Bosnia and Herzegovina
|DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage||39.29 100|
|DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score||3.36 7|
- Local Democratic Governance: This rating improved from 3.00 to 3.25 due to competitive local elections that brought opposition candidates to power in major cities like Banja Luka and Sarajevo; also, elections were held in Mostar for the first time in 12 years.
As a result, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Democracy Score increased from 3.32 to 3.36.
By Aleksandar Brezar
In 2020, the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) focused significantly on managing the COVID-19 pandemic. However, after the initial shock and rallying around the unprecedented global health crisis, domestic political actors soon reverted to their usual political games. The post-electoral stalemate persisted in the entity of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), with Prime Minister Fadil Novalić and his cabinet operating in a technical mandate since 2018. FBiH PM Novalić, however, was one of the key actors in an ongoing corruption scandal related to the purchase of essential medical equipment during the pandemic, further jeopardizing BiH’s already fragile healthcare system and calling into question the competence of his government.
In the entity of Republika Srpska (RS), the actions of the dominant Bosnian Serb ethnonational party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), and its leader and Serb member of the country’s tripartite presidency, Milorad Dodik, continued to stand out as the most disruptive political forces in the country, with their claims of potential secession and BiH’s general dysfunctionality resurfacing as the first wave of the pandemic subsided. Indeed, the usual “rinse and repeat” dynamic of ethnonationalist politics returned as soon as the first COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. The “Corona-party” scandal resulted in a no-confidence vote for SNSD state-level minister Staša Košarac in the lower chamber of the state Parliamentary Assembly after footage emerged of him attending a gathering that violated public safety measures. Yet, Košarac held on to his seat after gaining support from none other than the Bosniak ethnonationalist Party of Democratic Action (SDA), joined by the main Bosnian Croat party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) BiH,1 in a clear show of political unity among the leading parties supposedly representing the interests of BiH’s three main ethnonational groups.
These three parties—SNSD, SDA, and HDZ BiH—had spent the entirety of 2019 disagreeing on almost all political issues, including state-level government formation, so this surprising display of unity in 2020 only served to demonstrate that they agree on keeping the country in limbo—a position that many argue BiH has been in for a quarter-century, since the signing of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. Personal interests and interparty politics continue to take precedence, even in the face of clear wrongdoing by government officials.
The state-level government thereby remained in limbo in 2020, with the adoption of the annual budget by the Parliamentary Assembly delayed until late July. This action required an emergency session that was convened only when budget limits threatened government functions; meanwhile, the delay also led to the postponement of local elections.
The fate of the almost 10,000 migrants and refugees in BiH remained unresolved in 2020, with the pandemic creating an even more unfavorable situation for those seeking safety either in the country or on their way to the European Union (EU). With the now-former Security Minister Fahrudin Radončić calling for the deportation of this population, which he deemed a “major security risk,” and local authorities struggling to find resources for their care, the living conditions for Europe’s unwanted became even more desperate. This situation continues to be in direct conflict with international laws on the treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers.
Many BiH citizens still want to leave the country themselves, mostly for Western Europe, with one estimate showing that almost 37,000 citizens emigrate annually.2 Even as many countries have closed their borders to immigrants or guest workers due to the pandemic, massive brain drain has continued apace, proving that emigration is an enduring form of protest against the country’s stagnating standard of living and the domestic political actors responsible for these conditions.
After being postponed, local elections took place across BiH on November 15. Elections in Mostar, scheduled separately for December, took place for the first time in 12 years and marked the end of administrative deadlock in the city. The elections also brought change in two of the country’s major centers, Sarajevo and Banja Luka, but voting did not go without a hitch, as seen in arrests related to alleged voter fraud in Srebrenica. Another major issue that is bound to spill over into 2021 is HDZ BiH leader Dragan Čović’s continuous questioning of the legitimacy of the Mostar elections after his party performed worse than expected. The Central Electoral Committee (CIK) has so far rejected all complaints related to any potential issues with elections in the city.
As the country anticipates severe strain on budgets at the various levels of government in 2021, questions remain over the long-term viability of the current cumbersome administrative system, which did little during the year to support those most affected by the pandemic. BiH’s progress toward EU accession remains stalled,3 and there are few reasons to believe the country is heading toward any shifts that would signal change or even improvement.
- 1“Staša Košarac ostaje ministar, u Parlamentu nije bilo većine za smjenu,” Klix, October 6, 2020, https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/stasa-kosarac-ostaje-ministar-u-parlame…
- 2(“Troškovi emigracije mladih iz Bosne i Hercegovine” [The Cost of Youth Emigration from Bosnia and Herzegovina], Westminster Foundation for Democracy, May 19, 2020, https://green-council.org/publik/Troskovi_emigracije_mladih_iz_BiH.pdf
- 3“Bosnia and Herzegovina 2020 Report,” European Commission, October 6, 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/bosnia_…
|Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches.||2.002 7.007|
- BiH has a complex system of governance, with its internal administration divided into two entities—the Bosnian Serb–majority RS and the Bosniak-Bosnian Croat–majority FBiH (which itself is divided into 10 cantons)—as well as the Brčko District. The division of competences between state-, entity-, and canton-level governments, on top of a cumbersome administrative apparatus in general, tends to obstruct key decision-making and enables the exploitation of various regulations and loopholes.
- The complicated nature of BiH’s governance system came to the fore at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, with multiple jurisdictions competing for control over the decision-making process. The two entities and the Brčko District all had their own crisis management teams issuing different rules throughout the initial lockdown period. This unharmonized approach, exacerbated by the lack of a state-level health ministry, led to a number of paradoxical situations.1 Intensive restrictions on public life prevented worst-case scenarios from playing out during the first wave of the pandemic,2 but the second wave hit hard, and by year’s end, BiH had one of the highest case fatality rates in the world.3
- In the FBiH entity, each of the 10 cantons also had its own crisis management team, making the chain of decision-making even more unclear. This scattershot approach led, for example, to a situation in Canton 10 in late March where the crisis management team issued a decision banning the entry of all citizens of BiH into its administrative territory. This caused an uproar from political leaders, such as the Bosniak member of the state-level presidency, Šefik Džaferović, FBiH PM Fadil Novalić, and state-level Security Minister Fahrudin Radončić, who labeled the decision unconstitutional and separatist.4 The decision was quickly withdrawn.
- A major political crisis arose when the state-level parliament failed to reach an agreement on BiH’s annual budget, effectively freezing all government processes and postponing local elections until the fall. This led to political bickering between the various parties, with fingers pointed mostly at the Bosnian Croat HDZ BiH for wanting to delay the local elections indefinitely as part of a larger bid to change the state- and entity-level electoral laws. The 2020 budget was finally adopted on July 29.5
- The state-level Council of Ministers also could not agree on how to use a €330 million emergency IMF loan that came in April to alleviate the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. The main point of contention was over whether individual FBiH cantons should have a say in the distribution of funds, as requested by Bosnian Croat representatives. This was vehemently opposed by Bosniak political actors, who asked for a more centralized decision. The funds remained blocked in the Central Bank of BiH until an agreement was finally reached in June.6
- One of the worst political rows of the year came in June, when state-level Security Minister Fahrudin Radončić submitted his resignation after other government coalition partners disagreed with his proposal to resolve the migrant crisis by deporting those already in the country, deeming almost 10,000 migrants and refugees “a major security risk.”7 Yet Radončić resigned mainly because he and his Union for a Better Future of BiH, SBB could not exert a larger influence on domestic politics as compared to the party trio of SDA-SNSD-HDZ BiH.
- In late May, SNSD leader Milorad Dodik caused a stir in a speech before the RS People’s Assembly when he stated that he had authorized wiretaps on members of the entity’s opposition. Although Dodik later claimed that he was merely joking, Branislav Borenović, leader of the opposing Party of Democratic Progress (PDP), filed a criminal complaint, while Transparency International, the U.S. Embassy in BiH, and numerous others issued statements insisting that this practice goes against the right to free speech.8
- By year’s end, the FBiH entity still had not chosen a new prime minister and cabinet, two years after the general elections. The stumbling block continued to be an amendment to the entity’s Electoral Law proposed by HDZ BiH, and opposed by SDA, that would permit preferential voting based on ethnonational majorities in specific cantons. This situation was further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.9
- 1Aleksandar Miladinović, “Korona virus u Bosni i Hercegovini: Jedna zemlja, tri borbe sa pandemijom” [Coronavirus in Bosnia and Herzegovina: One Country, Three Pandemic Battles], BBC, April 14, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/serbian/lat/balkan-52274888
- 2“Bosnia reports sharp rise in coronavirus cases after relaxing lockdown,” Reuters, April 29, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-bosnia-cases/bosn…
- 3“Mortality Analyses,” Johns Hopkins University, December 31, 2020, http://web.archive.org/web/20201231215958/https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/d…
- 4“Livanjski kanton povukao odluku o zabrani ulaska državljana BiH” [Livno Canton Withdraws Decision Banning BiH Citizens from Entry], RFE/RL, March 23, 2020, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/30503753.html
- 5“Usvojen budžet BiH za 2020” [2020 BiH Budget Adopted], Al Jazeera Balkans, July 29, 2020, http://balkans.aljazeera.net/vijesti/usvojen-budzet-bih-za-2020
- 6“Bosnia to distribute IMF emergency aid after six week halt,” Reuters, June 2, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-bosnia-imf/bosnia-to…
- 7D. Bezdrob, “Klix.ba Exclusive: Fahrudin Radončić Resigns as Minister of Security” [Klix.ba ekskluzivno saznaje: Fahrudin Radončić podnosi ostavku na mjesto ministra sigurnosti], Klix, June 2, 2020, https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/klix-ba-ekskluzivno-saznaje-fahrudin-ra…
- 8Danijel Kovačević, “Bosnian Serb chief shrugs off illegal wiretapping charges,” Balkan Insight, May 21, 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/05/21/bosnian-serb-chief-shrugs-off-ille…
- 9“Fifty-seventh report of the High Representative for Implementation of the Peace Agreement on Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Office of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, April 2020, https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3…, pg. 7
|Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process.||4.505 7.007|
- Elections in BiH are held every two years, alternating between general and local elections. In 2020, local elections were originally scheduled for October but postponed until November. As was the case in previous years, the country again failed to address necessary constitutional amendments that would ensure all citizens enjoy equal rights consistent with European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings; namely, the ECtHR’s original decision in Sejdić and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina has remained unimplemented for 11 years. The BiH constitution allows only members of the three main ethnic groups—Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks—to be elected to the state-level presidency and the Parliamentary Assembly’s House of Peoples, thus excluding minorities who do not identify as such, including Jews and Roma, and also those identifying as Bosnians. Furthermore, only Serbs from the RS entity, and Bosniaks and Croats from the FBiH entity, may run for the tripartite state presidency; any of the three from the Brčko District are ineligible to stand for election. Although the international community and institutions continued to urge for a resolution to this problem,1 no progress was made in 2020.
- In a positive development, elections finally took place in the city of Mostar after a 12-year interregnum, in accordance with the 2019 ECtHR ruling in Baralija v. Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, this can hardly be seen as a silver lining, as the decision to hold elections was made regardless of the ruling.
- In December, the ECtHR ruled in Pudarić vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina, deciding that Svetozar Pudarić, a Bosnian Serb living in the FBiH who tried to run for the Serb seat in the tripartite state presidency, had been discriminated against.2 His candidacy was rejected in 2018 by the Central Electoral Commission (CIK) due to electoral laws and regulations demanding that all Serb candidates must live in the RS. This ruling had not been implemented by year’s end.
- With the state-level budget adoption delayed (see “National Democratic Governance”), the CIK decided in late May to postpone the local elections until November 15 due to a lack of public funds, sparking a negative reaction from the SNSD. The party filed a complaint to the Constitutional Court and the Court of BiH. The Constitutional Court declared itself incompetent on the matter, while the Court of BiH made a ruling in July stating that the country’s Electoral Law was not violated by this decision. The state-level budget was adopted at an emergency parliamentary session on June 29, thus resolving the issue of funding for the elections.3
- Still, the 2020 local elections did not proceed without problems, some more typical than others. One recurring issue involved irregularities in voter registration lists. Citizens filed about 3,500 complaints with the CIK, many of which concerned deceased family members still registered to vote; voters registered in multiple locations, including abroad; and voters missing altogether from voter registration lists—all of these issues pointing to possible identity theft. The CIK asked citizens to check the lists and report all irregularities, while opposition politicians and former CIK members openly called for an investigation, claiming fraud and alleging the involvement of various political actors.4
- A major election fraud scandal took place in Srebrenica, where three individuals were ultimately arrested by the state security agency, SIPA, after allegations arose that they had aided and abetted the reelection of Mayor Mladen Grujičić (SNSD) by using personal information of local residents living abroad to falsely register them as (pro-Grujičić) voters in absentia in Serbia, among other schemes.5 The alleged fraudsters turned out to be members of the local branch of the Social Democratic Party (SDP); their case was still ongoing at year’s end.
- In Travnik, the SDA candidate for municipal head, Mirsad Peco, who won the election, died on election day.6 Although an HDZ BiH candidate came in second, after both the SDA and HDZ BiH lodged complaints and another candidate on the ballot (Elvedin Kanafija, SBB) had passed away in the meantime,7 the CIK nevertheless decided that Travnik would hold do-over elections.8
- In Bosanski Novi, elections were repeated on November 29 after it was determined that almost 400 ballots were pre-filled out ahead of the vote. An observer from the Pod Lupom election monitoring coalition notified the CIK, which opted for a repeat vote, while Pod Lupom also demanded a criminal investigation.9
- The results of the Mostar elections could not be confirmed by year’s end, after HDZ BiH and its leader Dragan Čović complained of unsubstantiated irregularities, including “vote counting at night,” which he said had led to votes being stolen from his party. Čović wrote a letter to international community representatives claiming that this situation, combined with a surge in voter turnout in the last hours of polling in certain parts of Mostar, “were a mockery of the agreement on elections in the city.”10 The Office of the High Representative (OHR) and the U.S. Embassy responded, stating that the CIK is the only formal recourse for any complaints on election irregularities. The CIK decided to allow a recount at seven polling stations in the city,11 and the final results were certified at the beginning of 2021 (see “Local Democratic Governance”).
- After a number of recount requests were filed with the CIK, the commission decided to approve recounts in eight municipalities: Cazin, Bihać, Teslić, Kakanj, Tuzla, Foča (FBiH), Novi Grad (RS), and Vareš.12 The recounts took place on December 8. Prior to these, the CIK also approved and undertook recounts in Bosanski Novi, Derventa, Gacko, Šekovići, Brčko, Srebrenik, Novo Sarajevo, Živinice, Zavidovići, Petrovac, Gradačac, Gradiška, and Osmaci, bringing the number to 21.13
- 1“Vijeće Evrope traži od BiH da provede presude Evropskog suda” [Council of Europe Asks that BiH Implements European Court’s Decisions], Al Jazeera Balkans, October 2, 2020, http://balkans.aljazeera.net/vijesti/vijece-evrope-trazi-od-bih-da-prov…
- 2“Još jedna presuda Evropskog suda: BiH diskriminisala Svetozara Pudarića” [Another European Court Ruling: BiH Discriminated Svetozar Pudarić], RFE/RL, December 8, 2020, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/30990221.html
- 3“Sud BiH: Odbija se žalba SNSD-a o odluci CIK-a za odgađanje izbora” [Court of BiH: SNSD’s Complaint Against CIK’s Decision to Delay Elections Rejected], RFE/RL July 22, 2020, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/30741717.html
- 4Samir Huseinović, “Izbori u BiH: Krađe identiteta i mrtvi na spiskovima” [Elections in BiH: Identity Theft and Deceased on Voter Lists], DW, October 12, 2020, https://dw.com/bs/izbori-u-bih-krađe-identiteta-i-mrtvi-na-spiskovima/a…
- 5A. Z., “Tri osobe uhapšene zbog izbornih prevara u Srebrenici” [Three Persons Arrested for Electoral Fraud in Srebrenica], Klix, December 1, 2020, https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/tri-osobe-uhapsene-zbog-izbornih-prevar…
- 6Bedrudin Brljavac, “Lokalni izbori u BiH: Od COVID-19 preminuo Mirsad Peco, kandidat za načelnika Općine Travnik” [Local Elections in BiH: Mirsad Peco, Candidate for Travnik Municipal Head, Dies of COVID-19], Anadolu Agency, November 15, 2020, https://www.aa.com.tr/ba/politika/lokalni-izbori-u-bih-od-covid-19-prem…
- 7M. Aš., “Od koronavirusa preminuo Elvedin Kanafija,” [Elvedin Kanafija Dies from Coronavirus], Avaz.ba, November 30, 2020, https://avaz.ba/vijesti/bih/612830/od-koronavirusa-preminuo-elvedin-kan…
- 8D. Be., “U Travniku će ipak biti održani prijevremeni izbori za načelnika,” [Travnik Will Hold Early Municipal Head Elections After All], Klix, January 21, 2021, https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/u-travniku-ce-ipak-biti-odrzani-prijevr…
- 9Dž. L., “Na biralište u Bosanskom Novom doneseno 400 unaprijed označenih glasačkih listića” [400 Pre-Filled Ballots Brought to Polling Station in Bosanski Novi], Klix, November 29, 2020, https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/na-biraliste-u-bosanskom-novom-doneseno…
- 10“Čović pisao Inzku, Sattleru, Nelsonu i Kavalec: Nakon 17 sati raspad sustava” [Čović Writes to Inzko, Sattler, Nelson and Kavalec: “The System Fell Apart After 5 PM”], N1, December 21, 2020, https://ba.n1info.com/vijesti/a497155-covic-pisao-inzku-sattleru-nelson…
- 11N. V., “CIK odlučio da ponovo broji glasove sa sedam biračkih mjesta u Mostaru” [CIK Decided to Recount Ballots from Seven Polling Stations in Mostar], Klix, December 27, 2020, https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/cik-odlucio-da-ponovo-broji-glasove-sa-…
- 12“Ponovna brojanja glasačkih listića” [Ballot Recounts], CIK, December 7, 2020, https://www.izbori.ba/Default.aspx?CategoryID=64&Lang=3&Id=3439
- 13See: http://www.izbori.ba/Lokalni_izbori_2020/Default.aspx?Lang=3.
|Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups.||4.505 7.007|
- Although BiH’s civic sector has 27,263 registered nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), according to the state Ministry of Justice registry,1 only a small number retained any notable influence in 2020, particularly on governmental decision-making. While the sector covers a wide variety of areas—from sports and culture to human rights, media monitoring, and humanitarian aid—most registered NGOs lack financial independence, limiting their capacity and potential. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic only decreased the effectiveness of civil society work, which showed an overall lack of presence and responsiveness during the year.
- The major problem in assessing the effectiveness of BiH civil society is the general lack of information on groups and their activities. The existing state Ministry of Justice registry is nontransparent, listing only NGO names, registration numbers, addresses, and authorized representatives yet no contact information, making NGO operations inaccessible not only to monitoring bodies but also the media and general public. This is particularly problematic since some NGOs, including government-organized NGOs (GONGOs) and war veterans’ associations, tend to operate in political areas. It is difficult, therefore, to ascertain from public information whether an organization represents genuine civic activism or conducts activities related to partisan interests. Although the number of NGOs did not change significantly over the year, the sheer volume of registered organizations per capita continues to raise questions about the purposes of many of these groups.
- An open question about the legal framework governing NGOs at the state level remained unaddressed in 2020. As in previous years, these organizations found themselves in a bind under the Labor Law in Institutions of BiH, which equates civil society actors with state institutions and thereby imposes burdensome employment obligations on the former.
- Financial dependence also remains a key issue, as only a small number of NGOs are sustainable or have the capacity to respond to calls for funding from international donors. The domestic government at various levels remains the largest local source of support, but the transparency of this funding is limited, with monies generally given out with no public calls or clear selection procedures. In addition, local authorities do not usually require spending reports or monitor and assess activities of NGOs they are funding, creating room not only for political influence but also irresponsible behavior.
- A major point of civic contestation came out of the Catholic Church in BiH's decision to hold the first-ever mass in Sarajevo for those killed in Bleiburg, Austria, in 1945. The Bleiburg event, in which Nazi-allied troops and civilians from the Independent State of Croatia (a WWII-era Nazi puppet regime) were executed en masse by Partisan troops, is often instrumentalized by Croat ultranationalists, so the Catholic Church’s decision to hold a mass was viewed as a provocation.2 The church held the event upon request from the “Honorary Bleiburg Platoon” (PBV), which decided to move the commemoration from Bleiburg under mounting pressure from the Austrian government to ban the event since it attracts neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists from across Europe.3 The mass was held in the Sarajevo Cathedral on May 16, with thousands of citizens joining in protests that took place in the city on the same day.4
- Scattered protests on environmental issues, including the construction of hydroelectric power plants throughout the country,5 continued into 2020. Many of these demonstrations have successfully halted construction of potentially destructive dams.
- 1“Zbirni e-registar udruženja i fondacija u BiH” [Joint e-Registry of Organizations and Foundations in BiH], Ministry of Justice of BiH, http://zbirniregistri.gov.ba/Home
- 2Nedim Dervišbegović, Danijel Kovačević, “Catholic Church in Bosnia to Hold Controversial WWII Mass,” Balkan Insight, May 8, 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/05/08/catholic-church-in-bosnia-to-hold-…
- 3Sven Milekić, “Croatia has Tarnished its Image over the Bleiburg Mass,” Balkan Insight, June 25, 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/06/25/croatia-has-tarnished-its-image-ov…
- 4Dž. L., “Pjesma "Bella Ciao" odjekivala Sarajevom dok je trajala misa za žrtve Bleiburga” [Bella Ciao Played in Sarajevo While Mass for Bleiburg Victims Took Place], Klix, May 16, 2020, https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/pjesma-bella-ciao-odjekivala-sarajevom-…
- 5Helen von der Brelie, “Hydro power to the people: the fight against Bosnia and Herzegovina's hydroelectric dams,” Euronews, July 17, 2020, https://www.euronews.com/2020/07/17/hydro-power-to-the-people-the-fight…
|Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media.||3.253 7.007|
- In 2020, BiH’s oversaturated market continued to be a major problem for the country’s media sphere, where many outlets are dependent on noncommercial sources of funding. Beyond the pressures exerted by editors and political actors, journalists were also exposed to increasing violence, including physical attacks. Furthermore, perennial crises in the function and administration of the country’s public broadcasters continued to go unresolved.
- The number of media remained largely unchanged during the year, including 8 daily newspapers, 7 news agencies, more than 100 print weekly and monthly periodicals,1 105 domestically licensed television stations, 147 radio stations,2 and hundreds, if not thousands, of online outlets. This quantity of media in a small market like BiH means that many outlets are highly dependent on public financing and therefore susceptible to political pressure. Two regional television networks—N1 and Al Jazeera Balkans—are typically more objective in their content than most other outlets.
- The COVID-19 pandemic led quickly to staff layoffs, the most notable being Oslobođenje’s firing of journalists and other staff in April. The BH Novinari press association reacted by appealing to media owners to stop further layoffs, while also asking Oslobođenje to reconsider its decision.3 The same association published a poll in June on the status of female journalists during the pandemic, determining that more than 10 percent were left without employment or income as a result, while 62.5 percent felt their workload had increased significantly during that period. A vast majority of those polled also stated they felt psychological consequences and increased fear for their safety and the safety of their family members during the year.4
- Attacks on journalists continued, with two cases getting the attention of media rights organizations and the local OSCE office. In the first case, journalists and the editor-in-chief of the Banja Luka-based portal Capital received verbal threats from Duško Perović, head of the RS Representative Office in the Russian Federation, in February;5 while in June, Sulejman Spahić, a member of the A-SDA party in Zenica, assaulted RTV Zenica journalist Sinan Gluhić after placing a threatening phone call related to the journalist’s posts on social media.6
- In mid-March, a measure was introduced in the RS entity forbidding the spread of false news intended to incite “panic and disorder” on social media7 during the state of emergency. The local office of Transparency International and media representatives8 noted that this measure could be used to censor free press. At least two citizens in Gradiška (RS) were fined for social media posts under this measure—one having criticized the local government—but no outlets were fined during the year.9 The Brčko District instituted a similar measure, which was described by Reporters Without Borders as curbing freedom of information.10
- BiH has three public broadcasters: the state-level BHRT and the two entity-level broadcasters, RTRS in the RS and FTV in the FBiH. Questionable practices again plagued all three, along with the ongoing problem of insufficient funding for the state-level public outlet. The BiH public broadcasters were heavily criticized in Reporters Without Borders’s annual “World Press Freedom Index,” which cited the outlets for creating “a hostile environment for media freedom.”11
- The appointment of former RTRS director Draško Milinović as head of the Regulatory Agency for Communications (RAK) raised concerns since RTRS was penalized on 3 separate occasions during his reign for 13 different breaches of the country’s communications regulations. These infractions included misleading reports on events during the Bosnian War, and personal attacks against prominent Bosniak activists.12
- The already saturated media environment in BiH is further polluted by a vast number of anonymous online portals lacking any apparent owner or information related to the outlets’ editors or journalists, or even any means of contact. The portals in question are used either to create and disseminate disinformation or promote information in favor of domestic political actors. An accurate count is hard to determine, but these outlets are thought to number in the thousands.13
- 1“Print media in BiH,” Press Council of BiH, https://www.vzs.ba/index.php/vijece-za-stampu/printani-mediji-u-bih/
- 2“Licenses,” Communications Regulatory Agency BiH (RAK), https://www.rak.ba/bs-Latn-BA/brdcst-license-holders
- 3“BH novinari: Zaustavite otpuštanje medijskih radnika” [BH Novinari: Stop Firing Media Workers], April 13, 2020, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/30551227.html
- 4“Posljedice COVID-19 na novinarke u BiH” [Consequences of COVID-19 on Female Journalists in BiH], BN TV, June 22, 2020, https://www.rtvbn.com/3986545/posljedice-covid19-na-novinarke-u-bih
- 5“OSCE Media Freedom Representative Désir dismayed by threats against journalists of web portal Capital in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” OSCE, February 24, 2020, https://www.osce.org/representative-on-freedom-of-media/446998
- 6“OSCE Media Freedom Representative and Head of Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina condemn physical attack and threats against journalist in Zenica,” OSCE, June 8, 2020, https://www.osce.org/representative-on-freedom-of-media/454158
- 7Danijel Kovačević, “Bosnia’s Republika Srpska Imposes Fines for Coronavirus ‘Fake News’,” Balkan Insight, March 19, 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/03/19/bosnias-republika-srpska-imposes-f…
- 8Danijel Kovačević, “Bosnia Trying to Censor Information About Pandemic, Journalists Say,” Balkan Insight, April 8, 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/04/08/bosnia-trying-to-censor-informatio…
- 9“Zbog širenja dezinformacija kažnjena sa 1.000 KM,” Nezavisne, March 21, 2020, https://www.nezavisne.com/novosti/hronika/Zbog-sirenja-dezinformacija-k…; Goran Obradović, “KAŽNJEN SA 1.000 KM Na Fejsbuku izazivao paniku i vrijeđao predstavnike institucija,” Srpska info, March 24, 2020, https://srpskainfo.com/kaznjen-sa-1-000-km-na-fejsbuku-izazivao-paniku-…
- 10“Repressive laws, prosecutions, attacks… Europe fails to shield its journalists against the abuse of the COVID-19 crisis,” Reporters Without Borders, April 8, 2020, https://rsf.org/en/news/repressive-laws-prosecutions-attacks-europe-fai…
- 11“Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Reporters Without Borders, https://rsf.org/en/bosnia-herzegovina
- 12Nejra Džaferagić, “New Head of Bosnian TV Regulator Criticised for War Crime Coverage,” Balkan Insight, August 13, 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/08/13/new-head-of-bosnian-tv-regulator-c…
- 13Aleksandar Brezar, “Disinformation and anonymous portals in Bosnia,” Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso, September 2, 2020, https://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Bosnia-Herzegovina/Disinformat…
|Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities.||3.253 7.007|
- As in previous years, the viability of local government was highly dependent on events at the national level. In parts of BiH, municipal heads continued the practice of turning a blind eye to irregularities and bending the rules in order to accommodate private investors. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has seen the number of investments dwindle, especially from abroad, and most public works projects have stalled or halted altogether.
- The RS entity has 56 municipalities and 8 cities, while the FBiH entity has 62 municipalities and 16 cities, the same numbers as in 2019. The practice of incorporating municipalities as cities in order to gain easier access to funds, as seen in past years, did not appear to continue in 2020.
- Local communities were particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the lockdown period between March and May distressing local economies and administrative budgets. Although entity-level governments announced economic measures that would favor small business owners, questions remained over whether appropriate attention was being paid to the sustainability of communities outside of the country’s major cities.1
- One result of the year’s local elections could be seen in the significant leadership changes in Sarajevo and Banja Luka, two of the country’s main urban centers. In Banja Luka, incumbent Igor Radojičić (SNSD) lost to Draško Stanivuković, marking a major loss for the SNSD in what was considered one of its strongholds. Stanivuković rejected the idea of Banja Luka hosting a Pride event,2 and along with other ethnonationalist populist statements, he appears unlikely to step away from the politics of the previous ruling party. In Sarajevo Canton, the Centar municipality head was won by Srđan Mandić from Naša Stranka, replacing SDA’s Nedžad Ajnadžić, with Mandić and Naša Stranka expected to have a more liberal approach. SDA also lost municipal heads in Novo Sarajevo and Ilidža, with the three new leaders all hailing from the so-called Foursome coalition comprising the SDP, Narod i Pravda (“People and Justice”), Naša Stranka (“Our Party”), and Nezavisna Bosanskohercegovačka Lista (“Independent Bosnian List”).3
- In Mostar, an agreement between SDA and HDZ BiH was finally struck after 12 years of no elections, followed by legislative amendments in July. The agreement’s significance is heightened by the fact that all previous talks had ended in stalemates, but this time the international community finally brokered a deal. This outcome seemingly signals that political processes in BiH can work when there is sufficient will on all sides. The lack of a city council had left Mostar with a significant number of administrative issues, causing it to barely function as a result.4 Elections in Mostar were scheduled for December 20, later than those in the rest of the country.5 In the end, the HDZ BiH picked up the most seats (13 out of 35), followed by the SDA and its allies with 12 seats, while the multiethnic BH Blok Mostar won just 6 seats, signaling the continued ascendence of the ethnonational politics that created the city’s 12-year electoral interregnum.6
- The coalition government in Sarajevo Canton, under considerable pressure in 2019, was finally toppled in late January7 after the then-opposition SDA managed to gain enough support in the cantonal assembly for its removal. The six-party coalition had been the first non-SDA government in more than a decade and had operated under fire from the SDA-led opposition since the 2018 elections. A replacement SDA-led government found itself under pressure after taking control later in the year, and the cantonal prime minister, Mario Nenadić, resigned in late November to prevent a vote of no-confidence in the assembly.8
- 1Admir Čavalić, Faruk Hadžić, Damir Bećirović, “COVID-19, ekonomske posljedice za Bosnu i Hercegovinu, mjere i rješenja” [COVID-19, Economic Consequences for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Measures and Solutions], Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit Bosnien-Herzegowina, April 15, 2020, https://westbalkan.fnst.org/sites/default/files/uploads/2020/04/15/covi…
- 2“Stanivuković: Dok sam ja na čelu grada, neće biti gej parade u Banjaluci” [Stanivuković: As Long as I Lead the City, There Will Be No Gay Parade in Banja Luka], N1, November 28, 2020, http://rs.n1info.com/Region/a677628/comments/Stanivukovic-Dok-sam-ja-na…
- 3Dragan Stanimirović, Ivana Momčilović-Odobašić, “Novi načelnici ‘Četvorke’: Sarajevo pokaže svoje pravo lice tek kada dignu ruke od njega” [New “Foursome” Municipal Heads: Sarajevo Shows Its True Face Only When Everyone Gives Up on It], Al Jazeera Balkans, November 18, 2020, https://balkans.aljazeera.net/program/kontekst/2020/11/18/novi-nacelnic…
- 4Aleksandar Brezar, “Inside Mostar, the Bosnian city that hasn't had a local election in 12 years,” Euronews, October 2, 2020, https://www.euronews.com/2020/10/02/inside-mostar-the-bosnian-city-that…
- 5“Lokalni izbori 2020 – Mostar,” CIK, July 27, 2020, https://www.izbori.ba/Default.aspx?CategoryID=1038&Lang=3
- 6“Central Election Commission confirms Mostar election results,” N1, January 4, 2021, https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/central-election-commission-confirms…
- 7“Pala Vlada Kantona Sarajevo” [Sarajevo Canton Government Toppled], BHRT, January 29, 2020, https://bhrt.ba/pala-vlada-kantona-sarajevo/
- 8“Mario Nenadić podnio ostavku!” [Mario Nenadić Resigns!], N1, November 18, 2020, https://ba.n1info.com/vijesti/a488027-mario-nenadic-podnio-ostavku/
|Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions.||3.003 7.007|
- The BiH judicial system operates on several administrative levels, with the state, the two entities, and the Brčko District each having its own separate judiciaries. This, coupled with 10 cantonal court systems in the FBiH, has resulted in a complex and inefficient system in which jurisdictions are not clearly delineated. Furthermore, courts are subject to political pressure.
- The weakness of the country’s judicial system was on full display during the so-called Respirators affair (see “Corruption”), which led to the arrest of FBiH Prime Minister Fadil Novalić and two other suspects. A demand by the State Prosecutor’s Office that the trio be held for one month for fear they might exert pressure on witnesses was rejected by the Court of BiH (the country’s highest court), sparking public outrage over what appeared to be favorable treatment for primary suspects in arguably the biggest corruption case in recent years.1 The State Prosecutor’s Office filed a complaint against the decision, which was also rejected, and the three suspects were immediately released.
- Although the RS entity government announced that it would remove all mentions of the death penalty from RS laws and its constitution after a ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court, the entity government missed its three-month deadline to comply, and the problematic provision was still in the entity’s constitution at year’s end.2 The abolition of the death penalty is a prerequisite for EU membership.
- After a decade and a half of delays, the country finally saw the opening of its first state-level prison. The Vojkovići facility, first announced in 2006, was opened in late July, with prisoners arriving in September. In the past, the BiH prison system had been overburdened to the point of that sentences were convicted criminals were delayed for months or years, leading to repeat offenses. The Vojkovići facility, however, is not expected to operate immediately at maximum capacity, with authorities citing the need to institute appropriate hiring procedures for managers.3
- In 2020, no movement was made on the ECtHR decision from October 2019 in the Fata Orlović case, which ruled for the removal of an Orthodox Christian church built illegally on the claimant’s property. Orlović, a Bosniak, returned in 2000 to Konjević Polje in the RS entity to find a church on her plot of land, which was built in 1996 without her knowledge or consent. Orlović filed her first complaint in 2002 before a local court in Srebrenica. Despite several rulings in her favor, the church, although emptied in the meantime, had not been removed as of year’s end.4 The ECtHR ruling came with a three-month deadline to remove the structure.
- The situation with migrants and refugees in BiH, already nearing a catastrophe in 2019, grew progressively worse in the latter half of 2020, in part because local governments refused to reopen shelters that were closed in 2019. The horrific living conditions at the Lipa camp in the country’s northwest led those sheltered there to apparently destroy it in protest; the camp’s population then went on a mass hunger strike, further exacerbating the crisis. In response, the Una-Sana Canton government refused to reassign the Lipa residents to other camps in the same canton, drawing criticism from domestic and international actors.5 After the residents of Bradina in Herzegovina-Neretva Canton refused to allow migrants and refugees to be moved to a camp in their town,6 a lack of agreement and any discernible plan between various levels of government and international organizations, such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM), left at least 1,300 former residents of the Lipa camp stranded in winter without any shelter at all.
- 1I. P. “Tužilaštvo se žalilo na puštanje Novalića, Solaka i Hodžića: Svi građani moraju biti jednaki pred zakonom” [Prosecutor’s Office Complains Against Novalić. Solak and Hodžić Release: All Citizens Must Be Equal Before Law], Klix, June 3, 2020, https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/tuzilastvo-se-zalilo-na-pustanje-novali…
- 2Dejan Šajinović, “Smrtna kazna nije izbrisana iz Ustava RS” [Death Penalty Not Removed from the RS Constitution], Nezavisne Novine, August 7, 2020, https://www.nezavisne.com/novosti/bih/Smrtna-kazna-nije-izbrisana-iz-Us…
- 3Slaviša Starčević, “Državni zatvor počinje sa radom 1. avgusta, ali ne za zatvorenike” [State Prison Operatinal from August 1, But Not for Prisoners], N1, July 24, 2020, http://ba.n1info.com/Vijesti/a358800/Drzavni-zatvor-pocinje-sa-radom-1…
- 4“Fata Orlović za N1: Crkva još u mojoj avliji”[Fata Orlović for N1: The church is still in my backyard], N1, July 8, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlYJytgtNIk&ab_channel=N1
- 5“Cikotić: Vlast u USK je iskomplikovala rješavanje migrantske krize, veći teret je na Sarajevu” [Cikotić: The USK Government Complicated the Migrant Crisis Soultion, Heavier Burden on Sarajevo], Klix, December 27, 2020, https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/cikotic-vlast-u-usk-je-iskomplikovala-r…
- 6D. Be., “Mještani Bradine blokirali kasarnu gdje trebaju doći migranti, načelnik Konjica do danas nije imao saznanja” [Residents of Bradina Blocked Barracks Supposed to Host Migrants, Konjic Mayor Had No Knowledge Until Today], Klix, December 29, 2020, https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/mjestani-bradine-blokirali-kasarnu-gdje…
|Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives.||3.003 7.007|
- Prevalent corruption continued to plague BiH in 2020. Ongoing anticorruption activities were conducted mostly by NGOs and the media, while government institutions refrained from showing any interest or desire to tackle this long-standing and widespread issue. Anticorruption legislation remains largely unharmonized between the various levels of government, so any available anticorruption mechanisms are ineffective at best, compounded by the lack of political will.
- The biggest corruption case in years came amid the first wave of COVID-19 with a questionable purchase of Chinese-made respirators by the government of the FBiH entity. The €5.5 million tender was awarded to Srebrna Malina, a company registered for the production of raspberries. The purchased respirators were deemed overpriced and unsuitable for use on COVID-19 patients, which led the State Prosecutor’s Office to open a corruption case against FBiH PM Fadil Novalić, head of the FBiH Civil Protection Service Fahrudin Solak, and Srebrna Malina owner Fikret Hodžić.1 All three were arrested and questioned, with Solak suspended from duty. Although there were calls for PM Novalić to resign, he remained in office while the case continued at year’s end.
- At the same time, another respirator-related scandal emerged in the RS entity. SIPA opened an investigation into the RS Health Insurance Fund for a purchase of equipment from Medietik that allegedly netted a profit of up to €5.5 million for the private company against a product value of about €1.5 million.2 The scandal, on top of existing doubts about the quality of the respirators, prompted the State Prosecutor’s Office to open a case in late June.3
- High Judiciary and Prosecutorial Council (VSTV) president Milan Tegeltija, accused in 2019 of soliciting bribes, continued to bethe judicial system’s weakest link. After the state-level Parliamentary Assembly formed a temporary investigative committee to look into the allegations, Tegeltija publicly denounced the effort in June, stating that “members of VSTV will not cooperate” with the investigation.4 However, in November, an additional recording appeared online in which Tegeltija allegedly promised to find employment for a colleague’s sister.5 This sparked condemnation from domestic political actors and the international community.6 Tegeltija defended himself by claiming that the recording was “a highly sophisticated montage” created by the country’s Intelligence-Security Agency (OSA) and that his personal safety was in peril.7 With demands for his resignation increasing, and after losing the support of other members of the VSTV, Tegeltija finally resigned on December 16.8
- Another of the year’s high-profile cases saw former state prosecutor Božo Mihajlović receive a sentence of five years in prison for failing to prevent his assistant from embezzling almost €120,000 between 2006 and 2015. Mihajlović had been on trial since late 2018, and although the theft occurred without his knowledge, he was found responsible for enabling the crime. The case against the assistant is currently with the Sarajevo Canton Prosecutor’s Office.9
Author: Aleksandar Brezar is a journalist from Bosnia focusing on the countries of the Western Balkans and a regular contributor for Euronews English. He has worked as Brussels correspondent for BHRT (National Radio-Television of Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Balkan Insight while also serving as a regular contributor for BiH on topics ranging from NATO and EU integrations to war crimes processes and peace-building efforts. At BHRT, he served as Head of New Media; at Analiziraj, he was Senior Contributor on media ethics and disinformation debunking and fact-checking. He has also contributed to the Guardian, Washington Post, PBS, and Al Jazeera English. Brezar won the Poynter Institute’s inaugural Balkan Factchecking Award (2017) and the Europa Nostra Award and Grand Prix for Preservation of Cultural Heritage (2016).
- 1I. P., “Fadil Novalić, Fahrudin Solak i Fikret Hodžić prenoćili u SIPA-i, na potezu Tužilaštvo BiH” [Fadil Novalić, Fahrudin Solak and Fikret Hodžić Spend Night in the SIPA Offices, BiH Prosecutor’s Office to Make the Next Move], Klix, May 29, 2020, https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/fadil-novalic-fahrudin-solak-i-fikret-h…
- 2“SIPA provodi predistražne radnje o kupovini respiratora u Republici Srpskoj” [SIPA Opens Pre-investigative Inquiry on Purchase of Respirators in the Republika Srpska], RFE/RL, June 11, 2020, https://www.slobodnaevropa.org/a/30665272.html
- 3Ljiljana Smiljanić, “Tužilaštvo BiH formiralo predmet o nabavci respiratora u Republici Srpskoj” [State Prosecution Opens Case on Purchase of Respirators in the Republika Srpska], Al Jazeera Balkans, June 29, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rq04W2F8BaY
- 4A. D., “Istražna komisija Parlamenta BiH osudila izjavu Milana Tegeltije” [BiH Parliament’s Investigative Committee Condemned Milan Tegeltija’s Statement], Klix, June 25, 2020, https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/istrazna-komisija-parlamenta-bih-osudil…
- 5Avdo Avdić, “Poslušajte kako Milan Tegeltija obećava imenovanja u pravosuđu: ‘Neka se prijavi za Gradišku i Prijedor, pa ćemo je kasnije prebaciti’” [Listen to Milan Tegeltija Promise Namings in the Judiciary: ‘She Should Apply for Gradiška and Prijedor, and We’ll Transfer Her Later”], Istraga, November 26, 2020, https://www.istraga.ba/poslusajte-kako-milan-tegeltija-obecava-imenovan…
- 6“Ambasada SAD: Tegeltijina ostavka jedan od mnogih potrebnih koraka” [US Embassy: Tegeltija’s Resignation of Many Necessary Steps], December 10, 2020, https://ba.voanews.com/a/bih-ambasada-sad-tegeltija-ostavka/5694566.html
- 7A. Z. “MIlan Tegeltija prijavio SIPA-i da je dobio prijetnje smrću” [Milan Tegeltija Filed Report to SIPA on Receiving Death Threats], Klix, December 6, 2020, https://www.klix.ba/vijesti/bih/milan-tegeltija-prijavio-sipa-i-da-je-d…
- 8“BiH: Milan Tegeltija podnio ostavku” [BiH: Milan Tegeltija Resigns], Al Jazeera Balkans, December 16, 2020, https://balkans.aljazeera.net/news/balkan/2020/12/16/milan-tegeltija-po…
- 9Nedim Dervišbegović, “Bosnia Convicts Former State Prosecutor in Embezzlement Case,” Balkan Insight, June 9, 2020, https://balkaninsight.com/2020/06/09/bosnia-convicts-former-state-prose…
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Global Freedom Score53 100 partly free