Interview with Esref Kenan Rasidagic Visiting Professor

Interview with Esref Kenan Rasidagic visiting professor from the University of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Professor was visiting Vytautas Magnus University under the bilateral Erasmus+ agreement with the University of Sarajevo

Interview was conducted by Virginija Balčiūnaitė

To begin with, could you introduce the overall situation of the civil society in Bosnia and Herzegovina: its formation and current threat from ‘fake NGOs’?
NGO and civil sector in Bosnia wasn’t born out of experience of the people, it was born as a response to available donor funds. NGOs and people in the NGO sector are viewed by the general population as an elite. As a resul to it, the agenda of the civil sector was compromised, because people viewed it as something imposed on them by the international donors.
However, NGO sector at the moment is undergoing a huge transformation in Bosnia: a genuine civil sector is developing now. It’s the beginning of a civil sector, where people are passionate about issues they are fighting for. This is crutial, because we have people in the governments who exchange for money will give a lisence to build anything. The only people who act as a balance to this is the civil sector.
The ‘fake NGOs’ are really dangerous. Because they are not politically identifiable as such. On the face of it, they appear as genuine NGO, but they have an agenda. Moreover, it’s not only political parties, recently Turkey has sponsored a number of these NGOs. I know 2-3 these NGOs in Sarajevo and Zenica who are now organizing massive demonstrations in support for the president Erdogan. These kind of people are dangerous, they can easily pursuave the public opinion.
Talking about public opinion, why do you think people keep on voting for the same nationalistic parties? If they are so frustrated and annoyed with the government, then why the same parties keep on winning?  
There are two reasons. One is the compartmentalization of the political space – you always vote for someone that is going to protect the national interest. You have divided or compartmentalized into Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. Thus, it was made meaningless for us to vote for any other party but national party that protects our interest, because everything – all the political dynamics in Bosnia – is about fighting for national interest. You can be a social democrat, you can be a green party member, but the moment you are elected, you go to the parliament and your vote is counted as a vote of a Bosniak, Croat or a Serb. So you can’t fight for social democrats, you can’t vote for environment, because everything translates into a struggle between three political groups.
The second this is, Bosnia has turned into a client state, because it’s the country with a highest number of electoral officials per capita in the world, officially. No country, of comparable size has 180 minsters, ministries, and agencies. Basically it has transformed Bosnia into a country, where everyone hopes to get their peace of a cake. How do you get that? By being connected to the right party that can get you a job once you are in power.
Then, is there a possibility of change?
Initially, it is very easy to change the system: just remove the veto power (currently, representatives of the three constituent people have the power of veto), turn this into proper democracy, majority voting. It’s only a few things, nothing else, no huge investments. But no one cares about Bosnia. US, if they decide to come back, could pull these few moves that need to be pulled to turn this country into a proper, functional democracy. But until that happens, nothing is going to work, because we are stuck with this veto powers, we are stuck with this composition of government. It cannot be solved, because it requires changing the Dayton Agreement (Dayton Peace agreement put an end to the Bosnian war in 1995). But you cannot change the Dayton unless all three sides agree. Who is going to agree to this? Who is going to agree himself getting rid of the veto power? That is impossible.
Do you think another ethnical war might happen in order to change the current system? What is the situation of the radicalization process?
No. All of the wars and conflicts in Western Balkans and Former Yugoslavia happened on the fringes of a larger conflicts. It didn’t happen on isolation. 1990s’ conflict happened because Yugoslavia was collapsing. People were unemployed, they were jobless, went on the streets and were trying to find culprits. Culprits are easier to find in a multi-ethnic state. Who is the culprit in Estonia? Russians! Who is the problem in Lithuania? There’s not so many Russian, then you cannot blame yourself.
Now we hate each other, but don’t fight. Why we are not fighting? Because there is no external power, why did Serbs start fighting in Bosnia? Because they had tens of thousands of Yugoslav army soldiers stations in Bosnia. While Bosniaks and Croats had nothing. Right now, we are all equal.
Regarding radicalization process, people have been getting radicalized for a really long time, I’ve stopped counting. The worst has already happened, Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks were at maximum of their radicalization during the war. They were killing and slaughtering each other, there were consentration camps, people were being raped. How radical can you get to do this? So now sometimes they hold demonstrations, they have these funny caps and they sing stupid songs in football games, but they don’t slaughter each other at night.
Finally, the country is known for ratifying and signing major treaties and documents of human rights, but implementation is a difficult issue. What is your perception on this? What do you think is the current situation of human rights in Bosnia?
The biggest issue is that we don’t allow non-constituent people (e.g. Roma or Jew and etc.) to run for the office on the state level. There are two offices (Presidency and House of People) that you cannot be elected to if you are not Bosniak, Croat or Serb – and that is not because everybody is prohibited, but because when Americans were writing the consitution and Dayton, they forgot to mention ‘the others’. They said, there are three members of the Presidency: one is Bosniak, one is Serb and the other is a Croat. These are the people who were fighting, these are the constituent peoples.
Considering the Roma people, they are poor, their community has been neglected, but the government is doing as much as they can to build houses for them and run a lot of projects, trying to find employment. This is not a matter of accommodating Roma and the others, but it’s a matter of changing the constitution, which will fault one of the sides.
Another issue conserns education, which is a matter of cantonal affairs. Croats want their kids to go to school and follow Croatian national curricula, Bosniak want Bosnian national curricula and you end up unable to resolve this issue. It’s a disaster. I remember, slipping through the geography book from the Croat national curriculum and kids are being taught that their capital city is Zagreb. While they live in Bosnia. We are teaching kids to hate each other. For instance, Serbs are the majority in Srebrenica and they are discriminating the Bosniak kids.
I think it’s disaster, I think we should all follow one curricula. It doesn’t make any sense, that kids who live next to each other in the same street, believe in three different versions of history. But that is the nature of the political settlement in Bosnia where there are three different competing narratives living next to each other.

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