Azra Zornic is the epitome of a lady, fashionably elegant, with a neatly arranged hairstyle and an air of refined restraint. Only when she talks about the political situation in her home country of Bosnia and Herzegovina does the 65-year-old give up her reticence. The situation is worse than it has been in 30 years, says the pensioner bitterly. The existence of the multi-ethnic country is in danger – and with it the fragile peace.
Azra Zornic is currently organizing regular protests with comrades-in-arms in the capital Sarajevo, in front of the representations of foreign diplomats, including those of the EU. Azra does not want to accept that the flaming nationalists are not finally put down. “Why doesn’t Europe defend its own values here?” she asked in an interview with Deutsche Welle.
However, Azra’s anger is also directed against those actors who have declared war on the Bosnian state, above all the Serbian representative in the Bosnian state presidency, Milorad Dodik. For months, Dodik has been pushing for the secession of the Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated “entity” in Bosnia.
This is happening with the express support of Serbia. Aleksandar Vucic’s regime in Belgrade is increasingly aggressively propagating a reunification of the “Serbian world” – it is a continuation of the Greater Serbian ideology of the former ruler Slobodan Milosevic, which culminated in the Balkan wars in the 1990s.
Hand in hand: Serbian and Croatian nationalists against the Bosnian state
Dodik works hand in hand with the representative of the extremist Croatian party HDZ, Dragan Covic. The tandem brutally undermines the functionality of the state institutions. Covic wants to create his own, third, Croatian-dominated entity in Bosnia. He is supported by the political leadership in neighboring Croatia, which asserted its own territorial claims by force of arms during the war in Bosnia.
In order to expand their power base, the Bosnian Croats recently even threatened to resurrect the criminal para-state of Herceg-Bosna from the Bosnian War of 1992-95. According to the International UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, this “joint criminal enterprise” was an attempt to annex parts of Bosnia to Croatia. Mass expulsions, murders, rapes of non-Croats were the order of the day.
No equality for all citizens
Azra Zornic is convinced that the international community, with its course of appeasement towards the Croatian and Serbian igniters, bears the main responsibility for the current radicalization. The retiree has already made legal history with her commitment: she brought a lawsuit against the state of Bosnia before the European Court of Human Rights. She did not want to accept that you have to fit into an ethnic category in order to be able to run for certain government posts. And so she went to court as a “citizen” – and won.
Other Bosnians also appealed to the court to take action against the discrimination. The best-known case is undoubtedly that of Jakob Finci and Dervo Sejdic. Finci, the longtime chairman of the Jewish religious community, was born in 1943 in an Italo-fascist concentration camp on the Croatian island of Rab. In Strasbourg in 2009, he and his friend, Dervo Sejdic, sued a Rom.
Strasbourg judgments were not implemented
Both Jews and Roma are not allowed to run for the three-person presidential office. This consists of a Croatian, a Serbian and a Bosniak representative. According to the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords that ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, these posts are reserved exclusively for the three “constituent peoples”. However, the judges in Strasbourg ruled that this regulation contradicted the European Convention on Human Rights.
In an open letter a few months ago, Dervo Sejdic asked the High Representative for Bosnia, the German Christian Schmidt, not to lose sight of the group of those who were discriminated against, the “Others”. The High Representative is to ensure peace on behalf of the international community. But they have been delaying the plaintiffs’ request for years: none of the Strasbourg judgments on Bosnia’s unjust system have been implemented so far.
Dayton Constitution enshrines discrimination
Around 300,000 Bosnians are affected by the discrimination – more than ten percent of the population – especially those who live as minorities in ethnic majority areas: Ilijaz Pilav, a surgeon from Srebrenica, is not allowed to choose the Bosniak surgeon because he lives in the Republic of Srpska Have posts set up in the presidency. And Samir Slaku from Sarajevo is also denied a candidacy because of his Albanian roots; both also won in Strasbourg. The most recent case of this kind to be decided by the European Court of Justice in 2020 is that of Svetozar Pudaric, a Bosnian Serb who is also not permitted to run for president residing in the Croatian Muslim Federation.
The plaintiffs are supported by constitutional expert Nedim Ademovic. He considers the Dayton Constitution, which enshrines discrimination, to be deeply undemocratic. In 1995, the first thing the international community wanted to do was end the war, explains the lawyer. “People forgot to think about the functionality of the state. The citizens were simply abolished.”
The dubious role of the EU
He was disappointed, said the chairman of the Jewish community in Sarajevo, Jakob Finci, in an interview with Deutsche Welle. He has been waiting for his rights for more than 12 years: “All citizens must have the same rights.” But the Croatian, Serbian and Muslim nationalists, HDZ, SNSD and SDA, who have divided the country among themselves like feudal lords and operate an exploitative nepotism, show no interest in equating the discriminated groups via constitutional reform.
As the High Representative of the international community, Christian Schmidt is to ensure peace in Bosnia
Therefore, Zornic and Finci believe that the EU is in demand like no other. So far, however, the Union has been playing a rather dubious game: instead of rigorously demanding the implementation of the Strasbourg judges’ rulings, EU emissaries recently wanted to grant the large ethno blocs even more powers. Above all, the Croatian party HDZ wants to make concessions on electoral rights, which would make the already over-represented Croats even better off. However, this would deepen the ethnic division and destroy Bosnia’s multi-ethnic character once and for all. And with that, warns Azra Zornic, the EU would finally lose its credibility in the Balkans. And Jakob Finci adds: “I would like for Germany to play a stronger role. If the carrot doesn’t work, you have to act with tougher bandages.” Human rights are non-negotiable.