This is a second paper on the proposal for a National Conference, incorporating comments and reactions to the first paper.
Bosnia is approaching another critical period. The failure of Bosnia to endorse the EU’s Reform plan has left both the Republika Srspka (RS), the largely Serb entity aiming for independence, and the Federation, comprising the Croat and Muslim entities, facing a liquidity crisis in September/October – because the plan brought with it the promise of considerable funding. Now there are no new international top down initiatives. And the scale of the problems facing this small, battered and beautiful country are immense: endemic poverty and unemployment on a massive scale, corrupt political practices, the failure of the entity and state governments to function, the threat of ISIS and above all the possibility that Bosnia would break up as the RS in particular threatens to secede. Russia’s influence in the Balkans is growing: Milorad Dodik, the President of the RS recently returned from an international economic forum in St Petersburg confident of a large loan from Russia to prevent the RS becoming bankrupt. At the time of writing the loan has not arrived – but the promise alone is alarming, suggesting the Kremlin is extending its influence into Central Europe.
To address this situation it is intended to hold a National Conference on the future of Bosnia Herzogovina, initiated and organised by a Consortium of NGOs and academics from across the country.
The idea for this Conference emerged from the citizens’ assemblies of February 2014. These assemblies which sprang up across Bosnia were important because for the first time since the end of the war Bosnians expressed their dismay, frustration and rage at what was happening to their country. These assemblies were self-selected, not elected and therefore not considered by officials from the international community to be representative. They had no means of making decisions except by acclamation let alone interacting with elected politicians. They are less active now, but the issues raised have not gone away.
Aim of the Conference
The aim is to ensure that the widespread concerns and demands of Bosnian citizens are placed at the heart of public debate, public policy making and political activity.
- The Bosnian Consortium. The Consortium will take charge of the preparation, the conference and the follow up. The Consortium will be put together by Adnan Jabucar – the Soul of Europe’s representative in Sarajevo together with 2 or 3 Bosnia NGOs. This small group will invite others to join the Consortium. Representation in the Consortium will include NGOs from the RS.
- The Soul of Europe (UK)
- Given this initiative was put together by the Soul of Europe (UK),it is important to repeat: the Bosnian Consortium is the key player. The role of the Soul of Europe(UK) will be to support and encourage and only when invited contribute to the conference, its planning and follow up.
- Think Tank
A useful resource for the Consortium is Dialogue BiH 20. Its weekly reports of analysis and commentaries could be useful for the Consortium. Miran Nordeland the Managing Editor has offered to assist.
Once the Consortium is established, their agenda will include:
- Date of conference, location venue, length and use of social media.
- Participants. The Consortium will decide who should be invited. It could be that politicians from all parties are invited, but only as observers. At some stage decided by the Consortium they may be invited to participate fully.
- Possible matters to be considered at the conference – to be decided by the Consortium:
a) The Constitution: This will need careful presentation to ensure the participation of Bosnian Serbs.
b) The Economy: What needs to be done to encourage inward investment
c) Education: Coping with the brain drain
d) The BiH Council for Minorities and how this functions
e) Freedom of the Media: Issues around censorship, and the law introduced by the RS to prosecute misuse of social media
f) Interfaith Issues: How the religious communities can collaborate
h) What has this list left out?: Dialogue BiH 20 has useful links.
The Consortium will have to decide how many of these areas will be addressed. Maybe there are too many. On the other hand it should be possible to introduce all these subjects given the possibilities of social media and live streaming, and the follow up proposals.
The conference could then undertake one or two activities, The first is to establish working groups on the subjects raised at the conference. Another is to visit the major towns in Bosnia to present the findings of the conference and the ongoing work of the groups. The Consortium will decide how the conference will undertake the follow up and the involvement of political parties.
Reconvening the Conference
The conference will then reconvene perhaps four months later when the proposals will be presented, with the full participation of politicians, religious leaders, etc. At this point the Consortium will decide if the conference should formally end or if it should be a more or less a permanent institution – ensuring the concerns of citizens are central to the political agenda.
Funds have been given towards the basic costs of the conference. But funding will be required to ensure the follow up is carried out as effectively as possible.
The small steering group to set up the Bosnian Consortium will be formed,
- NGOs, academics and others will be invited to join the Bosnia Consortium
- Planning for the conference will begin
Finally, while this initiative is significant for the future of Bosnia Herzegovina, nothing will work out quite as planned. On the other hand, no one should underestimate the ingenuity and determination of Bosnians to transform their society, once an opportunity is given. This is exactly what the National Conference intends to do.