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Incident-driven Democracy at Europe’s Edge. The Case of Bosnia-Herzegovina

  • Yves Dejaeghere (a1) and Peter Vermeersch (a2)

In recent years, several instances of social protest in Europe have transformed into new initiatives for citizens’ participation (e.g. citizens’ assemblies, deliberative forums, etc). Can such a transformation also take place in the more volatile political settings of a post-conflict democratizing state? We turn our attention to the plenums in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which were spontaneously organized citizens’ assemblies in the spring of 2014. We conclude that these plenums were a form of incident-driven democracy. In a country where the regular institutions of representative democracy continue to be widely mistrusted and civil society organizations, which normally have a mitigating role between citizens and state institutions in times of crisis, are weak, untrustworthy or absent, such incidental institutions have an important role to play. Their effect in the short term may be limited, but if new opportunities arise they may function as a useful memory for activists, a model for citizens’ participation outside elections, and therefore an instigator of further democratization.

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1.In the rest of the paper we use the name Bosnia as shorthand for the official name of the country, Bosna i Hercegovina (BiH).
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7.Including at the workshop on Democratic Renewal at the Department of Political Science, University of Amsterdam, on 21 May 2014.
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14.This asymmetry is partly a result of the history of the Bosnian conflict. Republika Srpska is the successor of the Bosnian Serb Republic, which was founded at the beginning of the war. The Bosniak-Croat Federation, on the other hand originated in the Washington Agreement, which put an end to the Bosniak-Croat conflict.
15.The federal presidency, for example, consists of three members, one of each ethnic group. Every eight months, the members rotate. The presidents are chosen per entity by direct vote. Decision-making in the presidency is by consensus, but each member has a veto by which he can block any decision that is in conflict with the vital issues of the ethnic group he belongs to. The decision is then presented to the parliament of Republika Srpska or the Croatian or Bosniak delegates in the Federation’s house of peoples, where decisions can be rejected by a two-thirds majority. For years now, the federal presidency in Bosnia has been central to a controversy about its ethnic composition. A court case before the European Court of Human Rights in 2009 (Sejdić and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina) judged the regulation in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights and since then debates have followed about changing the election provisions for the presidency.
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18. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report from (2011) showed that ‘on the occasion of the last national elections held in Bosnia and Herzegovina 15 per cent of citizens were asked to vote for a certain candidate or political party in exchange for a concrete offer, such as money, goods or a favour, while in the case of local elections to the percentage was slightly lower (13%). These illicit offers seem to happen slightly more often in rural areas’ (UNODC 2011, 32). Obviously, corruption in Bosnia is not limited to political parties. It’s a pervasive phenomenon in a lot of sectors and has for many people become a normal hazard; many may also rely on it as a survival strategy. According to the UNODC report in 2011 more than one fifth of the Bosnian citizens was forced to pay illegally for a service. A lot of these bribes went to medical doctors and police officers. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (2011) Corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Bribery as Experienced by the Population (Vienna: UNODC),
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21. For more on NS see H. Touquet (2011) Multi-ethnic parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Naša Stranka and the paradoxes of postethnic politics. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 11(3), pp. 451467.
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27.Rosanvallon also warns, however, that although pressure valves might be a solution to a lot of current democratic disaffection, they also run the risk of supporting populism or leading to increased political cynicism in the long run.
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34. Rupnik uses the term ‘Democracy fatigue’ to describe a similar state. Rupnik, J. (2007) From democracy fatigue to populist backlash. Journal of Democracy, 18(4), pp. 1725.
35.Workshop on Democratic Renewal at the Department of Political Science, University of Amsterdam, on 21 May 2014. For an interview with Nedimović see:
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38. Weschler, L. (2015) Occupy may be about to win its first national election – in Greece., January, pp. 12.
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European Review
  • ISSN: 1062-7987
  • EISSN: 1474-0575
  • URL: /core/journals/european-review
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