“Bosnia must seize this historic opportunity” claimed Angelina Eichhorst, Director of the European Union External Action Service, in her statement while speaking to the press at the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Indeed, against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US and EU have tried, unsuccessfully so far, to gather local actors in order to agree on a reform for BiH’s election law.
Constant talks and fears of a new war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) alongside the country’s worsening political situation are not the sole reason why 23-year-old Sarajevan activist and marketing management student Kerim is moving to Berlin in a couple of months.
Thirty years ago, Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia and soon after entered a war that would eventually claim the lives of an estimated 100,000 people. Today, Bosnia faces “the greatest existential threat of the post-war period”, as secessionist moves by Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, have the potential to disrupt the central state. Against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, such threat is all the more alarming.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a small yet complicated country, with a thousand-year history and less than three million citizens. In the post-war period, the country was burdened with corruption, torn by an illogical constitutional order, facing the greatest political crisis after the war and in the midst of monumental global geopolitical shifts. Against this backdrop, the country’s civil society has been largely silent and its role peripheral. What factors might explain this phenomenon?
“A hidden world war is being waged in Bosnia-Herzegovina, since all world forces are directly or indirectly involved there and all the contradictions of the end of century and the beginning of the third millennium emerge in Bosnia-Herzegovina”. (Kofi Annan, Report of the UN Secretary General, § 503)
The fall of Slobodan Milosevic on October 5th 2000 was supposed to be watershed moment in Serbia’s democratic transition. Reforms were implemented slowly and not without resistance. Over the last decade, however, the new regime led by the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) has done its best to discontinue and reverse institution-building efforts of its democratic predecessors. The young party rode on the promise of fighting corruption and organized crime, thus gaining unprecedented popular support, but its bombastic measures came short of actual results.
All Western Balkan countries have, at least officially, committed to joining the European Union and promised to fight organized crime head-on, as one of the priority areas during their accession talks. The European Commission’s Country Reports have repeated ad nauseam that the key focus should be on having a track record in prosecuting organized crime with final convictions.
The Balkans, which lie at the heart of South-Eastern Europe, have historically been an important transit route for drugs, especially for heroin coming from the East to be trafficked across Europe.
According to the Serbian investigative portal KRIK, Veljko Belivuk, arrested on multiple charges in February 2021 and notably known as both a leader of the football club Partizan Belgrade’s fan group Principi and as a top underworld figure close to the Montenegrin Kavac clan, described multiple occasions and cases in which President Aleksandar Vucic would have asked for favours, from providing security services at his meetings to beating up opponents.
Early on Wednesday morning, October 13th, Kosovo’s police raided several targets across the country, including Mitrovica. During and after the raids against suspected smugglers, they arrested eight people and issued arrest warrants for another ten. Six of the arrested people are of Albanian nationality, one is Serb Serbia, and another is Bosnjak. Eight out of the ten people who received arrest warrants are Albanian while two are Serbs.
In some of the countries of the Western Balkans, criminal groups and political elites have grown increasingly interdependent. In particular, Serbia’s and Montenegro’s societies have suffered the most from these links. The two countries have long been considered frontrunners in the EU integration process, whose final completion, however, is difficult to foresee. Similarly, Albania’s EU negotiating process has also been delayed for years, in part because of the country's role in global drug trafficking schemes.