Predictably, Bosnia’s October general elections have so far failed to deliver the change hoped for in the wake of the protests and participatory democracy movements of earlier this year – dubbed, perhaps prematurely, the Bosnian Spring.
It is hard to set in motion a fundamental democratic transformation of the sort that Bosnia needs without a real democratic constituency and political culture. This was the inevitable impression produced in February, to the despair of grass-root activists, when they compared the throngs of people (many of them unemployed) crowding Sarajevo’s cafés and terraces from Baščaršija to Marshala Tita with the few hundreds who mobilised for “revolucija” near Ali Pasha’s mosque. As some analysts have aptly said, the disappointing results of the elections make rational sense in a rotten system defined by – with or without Dayton – contactocracy (stela) and patronage networks.
Last week’s international conference on the Balkans, convened by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has – as expected – gone largely unnoticed. The Berlin conference was aimed at sending a message of support for the Balkan countries’ European ambitions, meant to bolster the promises that the European Union made to the Balkans in more self-confident days. However, these promises now seem uncertain, against the backdrop of increasing enlargement fatigue, the anti-climactic statements of incoming European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and other EU leaders, and the harsh rhetoric of political forces which, in the current populist mood, associate enlargement with greater migration and insecurity.
Even in the midst of its own internal crisis and the worsening global crises from Ukraine to Iraq, Europe can ill afford to neglect the one region in which the EU has assumed full leadership as a foreign and security policy actor. It was the Balkans’ 1990s dramas that provided the catalyst for the idea of an EU with security responsibilities.