europe to warn in September that "without greater cooperation between the various state- and entity-level structures, Bosnia and Herzegovina will not be able to benefit fully from European integration." The statement also condemned moves by the RS to undermine BiH state institutions.

In the last quarter of the year, several analyses claimed that the situation in the country had worsened gravely, with one finding that the BiH was "not at the brink of war, but it has slid well down the slope in that direction."

National Democratic Governance. There were no improvements in democratic governance in 2008, as the ruling coalition lacked consensus on almost every issue, especially when it came to state building. There were no serious attempts to address the fundamental question of constitutional reform. Ethnic identity continued to hamper the functioning of public institutions, while divisive rhetoric negatively affected the overall atmosphere and stalled decision making and legislative activity. Owing to all these factors continuing from the previous year, the national democratic governance rating remains at 5.00.

Electoral Process. The October 2008 muncipal elections were characterized as free and fair by international monitors. Besides confirming once more the decisive roles of ethnicity and fear in BiH election campaigns, the elections showed that the post-Dayton political system does not provide ample opportunities for the emergence of new political forces, partly because of the significant financial and media resources at the disposal of the ruling nationalist parties. Despite these obstacles, newcomers – including Nasa Stranka (Our Party), a multiethnic party founded in April – managed to enter the political scene. Owing to a lack of improvement in the country's electoral dynamic, BiH's electoral process rating remains at 3.00.

Civil Society. There were no signs of improvement in the strength of civil society. Effective advocacy and articulation of citizens' interests are rare, with only a small number of nongovernmental organizations exercising these functions with some results. The most active and numerous civil society organizations are religious groups, which continued to strengthen their agenda and influence during the year. Education in BiH remains a major issue that could prove a catalyst for even greater instability in the future. Civil society is independent but faces growing pressure when dealing with the issue of corruption or tolerance toward minority groups. The civil society rating for BiH remains 3.50.

Independent Media. The media environment is shaped by ethnic divisions as well as alliances with political circles and business interests. Such special interests continued to influence reporting and editorial independence. The year featured notable attempts to exert influence on the electronic media, which had generally been less subject to ethnic and political bias than the print media. These developments, combined with additional threats to journalists, has led to a worsening of the independent media rating from 4.25 to 4.50.

Local Democratic Governance. There was no significant improvement in the implementation of the entity legislation on local self-governance in accordance with the European Charter of Local Self-Government, nor were there any practical steps toward genuine decentralization. The majority of local authorities continued to pay allegiance to the entity and cantonal authorities. The municipalities' lack of resources remains a problem in both the Federation and the RS. The state government had no powers over local self-government, which complicated BiH compliance with international obligations in this area. Owing to a lack of improvement, the rating for local democratic governance remains at 4.75.

Judicial Framework and Independence. The judiciary of BiH remained divided into four separate jurisdictions and continued to function in a complex and legally incoherent environment. BiH still lacks a Supreme Court, which would harmonize the application of legislation across the country. The existence of 14 different Ministries of Justice, each preparing separate budgets, negatively affects judicial independence. Delays and backlogs in the courts did not substantially improve, and political interference remained a concern. A National Strategy for Development of the Justice Sector was adopted, but there were no strong indications that it would be swiftly implemented. As a result, the rating for judicial framework and independence remains at 4.00.

Corruption. Corruption in BiH remains widespread, and government efforts to combat it have been weak. Combined with the country's constitutional arrangements, this presents a major obstacle to political and economic development. Alliances between business and political circles seem stronger than ever. Owing to a lack of political will, there was no progress in implementing the 2006 BiH Anticorruption Strategy, and amendments to the Law on Conflict of Interest that were adopted in July 2008 effectively reduced the scope of the law. No serious efforts were made to establish an independent anticorruption agency. Owing to the lack of political will and capacity to effectively halt the rampant spread of corruption, BiH's corruption rating worsens from 4.25 to 4.50.

Outlook for 2009. Joining the EU and NATO remain BiH's most important strategic priorities, but events in 2008 suggested that the current political leaders find it difficult to cooperate and make decisions that would bring the country closer to declared foreign-policy goals.

The year's developments highlighted the need for a constitutional reform, without which BiH will be unable to meet the EU's administrative and political requirements or achieve an acceptable level of functionality in its institutions. However, in this respect the ruling parties have hardened their positions since the failure of the socalled April package of constitutional changes in 2006. If the prevailing negative attitude and distrust among leading politicians prevail, progress will remain blocked.

The harmful influence of events in the wider region on the backsliding trend in BiH prompted strong arguments throughout the year for a serious reengagement by the United States and the EU. The NATO membership perspective and the promise of EU accession have long been the pillars of BiH and regional security. It is expected that these aspects will be strengthened, and hopefully have positive influence of the political situation on the ground.

As a number of analysts have observed, the lack of interest and focused engagement by the international community in 2008 was interpreted by the ethnonationalist elites as a green light for a return to separatist policies.

Still, BiH fell back under the international spotlight by the end of the year, and reengagement is expected in 2009. Its success will depend on an accurate assessment of the underlying problems and a readiness to address them directly. The policy of waiting for the domestic political elites to do so on their own has amounted to a costly waste of time and resources, and it has even undermined the security situation.

EU accession remains the only issue with the potential to change the internal and regional political dynamic in the long run. Public opinion polls show that more than 80 percent of the people of BiH, of all ethnic backgrounds and from both entities, want to join the EU. The prospect of accession could help to drive improvement on a number of governance indicators. However, if the trends of 2008 continue, the perceived likelihood of a deeper crisis or even some form of instability in BiH will increase.

Copyright notice: © Freedom House, Inc. · All Rights Reserved

Search Refworld