TRIP REPORT 5/2001 - 18-24 NOVEMBER 2001

In 2002, from Herzegovina to Posavina, politicians and citizens appear to agree that they have two common problems: lack of employment opportunities and inadequate economic development.  They affect the sustainability of returns and the welfare of those who never left.  In addition, they undermine municipal and cantonal budgets and impact significantly the ability to pay basic salaries, such as teachers, civil servants and police officers.   Therefore, it is foreseeable that in the near future the major issues in Bosnian politics will be economic management at all levels of government and the financial sustainability of institutions and government programmes.  These problems are very visible in mediations at the local level, in which many participants have moved away from issues of national symbolism towards dealing with economic issues.

This shift is occurring because Bosnian citizens are slowly succeeding in taking control over their political life. A recent poll by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) shows that 60 percent of all citizens in Bosnia consider employment as one of their two top concerns. This number compares to only 13 percent who stress "national interests" as more important.  Furthermore, the poll indicates that people are more concerned about returns, social and health issues, corruption or the emigration of youths than they are about "national interests". In 1998 there were intense negotiations in Teslic, led by the OHR, to allow a small group of approximately 200 Croat pilgrims to visit their burned out church in the South of the municipality for a few hours.  To make this visit possible, SFOR went into high alert and the OHR had to negotiate directly with Mr. Krajisnik in Pale.  Today Mr. Krajisnik is in The Hague, SFOR checkpoints are gone, and a mediation was held on the recreation of the former local communities (MZ's), as over 7,000 former citizens have succeeded in returning. Stolac is another example of how things have changed.  In 1998 there were almost daily explosions and fires in potential return areas. The town was run by a collection of nationalist hard-liners and organised criminals, and return seemed impossible. Today, one of the main topics in the municipality is the reintegration of the primary and secondary schools in the town centre, which hundreds of Bosniac children are attending.  Despite these positive signals, one cannot be satisfied or complacent with the current progress because citizens are not and will not be satisfied until all their basic human rights are ensured.  There are still many hundreds of property decisions that must be issued and implemented and alternative accommodation continues to be the main threat to full property law implementation, such as in Teslic.  Evictions even of economically or politically powerful individuals in Stolac must be carried out without delay.  The right to local self-government, such as to elect representatives to local communities (MZ) councils or to chose the name of MZ's, is vital for democracy and local economic development.In Stolac, Capljina and Teslic politicians committed themselves to completing the implementation of property legislation by the end of 2002.  This idea was unthinkable just a couple of years ago.  However, in order to achieve this goal, the international community must reassess whether it is beneficial to reduce financial assistance at a time when it is mostly needed, especially as returns are multiplying at an accelerated pace.  The argument that there is less money for Bosnia because of other international crises or because Bosnia has already received a lot of help in the past should be abandoned.  Instead the international community, especially the European Union, should realise that this is a crucial time for Bosnia, its citizens and the whole European continent.  In 1992 the EU was heavily criticised for not doing enough and for not being able to avert a war in Europe's own backyard.  However, in 2002 the EU is able to rehabilitate this past image by using all available means to ensure that those who want to return and that communities who abide by the rule of law and respect human rights will have the necessary means to meet the challenges ahead.  Those communities have opened up and accepted the returnees back, and they will have addition needs, such as in healthcare, infrastructure and education, which could be come unbearable.  If these communities do not receive the necessary aid they might make an unwanted link between returns and a worse standard of living and might reject future returns.

Trip Report 5/2001: 18-24 November 2001
(WORD, 208KB)