UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Bosnia's international administrator lashed out at Bosnia's elected officials and political leaders Thursday for putting their interests ahead of average citizens who face mounting economic problems, rampant corruption and 44 percent unemployment.
International high representative Valentin Inzko painted a grim picture of the Balkan nation in a briefing to the U.N. Security Council, saying the country has been going "the wrong way" for eight years and warning that it is "in danger of falling into a vicious downward cycle of spiteful tit for tat politics that it will be difficult to emerge from."
Bosnia's 1992-1995 civil war that killed an estimated 100,000 people ended with the Dayton Peace Agreement. It split the country into two semi-autonomous mini-states along ethnic lines, one shared by Bosniak Muslims and Croats and the other, known as Republika Srpska, for Serbs.
Bosnia is scheduled to hold elections in October and Inzko called for "a frank, robust and action-oriented public debate on how rampant corruption, exceedingly high unemployment, and ... lack of progress on Euro-Atlantic integration are going to be urgently overcome by the incoming governments."
In the last six months, he said, Bosnia has made no progress toward joining the EU because its leaders have failed to make changes required by the European Court of Human Rights to the constitution, which now bars minorities from running for parliament or president.
Bosnia has also been stalled in activating its NATO "Membership Action Plan" because there has also been no progress on the question of the ownership of military property, Inzko said. Inzko said another major challenge is that senior politicians from Republika Srpska are exploiting events in Ukraine's pro-Russian east to promote their own separatist agenda.
These Serb leaders have called for a referendum and repeatedly called for — and predicted — "the end of Bosnia and Herzegovina," he said. Inzko, whose position as high representative was created in 1995 immediately after Dayton, told the council that he has made clear repeatedly that the Dayton agreement does not allow for either half of the country to secede.
"The international community must continue to say clearly that our commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina is absolute," he said. "We must stand firm against those who seek to sow division and disintegration."
The worst unrest in Bosnia since the civil war happened Feb. 4 in the northern city of Tuzla, where peaceful protests turned violent as thousands of factory workers burned government buildings and clashed with police over the sell-off of four state-owned companies that left them without jobs. The violence spread to other cities, including the capital, Sarajevo, with grievances growing to include unemployment, corruption and a widening gap between rich and poor.
Inzko, an Austrian diplomat, told the Austrian "Kurier" daily on Feb. 9 — two days after the protests turned violent — that if the situation escalated, "we will possibly have to think about EU troops. But not right now." The troops were never called in but he told the Security Council that significant damage was done to a number of public buildings and "notable numbers" of police and some demonstrators were injured.
"While some politicians understood the clear messages of those protesting, others sought to misrepresent the protests as ethnically motivated or organized from outside the country," Inzko said. "This was simply not the case."
He welcomed the peaceful protesters and the new civic engagement in Bosnia, and urged international support to ensure that the growth in activism leads to greater participation in the election process — from selection of candidates to discussion of issues and voting.
Bosnia's U.N. Ambassador Mirsada Colakovic told the council that the country recognizes the need to strengthen the rule of law, fight corruption and institute financial accountability measures in order to promote economic development and security.
She insisted that Bosnia has also made "significant progress" toward European integration and cited other "positive developments" but said "we are aware of the standoff in the political process."