Bosnia’s Ten Years Without Alija

Posted on 10/22/13
By Hamza Karcic | Via Today's Zaman
Bosnia's first democratically elected president, Alija Izetbegović.
Bosnia’s first democratically elected president, Alija Izetbegović.
This October 19 marked the 10th anniversary of the death of independent Bosnia’s first democratically elected president, Alija Izetbegović.

Elected to the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina in late 1990, Izetbegović remained a member of the Presidency until 2000. During the aggression on Bosnia from 1992 until 1995, Izetbegović was the president of the Presidency and the undisputed leader of the Bosniak nation. The position of the Bosniak leader was cemented after the war and was to remain so until his death in 2003.

How does Bosnia look 10 years after Izetbegović’s death? Bosnia has just completed its census — the first to be conducted since 1991 — and one which will influence politics in Bosnia for at least a decade. The last census was the basis of all serious political agreements and disagreements since. This census will provide a much-needed picture of post-war Bosnia and will draw many comparisons to the 1991 census.

Politically, Bosnia’s progress towards EU and NATO membership has been painfully slow. The priority — NATO membership — is currently being blocked by Bosnian Serb leadership’s intransigence over the registration of military properties. Progress on European integration has been all but stopped over the inability of Bosnian political leaders to agree on a formula for constitutional changes which would eliminate the discriminatory aspects of the constitution.

Economically, the country is being slowly rebuilt. The capital, Sarajevo, boasts several new major infrastructure projects. This is in large part due to increased interest on the part of Gulf investors in real estate in Sarajevo and its surroundings. The Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) has been restoring Ottoman-era buildings and contributing to country’s reconstruction. A major obstacle for further investments remains the complex nature of the country’s administration and the multiple levels of governance as a result of the peace agreement which have complicated the climate for investment.

On the local political scene, Izetbegović perhaps would have been surprised at the rise of the Bosnian Serb leadership’s increasing tendencies to obstruct the proper functioning of the state. The ethnic vetoes instituted as part of the peace compromise have been abused extensively since 2006. The Bosnian Serb leader’s rhetoric on a referendum has been similarly on the rise. In the Bosniak political arena, there is a leadership vacuum. Perhaps it is in this aspect that Izetbegović’s passing is most acutely felt. It is this contrast between Izetbegović’s dominance and the leadership vacuum after his death that further consolidates his role in Bosnia’s recent history.

Hamza Karcic is professor at the faculty of political science, University of Sarajevo. This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman, a leading Turkish daily. Click here to go to the original.

Sarajevo has seen construction boom in recent years, mainly driven by investors from Gulf countryes. (Bob Ramsak / piran café, Creative Commons License)
Sarajevo has seen construction boom in recent years, mainly driven by investors from Gulf countryes. (Bob Ramsak / piran café, Creative Commons License)

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