The slough of despond
Amar Causevic, a Bosnian citizen getting his master’s degree at SAIS, writes of Sunday’s municipal elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina (results are not yet in from Srebrenica, which may require a more in-depth look in the near future):
The campaign is over. No more posters on waste containers and schools, political gatherings under tents filled with turbo-folk music or poisonous ethnic rhetoric in the local media. Bosnia has ended one more post-war municipal electoral cycle. What were the results? How did the electorate of this war-torn, economically stagnant and politically gridlocked Western Balkan state assign its votes? Can we expect anything to change?
Bosniak voters decided to embrace once again the nationalist Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and punish the Social Democratic Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina (SDP). Among Serbs, the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) made a skyrocketing comeback at the expense of the dominant Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). For Croats, by contrast, it was business as usual. The nationalist Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia-Herzegovina (HDZ) retained its supremacy. The weaker Croat and Bosniak parties (the Croatian Democratic Union 1990 and Fahrudin Radoncic’s Union for a Better Future of Bosnia-Herzegovina) failed to fulfill pre-election expectations.
In short, avowed ethnic nationalists defeated avowed social democrats, as they have often in post-war Bosnia. The three winning parties in 2012 also won the first post-communist election in 1990. That political cocktail led within two years to war.
The nationalists—SDA, SDS and HDZ—have held power most of the time since the war ended in late 1995. Their inefficient rule, interrupted only briefly by stagnant and uninspiring periods under social democrats, has produced a country that enters more serious socio-economic decay every year. The citizens betray the “mentality of the subordinated” and continue to choose the same leadership.
There were other options. They could have voted for the smaller parties that have never had a chance to hold power. This would at least have opened the door to fresher, if not better, politicians.
There is no room for progress and change in Bosnia. Its politics resist the notion of the ancient Greek philosopher Simplicius of Cilicia that “everything flows” (panta rhei). The country is stuck in its own slough of despond, as John Bunyan describes it:
This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.