Mon, Oct 08, 2018 - Page 5 News List

National Elections: Nationalist calls stoke fervor in Bosnian campaign


A child watches as a woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Laktasi, Bosnia, yesterday.

Photo: AP

Bosnians yesterday started voting for leaders to steer the future of their poor Balkan nation, which has been splintered by ethnic divides that fueled the Bosnian War in the 1990s.

Bosnia remains a patchwork of enclaves, with power formally divided among its three main groups: Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Serbs and Croats.

While the list of economic woes facing the nation is long, many voters said that they have lost faith in a political class accused of stoking fear and nationalism to stay in power.

“I think the nationalists will win once again and nothing will change,” said Armin Bukaric, a 45-year-old businessman in Sarajevo, echoing a view common on the capital’s streets.

The Balkan country’s complex political system is a relic of the conflict from 1992 to 1995 that saw Muslims, Serbs and Croats turn on each other. The fighting left 100,000 dead, displaced millions and wrecked the country’s economy and infrastructure.

A quarter of a century later, Bosnia is still governed by a peace accord that stopped the war and sliced the country into two semiautonomous halves — one dominated by Serbs and the other home to Muslims and a Croat minority.

The regions are bound by a weak national government, led by a tripartite presidency that rotates between a Serb, Croat and Muslim member.

One leading candidate for the Serb seat, Milorad Dodik, is a pro-Russian nationalist who regularly dangles holding a vote on the secession of the country’s Serb-run entity Republika Srpska.

Victory would keep Dodik, who has been sanctioned by the US for threatening the country’s integrity, at the fore of Bosnian politics. It could also see him in a partnership with Croat incumbent Dragan Covic, who similarly advocates drawing deeper communal divisions.

Covic’s rightwing HDZ party would like to see the creation of a third entity just for Croats, who currently live in a region with a majority of Bosnian Muslims.

The purpose of these “ethnonationalist” policies is to “maintain the status quo and stagnation” that helps keep such leaders in control, political analyst Tanja Topic said.

Ranko Mavrak, a prominent Sarajevo journalist, said the country’s political outlook was “depressing.”

“We don’t see anything on the horizon that would offer some change to the systems and stereotypes that have governed this country for 25 years since the war,” he said in a TV interview.

While nationalists are trying to widen the gulf between different communities, a shared frustration with government corruption has brought some Bosnians together.

On Friday night it was not a campaign rally, but a grassroots protest calling for justice over a young man’s death that drew thousands of supporters to Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb-run entity.

The movement started in March and has evolved into a broader protest against corruption, drawing support from a diverse crowd.

A report by Transparency International said that corruption is a serious problem in “all levels of government” in Bosnia.

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