An Open Letter to the International Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina

An open letter to the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, signed by 130 academics and scholars from around the world.

For more than two decades, the international political community has viewed, interpreted, and acted upon the political landscape in Bosnia and Herzegovina almost exclusively through an ethnic lens – despite careful academic scholarship, which consistently warned against such over-simplifications and dangerous pandering to local ethno-nationalist elites. The war, and the peace that has ensued, both overseen (“aided and abetted,” to use the ICTY language) by international observers, have only emboldened the local ethno-nationalist partitocracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which – shielded by fears of new wars and new violence – proceeded to enrich itself in the country with the official youth unemployment rate of 57 percent.

That the epicenter of the recent protests is Tuzla, a working class city that also bucked the ethno-nationalist trend during the war is, thus, not a coincidence. The protests also reflect deep disappointment with the Social Democratic Party, the winner of the 2010 elections, which has since squandered its political capital by acting in a way that is indistinguishable from the ethno-nationalist parties. As a result, the protests are expressing despair over the lack of political alternatives and a sense that no political party is capable of addressing legitimate socio-economic grievances.

The first few days of protests were marred by violence, police repression, but also sustained media and political spin. The protesters were criminalized, their demands ridiculed, politicized and/or re-appropriated, and conspiracy theories – with an expected ethnic slant – proliferated.  The results of the initial protests were, nonetheless, remarkable. The protests have spread throughout the Bosnian Federation and led to resignations of local politicians in a number of cantons and municipalities. Citizens Assemblies are being created in city after city, and town after town. The protestors’ demands, although slightly different from one community to another, focus on job opportunities, pensions, health benefits, confiscation of illegally obtained property and formation of non-ethnic, and in some cases, technocratic governments. None of them are basing any claims on ethnicity, religion, or any of the other divisions that characterize BH in the stubborn international stereotype of it.

Thus far, the response of the international community to the Bosnian uprisings has been muted, confused and inept. The current High Representative, Valentin Inzko, noted in an interview for the Austrian daily Kurier that “if the situation escalates, we might have to think about EU-troops” (“Wenn die Lage eskaliert, werden wir eventuell an EU-Truppen denken müssen.”). While he retracted the statement later on, unfortunate parallels with the Hapsburg occupation of Bosnia (1878-1914) had already been made and the damage done. Demands for Inzko’s resignation have been added to the list of protestors’ requests. EU politicians – from Catherine Ashton to Carl Bildt,- have issued vague statements defending the rights of citizens to assemble, calling for transparent negotiations between protestors and government representatives, and condemning violence. Given the non-committal statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, it is likely that the U.S. will let Europeans handle the protests and any possible political fallout from them.

This, however, is not the moment to either disengage or intervene bluntly. This is the time to reflect and act upon the years of accumulated economic injustices and neglected inequalities, acknowledging at last that they are not all based on ethnicity.  Thus, as academics and scholars of the region, we call upon the representatives of the international community to say their good-byes to the kleptocratic ethno-nationalist elites and the institutions they have helped create. Neighboring countries – who were key instigators of the war – must also be advised to refrain from interfering in Bosnia and Herzegovina at a time when the ethnocracies they sustain are facing major challenges from below. We ask of the international community to recognize the civic plenums and assemblies as legitimate expressions of Bosnian citizens’ political will, which do not seek to replace but to enhance democracy. Elections are not the only democratic mode of political practice. After repeatedly calling on Bosnians to take the fate of their country into their own hands, the international community should now extend their support to protestors and seriously consider their demands.

In spring of 1992, Bosnian citizens staged in Sarajevo the largest demonstrations ever against all nationalist parties. They were silenced by snipers, and their voices, from that point on, ignored by the international community. This time, the world should listen.

 

Signatures:

 

Aida A. Hozić, University of Florida, United States

Florian Bieber, University of Graz, Austria

Eric Gordy, University College London, United Kingdom

Chip Gagnon, Ithaca College, United States

Eldar Sarajlić, Central European University, Hungary

Tanya Domi, Columbia University, United States

Tanja Petrović, Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Slovenia

Ana Dević, Fatih University, Turkey

András Bozóki, Central European University, Hungary

Jo Shaw, Edinburgh University, Scotland/United Kingdom

Jasmin Mujanović, York University, Canada

Valerie Bunce, Cornell University, United States

Konstantin Kilibarda, York University, Canada

Aleksandra Miličević, University of North Florida, United States

Emel Akcali, Central European University, Hungary

Olimpija Hristova Zaevska, Balkan Institute for Faith and Culture, Macedonia

Jana Baćević, Aarhus University, Denmark

Jelena Vasiljević, University of Belgrade, Serbia

Michael Bernhard, University of Florida, United States

Tea Temim, NASA/University of Maryland, United States

Jasmina Opardija-Susnjar, University of Fribourg, Germany

Julianne Funk, Centre for Research on Peace and Development, KU Leuven, Belgium

Hanns Schneider, former researcher at University of Jena, Germany

William Risch, Georgia College, United States

Kiril Avramov, New Bulgarian University in Sofia, Bulgaria

Tom Junes, German Historical Institute in Warsaw, Poland

Tibor T. Meszmann, Working Group on Public Sociology “Helyzet” Budapest, Hungary

Béla Greskovits, Central European University, Hungary

Hilde Katrine Haug, University of Oslo, Norway and Harriman Institute, Columbia University

Armina Galijaš, University of Graz, Austria

Zoltan Dujisin, Columbia University, United States

Heleen Touquet, University of Leuven, Belgium

Amila Buturović, York University, Canada

Margareta Kern, artist, London, United Kingdom

Catherine Baker, University of Hull, United Kingdom

Adriana Zaharijević, University of Belgrade

Maja Lovrenović, VU Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Marko Prelec, Balkans Policy Research Group, Pristina, Kosovo

Claudiu Tufiș, University of Bucharest, Romania

Gal Kirn, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, Germany

Keziah Conrad, University of California, Los Angeles, United States

Jarrett Blaustein, Aberystwyth University, United Kingdom

Igor Štiks, University of Edinburgh, Scotland/United Kingdom

Rossen Djagalov, Koç University, Turkey

Paul Stubbs, Institute for Economics, Zagreb, Croatia

Davor Marko, University of Belgrade, Serbia

Ljubica Spaskovska, University of Exeter, United Kingdom

Christian Axboe Nielsen, Aarhus University

Andrej Grubačić, California Institute of Integral Studies, United States

Wendy Bracewell, University College London, United Kingdom

Zhidas Daskalovski, University of Bitola, Macedonia

Nicole Lindstrom, University of York, United Kingdom

Hristina Cipusheva, South East European University, Republic of Macedonia

Marina Antić, University of Pittsburgh, United States

Alen Kristić, University of Graz, Austria

Julija Sardelić, University of Edinburgh, Scotland/United Kingdom

Lara J. Nettelfield, Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom

Ivana Krstanović, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Sarajevo

Danijela Majstorović, University of Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Zoran Vučkovac, University of Alberta, Canada

Elissa Helms, Central European University, Hungary

Harun, Buljina, Columbia University, United States

Igor Cvejić, Institut za filozofiju i društvenu teoriju Beograd, Serbia

Slavoj Žižek, Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, United Kingdom

Nataša Bek, Josip Juraj Strossmayer University of Osijek, Croatia

Sladjana Lazić, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway

Katarina Peović Vuković, Faculty of Philosophy, Rijeka, Croatia

Artan Sadiku, Institute of social sciences and humanities – Skopje, Macedonia

Peter Vermeersch, University of Leuven, Belgium

Roland Schmidt, Central European University, Hungary

Spyros A. Sofos, CMES, Lund University, Sweden

Vedran Horvat, Heinrich Böll Stiftung, Croatia

Franjo Ninic, University of Muenster, Germany

Adam Fagan, Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom

Soeren Keil, Canterbury Christ Church University, United Kingdom

Esad Boskailo, University of Arizona, United States

Biljana Đorđević, Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Belgrade

Amra Pandžo, Udruženje MALI KORACI Sarajevo

Malte Frye, University of Muenster, Germany

Vanja Lastro, Rice University Houston, United States

Srđan Dvornik, independent analyst and consultant, Zagreb, Croatia

Goran Ilik, University of Bitola, Macedonia

Nikola G. Petrovski, University of Bitola, Macedonia

Nicholas J. Kiersey, Ohio University, United States

Roska Vrgova, UG “Zasto ne,” Bosnia and Herzegovina

Kiril Nestorovski, Habitat for Humanity, Macedonia

James Robertson, History, New York University, United States

Ellen Elias-Bursać, Literary Translator and Independent Scholar, United States

Antje Postema, University of Chicago, United States

Ronelle Alexander, University of California, Berkeley, United States

Zdenko Mandusić, University of Chicago, United States

Grace E. Fielder, University of Arizona, United States

Jennifer H Zoble, New York University, United States

Wayles Browne, Cornell University, United States

Holly Case, Cornell University, United States

Cynthia Simmons, Boston College, United States

Panagiotis Sotiris, University of the Aegean

Anna Selmeczi, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

Gezim Krasniqi, University of Edinburgh, Scotland/United Kingdom

Azra Hromadžić, Syracuse University, United States

Lejla Sokolović Indjić, University of Bergen, Norway

Marko Attila Hoare, Kingston University, United Kingdom

Anton Markoč, Central European University, Hungary

Boštjan Videmšek, journalist, DELO, Slovenia

Karla Koutkova, Central European University, Hungary

Luca J. Uberti, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

András Riedlmayer, Harvard University, United States

Jeffrey B Spurr, Independent Scholar and member of editorial board of CultureShutdown

Suzana Vuljević, History, Columbia University, United States

Michael D. Kennedy, Brown University, United States

Jennifer Dickinson, University of Vermont, United States

Arlind Qori, University of Tirana, Albania

Chiara Bonfiglioli, University of Edinburgh, Scotland/United Kingdom

Sarah Wagner, George Washington University, United States

Safia Swimelar, Elon University, United States,

Adnan Dzumhur, University of North Carolina, United States

Nirvana Pistoljevic, Columbia University, United States

Anej Korsika, Initiative for Democratic Socialism, Slovenia

Dejan Stjepanović, University of Edinburgh, Scotland/United Kingdom

Igor Jovanoski, South East European University, Macedonia

Tamara Vukov, Université de Montréal, Canada

Anna Selmeczi, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

Biljana Kotevska, CRPRC Studiorum, Macedonia

Rory Archer, University of Graz, Austria

Saša Pavlović, Music artist and former journalist, Macedonia

Goran Janev, Institute for Sociological, Political and Juridical Research, Macedonia

Armina Galijaš, University of Graz, Austria

Nina Caspersen, Department of Politics, University of York

Lucian-Dumitru Dirdala, Mihail Kogalniceanu University, Romania

Bojan Baća, York University, Canada

Agon Hamza, Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences

 

Photo Credit: EPA/JASMIN BRUTUS

 

 

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