We congratulate the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina on exercising their democratic rights in the October 2 elections. It was encouraging to see so many people casting their ballots and volunteers working as election observers on Election Day. We urge the Central Election Commission to continue its efforts to investigate irregularities and take any additional accountability measures necessary to ensure the integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s electoral process. We also urge the State Prosecutor’s Office to investigate expeditiously credible allegations of electoral fraud and to prosecute those who engaged in it.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s people have always been its greatest asset. Their creativity, diligence, resilience, and decency have carried the country forward through numerous challenges. The United States will continue to stand by them and support their aspirations for a secure, prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations, as we have for over 25 years.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of many of the political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who have consistently disappointed this country’s citizens. Twenty-seven years after Dayton, these leaders have not only failed to deliver on their promise to provide Bosnia and Herzegovina with the stability and good governance necessary to secure the country’s future, over the past decade they have sought to dismantle the successes Bosnia and Herzegovina has achieved since the end of the war.
Some may blame the Dayton structure for the lack of progress, for the weakness of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s institutions, and for the failure of reform. Dayton has its faults, and the United States has worked hard over the years to address them, but there is nothing in Dayton – not a word – that requires leaders to steal, to obstruct, to refuse compromise, to employ inflammatory rhetoric, or to assail the very constitutional foundation of the country. These are individual and selfish choices. No piece of paper compelled these leaders to squander the promise of peace and place the acquisition of personal wealth and power above the interests of the country’s citizens.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s institutions and citizens have paid the price. The last state-level government was one of the least productive in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s history. Politicians refused to form the Federation government after the 2018 elections, ignoring the electoral will of citizens and denying them their democratic rights. The leaders of the Republika Srpska have repeatedly threatened to leave the state altogether and have misled their public about their support for reforms that led to the creation of a single armed forces, the Indirect Taxation Authority, and many other BiH institutions. Political leaders in both entities have relied on nationalist rhetoric and distorted facts to secure power without regard for the consequences to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s stability, pushing the country further down a dangerous path.
Milorad Dodik and his allies’ increasingly brazen attacks on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s stability are the clearest example. Instead of focusing on the real issues of concern to citizens – corruption, lack of employment opportunities, and inflation – President Dodik has chosen to assail the Dayton order and undermine state institutions. The United States has never sought to abolish the Republika Srpska. What we have sought to abolish is corruption. President Dodik’s performance last week, attacking the Central Election Commission for carrying out a basic recount, is not the behavior of a politician who cares about transparency.
These irresponsible actions and leadership failures at the state and entity levels have real consequences for citizens. With inflation, a potential energy crisis, the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and other risks facing Bosnia and Herzegovina in the next year, the country cannot afford the absence of constructive, forward-looking governance. The priority must be getting Bosnia and Herzegovina’s institutions back to work, restoring basic functionality so that the country can weather these storms as best as possible. It is impossible to build a better future for the citizens of this country, their children, and their grandchildren if the state does not function or its institutions serve the interests of only one political party, the Federation remains without a duly elected government for another four years, and the Republika Srpska destroys itself and those around it pursuing the will-o’-wisp of independence.
The High Representative’s imposition of a package of reforms on October 2 has contributed to the prospect of a functional Federation. For the first time in six years, we saw appointments to the Federation Constitutional Court. However, only the Federation’s political representatives can guarantee a new, functional government. Political leaders must take this duty seriously, and the international community must hold them accountable if they refuse to do so. The High Representative has a role to play here, too, and those seeking to tear him and his institution down should consider more carefully the consequences of their actions. The 2006 April Package was shredded by the righteously indignant peddling false promises of something better, and the country has suffered for it ever since. It will again if the forces arrayed against the OHR from both entities prevail.
We understand that many citizens are disappointed that Bosnia and Herzegovina has not made more progress toward joining the European Union, including the implementation of the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. The United States shares their frustration. Over the past two decades, the international community has repeatedly tried to facilitate an agreement to improve the functionality and equality of state-level institutions – the 2006 April Package, the 2008 Butmir Process, the 2013 Fule Talks, and the most recent effort that concluded earlier this year in Sarajevo. Each process failed for the same reason – political leaders, who are the only authority capable of changing Bosnia and Herzegovina’s constitution, engaged in political posturing, refused to accept less than a “perfect” deal, as their side defined it, and failed to compromise. They then blamed others for the lack of success. The failure was collective, shared by all the country’s leaders, those who negotiated in bad faith and those who refused to negotiate at all. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s institutions are failing for these exact reasons, which is why the institutions are unable to produce the change the country desperately needs, and the people want.
The United States will always stand with the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We remain committed to the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and its multiethnic character. This has been the bipartisan policy of the United States for 27 years. We will continue to hold those in positions of power in Bosnia and Herzegovina accountable. Individuals who engage in anti-Dayton behavior, undermine Bosnia and Herzegovina’s democracy, or engage in corruption, from politicians to prosecutors, will continue to face sanctions.
It is now time for those who were elected on October 2 to get to work.