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Bosnia and Hercegovina: A Constitution in Need of Change

The World | Hana Efendic

On the 8th of October, Bosnia and Hercegovina’s three new presidents were elected: Šefik Džaferović, Željko Komšić , and Milorad Dodik, once again revealing the desperate constitutional change that is needed. There is little hope this presidency will solve the problems that have been ongoing in Bosnia, including its youth unemployment rate of 57.5% which is currently the highest in the world.

American Diplomat Richard Holbrooke drafted the constitution that brought the 3-president rule into effect in 1995, as a way to stop the four-year war that broke out after Bosnia claimed its independence from Yugoslavia. The main aim of the new constitution was to ensure peace and consolidation between each of the three main ethnic groups in Bosnia. These consist of the Bosniaks, the Bosnian Croats, and the Bosnian Serbs. The first group making the majority of the population at 50.1%. Croats make up 15.4% of the population and 30.8% are Serbs. At the time of the implementation of the new constitution, it seemed like a promising mechanism to make the people of Bosnia & Hercegovina happy as ‘everyone’ would be represented in parliament, but practice has showed this to be very different.

Under this system, someone can only register as a voter once they declare themselves a member of one of these three ethnicities. This has resulted in the neglection of other minorities that live in Bosnia and people being put in the position to elect candidates based on their ethnicity. This has been seen in elections since the war which have solely provided opportunities for politicians to deliver the same nationalist rhetoric, instilling fear in people and making it almost obligatory for them to vote for a nationalist candidate from their ethnic group as a means of protecting their group, even though the candidate may be weak and show no intention of improving the overall situation. Unity and cooperation has been traded in for ethnic representation, which has left Bosnia with the same dilemmas for the past 23 years.

The results of the elections this year are gloomier than previous ones

The results of the elections this year are gloomier than previous ones due to the election of right-wing Milorad Dodik (59) to the national parliament who can be viewed as the Balkan version of Trump and has been the president of Republika Srpska since 2010 -an autonomous region granted to Bosnian Serbs by the Dayton Agreement. Some of the things he has done include denying the genocide in Srebrenica where over 8,000 Bosniaks were killed during the war, glorifying Serbian war criminals, and calling for Republika Srpska’s independence multiple times. All this has put him on the United States’ blacklist in 2017, however he has just been strenthening his relations with Putin. On winning the presidential seat, he claimed that he would serve Serbian interests only, bearing the Republika Srpska in mind.

Šefik Džaferović (61) was voted in for the Bosniaks who is wholly incapable of competing with the likes of Dodik in parliament. He is a new leader of the Bosniak party (SDA), that sought Bosnia’s independence in 1990 and is replacing Bakir Izetbegović who reached his term limit this year. This party has been elected to government every year since the war but has been involved in many corruption scandals. These have seen money flow to the Izetbegović family that founded the party. The primary role of Džaferović is to act as a puppet for their interests until Izetbegovic can take over again.

Željko Komšić (54) born to a Serb father and Croat mother is the only bright light in a starless sky in this tri-partitive presidency. Even if he is ‘supposed’ to cater for Bosnian Croats, he has said that “[he] will serve all citizens, even if they didn’t vote for [him].” Another similar candidate in this regard is Boriša Falatar (43) who ran for presidency the first time this year for Naša Stranka- Our Party which was set up in 2008 as a multi-ethnic one. He was born in Bosnia, studied at Harvard, worked in the UN, and now carries the goal of seeing his country progress for everyone within it. Most people in Bosnia are not satisfied with the results, including those who voted because they can already expect what the next four years will entail: politicians will spend more time discussing the past than the present and try to split the country and its people up even more. The flaws in the Dayton system are inherent because it is permitting such activity to perpetuate by encouraging nationalist leaders to take the seat as president and focus their efforts on one ethnicity, without seeing the bigger picture. Division does not lead to prosperity, but to even more poverty. This does not benefit any ethnic group, regardless of the leader who is advocating it. Success does not come without solidarity, especially for those running a country. There is no way of improving the standard of living for just one group, because in order for it to happen, it must be done with the goal of improving the situation for all ethnicities. After all, emigration, low wages, and a shortage of medical supplies in hospitals affect every individual in Bosnia & Hercegovina regardless of their background, even if politicians are blind to this.

There is no way to improve the standard of living for just one group

However, not all faith can be lost in the future of this country. As the politicians from the war generation pass and fresher faces come into parliament, there is hope for change because the young are aware that this system is not functioning and producing results that benefit everyone. There are many people leaving but there are those who have returned and plan to, striving to do some good within their country with what they’ve learned abroad. Boriša Falatar is someone of this calibre. Like-minded people are the ones who will instigate change and improve the constitution so that one strong president, who has respect for every citizen in Bosnia and Hercegovina, caters for all and seeks power out of the love for his country, not out of the hatred for another ethnic group.


Originally published 22.11.18 in Vol. 2 No. 1.


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