This leads to the second misconception: the belief that post-war Bosnia will be able to put in place a liberal model of capitalism which, as before in the countries of Central Europe, will bring prosperity to the people, thus offering a chance to reduce political tensions. This misconception is, of course, part of a wider phenomenon – the neoliberal belief in the universality of free market mechanisms. However, the free market, which not everyone in the EU has paid sufficient attention to, needs a strong and impartial state capable of ensuring a level playing field. Such a state does not exist by nature, nor can it be decreed, and the EU’s favourite modus operandi in Bosnia – the carrot and stick approach – can only make the local elite pretend to be working towards the establishment of strong liberal institutions.
A realistic approach to Bosnia and Herzegovina should be based on the acknowledgement of the fact that, in that country, clientelism is not a deviation from the norm, existing because of corrupt politicians who can be removed through a democratic process or by a decision by Brussels, but rather a way of life that, which is also worth noting, was practised in the Ottoman Empire, the S.H.S. Kingdom, and communist Yugoslavia alike, i.e. a way of life deeply rooted in the family and ethnic traditions of the inhabitants of today’s B&H. There is, of course, a feedback loop here. The lack of stable and efficient state institutions makes Bosnians look to informal patrons (for instance, a very large part of the labour market in Bosnia is controlled by the leaders of ethnic parties). In turn, the resulting extensive oligarchic networks, led by leaders such as Bakir Izetbegović, Milorad Dodik or Dragan Čović, make it difficult to create impartial state institutions, Emerging Europe reports.