Open Letter to Federica Mogherini, Johannes Hahn, John Kerry, and the EU Foreign Affairs Council







Twenty years after the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, the political, economic and social situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has been steadily deteriorating, reaching alarming levels in the past year. The circumspect wording of the Progress Report issued on 10 November 2015 does scant justice to the gravity of the political and economic situation in the country. Referring to “room for improvement” and “early stages” of reform developments, the report misinterprets empty and unimplemented reform measures as “some progress”. Most importantly, BiH’s internal stability, which has been under continuous threat, is mentioned only in passing.

Preoccupied by global problems, the EU and US have gradually abandoned their legal and moral obligations to uphold the 1995 Dayton Agreement, and shown declining interest in the Office of the High Representative (OHR), and the EU peacekeeping force (EUFOR), which are the key mechanisms for ensuring the agreement’s civilian and military implementation. As a result, the Dayton constitution has become a plaything between the three dominant ethno-national elites, while BiH’s stability is at stake.

The most vocal challenge to BiH’s constitutional and territorial integrity remains the President of Republika Srpska (RS), Milorad Dodik, who is calling a referendum to challenge the authority of the state judiciary and the OHR. But Mr Dodik is not alone in his disrespect for state-level institutions. As many as 85 decisions of BiH’s Constitutional Court have been ignored and remain unimplemented by institutions at various administrative levels across the country. The operative functioning of the state has been undermined by power battles between political elites. While Bosnian Croat leaders pursue the creation of a separate Croat entity, Bosniak politicians insist on a centralized state unacceptable to many Bosnian Croat and Serb politicians.

To secure his grip on power in RS by perpetuating an environment of fear of violence, Mr Dodik is using the referendum as part of his campaign for the 2016 local elections. Depending on whether this first referendum takes place, and the international reaction towards it, there could be a second referendum – on RS independence – which Mr Dodik has been repeatedly announcing (most recently for 2018). Regardless of the implausibility of any international recognition of an independent RS, the mere organization of a referendum on RS independence would endanger BiH’s territorial integrity and almost certainly lead to new violence. This is why this first referendum needs to be taken seriously as a real threat to the country’s stability and the security of the region in general.

In view of the disconcerting developments in the past few months, we the undersigned academics and political analysts, appeal to the European Union and the US, as well as foreign institutions of which they are members, to strengthen their commitment to the European future of BiH, to adopt a firm approach toward spoilers of the reform process and to jointly use their leverage potential in a coordinated manner. We would also like to stress that until it is replaced by a system of political accountability, all actors in BiH must respect the Dayton framework as part of the international architecture.

The main driver of reform in BiH is the European Union with its conditionality powers. However, the United States should also be an active partner in the on-going reform process by tackling the existing patronage system, particularly – but not exclusively – through its financial and military influence in institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and NATO respectively.

We recognize and support the need for local ownership over BiH’s future, but we also believe that this local ownership can only be established and truly nurtured once Western countries help ensure a conducive environment for domestic actors in BiH advocating inclusive and sustainable efforts toward progress.

The current approach to reforms in BiH has proved flawed, as it has not yielded any durable results in the past ten years. Although widely welcomed, last year’s Germany-United Kingdom Initiative has not been translated into firmer international engagement and has so far produced modest results.

Because of the unsatisfactory progress of reforms and BiH’s alarming security situation, we wish to highlight three key priorities for international engagement, which are further elaborated upon in the attached list of recommendations.

Firstly, it must be recognised that the step-by-step approach to reforms is not working and needs to be replaced by a firmer one. Reforms are not embraced as part of a general democratic progress but as an exercise of ticking boxes. At the same time, many reforms are not implemented even after adoption. By allowing domestic elites to shelve reforms that are not in their interest, the EU and the US are perpetuating a system of corrupt and undemocratic practices. Western countries and international financial institutions must be ready to intensify political and diplomatic pressures, as well as financial, travel and other sanctions against those who obstruct the reform process.

Secondly, there needs to be an increased commitment to the implementation of the rule of law. There is a deepening frustration with the corrupt and inefficient justice sector, which cripples all other developments in the country. It is necessary to insist upon a professional, unbiased and independent judiciary; implementation and enforcement of law without political interference; and prosecution of corruption and economic crimes. Additionally, a reform of the corrupt public sector; a depoliticization of employment and the business climate; and an open enquiry in past privatizations can open doors for an economic reform and the establishment of a free market. Both the EU and the US have political and financial means to sanction corrupt judicial officials and political influence, which need to be put in place.

Thirdly, citizens of BiH must be placed at the centre of all political processes. The partners of the international community in the reform process in all relevant policy areas – especially agriculture, labour legislation, public services, and social security – are all segments of BiH society, not just local political elites. Negotiations about reforms behind closed doors are not conducive to the creation of a democratic political culture. Public outreach and inclusiveness of citizens must become part of the reform strategy towards BiH.

These reforms are all together aimed at squeezing patronage and corruption out of the system, reducing the power exerted by closed elites, and allowing the country and its politics, law and economy the chance to flourish. The EU and US each have their own and joint instruments: now they need the will and determination to use them.




Jessie Hronešová, Oxford University, United Kingdom

Srećko Latal, Balkan Insight and SOS, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sir David Madden, former British diplomat, Oxford University, United Kingdom

Dr Adis Merdžanović, Oxford University, United Kingdom


Dr Othon Anastasakis, Oxford University, United Kingdom

Dr Ioannis Armakolas, University of Macedonia & Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, Greece

Prof Richard Caplan, Oxford University, United Kingdom

Dr Catherine Baker, University of Hull, United Kingdom

Prof Florian Bieber, University of Graz, Austria

Prof Valerie Bunce, Cornell University, United States

Dr Aida Hozic, Associate Professor, University of Florida, United States

Tanya Domi, Adjunct Professor, Columbia University, United States

Prof Adam Fagan, Queen Mary University of London, United Kingdom

Dr Eric Gordy, University College London, United Kingdom

Jasmin Hasić, LUISS Guido Carli Rome, Italy

Prof R. Bruce Hitchner, Tufts University, United States

Dženeta Karabegović, University of Warwick, United Kingdom

Dr Soeren Keil, Canterbury Christ Church University, United Kingdom

Daniela Lai, Royal Holloway, University of London, United Kingdom

Dr James Lyon, University of Graz, Austria

Jasmin Mujanović, York University, Canada

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

Prof Kalypso Nicolaidis, Oxford University, United Kingdom

Miran Norderland, London School of Economics, United Kingdom

Dr Jelena Obradović-Wochnik, Aston University, United Kingdom

Jasmina Opardija-Susnjar, University of Fribourg, Switzerland

Sevan Pearson, Ludwig-Maximilians University, Germany

Srdjan Puhalo, independent political analyst, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Andras Riedlmayer, Harvard University, United States

Jonathan Scheele, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Dr Nenad Stojanović, Princeton University, United States

Dr Jelena Subotić, Associate Professor, Georgia State University, United States

Dr Milada Anna Vachudova, Associate Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States


The opinions contained in this letter are personal opinions of the signatories and do not represent the official position of the signatories’ institutions.




      I.         Democratization and Patronage. BiH is not a democratic state and current developments do not put it on the democratization path.


  • The key element in stabilizing the situation in BiH is to target local spoilers with much stronger political and diplomatic pressure, as well as financial, travel and other sanctions.
  • The EU and US and their institutions need to reinforce their oversight over political manoeuvres and financial flows related to local political leaders and tycoons, who do not wish to champion any reforms towards a strong rule of law.
  • Political parties are autocratic pockets of power, which claim to offer peace, but only in return for favouritism, nepotism and corrupt procurement of jobs, contracts and services. Their influence needs to be excluded from public firms.
  • Political officials need to be banned from holding multiple offices and receiving guaranteed on-going personal profit from occupying political positions.


    II.         Stability and Security. The long-term economic crisis and political stagnation in BiH should not be mischaracterized for stability; threat of serious escalation is intensifying, the longer the crisis lasts.


  • Consistent and firm supervision is imperative so that the domestic political scene ceases to doubt the EU and US commitments, which have been undermined by their turning a blind eye to the gradual radicalization of the political scene in BiH.
  • To restore moral authority in the country, the EU and US must stop accepting empty promises from politicians and not only present reform plans but also enforce and monitor their implementation.
  • Any future violent conflicts must be ruled out, so that the instrumentalized sense of threat of the other groups instilled by political elites loses ground. Citizens must understand that the only threat comes from their own political leaders – not the other groups.
  • To strengthen the security commitments, NATO’s and EUFOR’s reduced capacities need to be reinforced to support other political and diplomatic efforts and also to signal that violence is not an option.


  III.         Corruption and Economy. A professional, unbiased and independent judiciary is a key for all other reforms in the country.


  • The Bosnian patronage system, which prevents any political and economic development, is perpetuated by corrupt judiciary. The existing mechanisms of “structured dialogues” have failed and must be replaced by a process, which would include accountability for corrupt officials in the judiciary and tangible financial support for concrete and transparent reforms.
  • The dire economic situation cannot improve unless the corrupt public sector is reformed and existing laws are implemented, including a uniform system of civil service employment to depoliticize the labour market. A wide-reaching programme of employment based on merit and not political connections can be carried out only in a more transparent legal environment.
  • A publicly acceptable plan for transparent privatization of remaining publicly owned enterprises (and distribution of assets) needs to be put in place. This also means that past privatization deals must be reviewed and criminal charges brought against those who committed economic crimes.


  IV.         Public participation. The public – not political elites – is the main beneficiary of reforms in BiH and the main constituency for change in the country.


  • The EU-led reform process cannot continue to be a technocratic exercise with the exclusion of the public. It must be an open debate about the process of reaching reforms.
  • The EU and US can build constituencies of support for common-sense reforms directly with these beneficiaries, and then work with the elites; not the other way around.
  • Citizens need to be supported as agents of change in key reform areas, which are directly relevant to them: agriculture, labour legislation, public services, education, and social security.


    V.         Reforming Dayton. Until the flawed Dayton system is replaced in the long-term, it needs to be respected and enforced by both local and international actors.


  • The EU and US must support a long-term constitutional roadmap by encouraging grassroots-level initiatives grounded in genuine accountability.
  • For any Euro-Atlantic prospects to materialize in the future, Dayton needs to be reformed and the so-far ignored ECtHR rulings implemented: the 2005 Opinion of the Venice Commission remains a key reference on this matter.
  • The EU and US should not impose solutions from the outside.
  • A new constitution must be the outcome of a wide public debate about BiH’s future and direction, including the broader implications of the EU membership.



 Cover photo: Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovia. Credit: Milos Milosevic/Flickr/Some rights reserved.

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