‘Stuck’ in Dayton for twenty years?

Posted on 26. November 2015

by Hatidza Jahic

hatidza-jahicWhen the Dayton Agreements were signed in October-November 1995, I was nine years old. I don’t remember that much from those times, but what I do remember is the feeling of relief, which in my family’s case was expressed by the “return“ to the first floor of our house, up from the basement where we had spent the previous three years. The war was over! Now, there were no restrictions on where and when to play with the children from the neighbourhood and we could have regular classes in ‘normal’ schools and not in some neighbour’s basement.

While taking long walks with my parents, I could very often hear them repeat the same kind of sentences, characteristic of their generation: “There was very good shop here before the war”, or “This restaurant was very good” and so on. Somehow, time itself had been divided into two periods; before and after the war. The past twenty years of this “after the war“ period were marked by h two words that dominated all electoral campaigns, public speeches but also our everyday lives: structural reforms and transition. And yet, it still seems that there is a lot left to be done.

As Bosnia and Herzegovina approaches the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Agreement, this November a group of prominent academics and political analysts wrote an open letter to the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Commissioner Johannes Hahn, the EU Foreign Affairs Council and US Secretary of State, John Kerry, urging them to intervene to ensure the continuation of needed reforms. The letter criticises them for decreased interest in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s reform process and states that the “political, economic and social situation [in the country] is deteriorating.” The lack of a systematic approach and bad management of limited resources created a situation where, 20 years after the end of the war, the country is “stuck” in transition, in every sense of the word. The Agreement itself was considered transitional; it was to be a platform for further improvements and advancements in economic, social, political and integration processes.

European and Euro-Atlantic integration have been defined as a top priority by almost all political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, limited progress has been made on this front. The European Commission Progress Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina for 2015 was adopted last week. The Commission states that the country is back on the ‘reform track’ and that it has started to address the priorities identified in the Reform Agenda from July this year. However, more has to be done in areas such as cooperation and coordination of different government levels, public administration reform, the judiciary, fighting organised crime and corruption, discrimination etc.

The country’s Constitution, which is a part of the Dayton Agreements, enables the violation of basic human rights and discrimination as demonstrated by the European Court of Human Rights’ judgement in the Sejdic-Finci election case.This should have been a wakeup call for the very much needed but also requested constitutional reforms. Again, in this year’s report the Commission points out that the Constitution firstly remains ‘in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights’ and secondly, established ‘a complex institutional architecture that is inefficient and subject to different interpretations’.

A lack of foreign investments, high levels of unemployment (around 27,5% in 2014 according to the Agency for Statistics of Bosnia and Herzegovina), corruption and inequalities were the major factors in pushing people to decide to leave the country. Around 2 million people, or 50% of the country’s total population lives outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina, spread across more than 50 countries (according to the Ministry for Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina). However, besides the, economic situation and several socio-political issues left unresolved, such as human rights violation in terms of education and employment, youth unemployment is another major causes of increased emigration in the past few years. From 2013 until now, around 68,000 people or 5% of the total population left the country, according to the report presented in August this year by the Union for sustainable return and integration in Bosnia and Herzegovina (NGO that holds a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the UN).

According to the 2012 UNDP Youth Voices Survey , around 65,6% of Bosnian youth would say ‘yes’ when asked if they would leave the country for work, compared to 55,1% in 2008. When it comes to the duration of their stay, 38,1% stated in 2012 that they would stay for a longer period of time, compared to 36,9% in 2008. Being aware of the insecurities that come with working in the private sector, the dream job of most young people is indeed an “easy job” in any of the institutions (municipality, cantonal, entity, state level). Those who are young, educated and motivated but without connections to political parties in power are leaving the country.

High levels of corruption in almost all segments of society and inefficient state governance are obvious. A state with limited power and two entities, namely the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has both a cantonal and municipality level, and the Republika Srpska, which has a municipality level – and lets’ not forget the Brcko Distrikt – at first glance gives a picture of a dysfunctional country. The country lacks investments to stimulate production and employment, needed to retain young, educated people. This year’s World Bank Doing Business report ranks Bosnia and Herzegovina 107th out of 189 countries; just to register your own business, you need to complete 11 procedures and wait 37 days.

Let me reflect on the education system in particular. Both entities, – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska – have their ministries for education, plus all ten cantons in the Federation have their own cantonal ministry. The state level Ministry for Civil Affairs has a department that deals with education and so does the government of the Brcko District.. An inefficient decision making structure and allocation of financial resources are additionally complicating an already complex education system and its ongoing reforms. What’s especially worrying is the fact that the state level Agency for Development of Higher Education and Quality Assurance has accredited around ten privately-owned education institutions and that the process is still ongoing for another ten institutions. The increased number of these private institutions, whose quality is often questioned, a lack of coordination between the education system and the labour market, and reforms at all levels of education are major issues.

Pared with a low level of competitiveness of local production, a lack of innovations and the continuing export of primary resources (raw materials), makes that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s growth and development is stuck in a vicious circle. Graduates of technical and medical universities are the “leaders“” in the brain drain category, with the top destinations being developed European countries, such as Germany, Sweden and Norway.

There is a shop in Sarajevo called Dayton (there are around ten shops today – Dayton was a lucky charm for them – and I remember searching for this place in my parent’s edition of the World Book encyclopaedia. The word itself was not only used when going to buy some meat for lunch. It meant much more! Are the citizens of Dayton in the state of Ohio aware of how well-known their city is in this part of the world? I very often think about the future and what it will bring! One thing is certain: the future of this country lies with its young people, the ones who are not stuck in past but rather look to the future. The ones that set examples, study, participate, vote, contribute and act and not the ones that lives in their own micro-cosmos.

I literally cried when Bosnia and Herzegovina’s national team won the U16 European Championship. The team of teenagers or – or ‘post–Dayton kids’ – who are so passionate about sports, teamwork and making a difference. But at the same time I cried because I heard and read the comments about these kids who decided to play for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s national team, rather than for a Croatian or Serbian team. How did we end up here? And when did we allow normal things to become strange and rare?