Why Bosnians Are Protesting

Nearly two decades after the Dayton Peace Accords ended the Bosnian Civil War, Bosnia is back in international headlines after three days of violent protests engulfed the country last week. What started as a peaceful protest against the privatization and closure of state industries in Tuzla on February 4 soon turned violent as protesters clashed with police the following day. Protests held both in solidarity with Tuzla and against local politicians spread to Sarajevo, Mostar, Zenica and Bihac on February 6 where the growing crowds continued to clash with police. By the fourth day of protests, people gathered in every major city in the country with rioting breaking out in several, leading to hundreds hurt.

In many ways, understanding last week’s protests starts with understanding the system the Dayton Accords put in place in 1995. While the agreement ended the war, it also set up a fractured government with the establishment of two autonomous regions – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska (RS) – which are further divided into local political units. A third semi-autonomous region, Brčko, was formed in 2000 and is ruled by a local government but is located both within the Federation and the RS. The Accords also set up a limited national government headed by a three-person presidency and a proportionally divided parliament based on the country’s three major ethnic groups. In other words, “the most over-governed country in the world” is a bureaucratic nightmare. This system established by the Accords has successfully maintained peace but also encourages a bloated and corrupt civil service, ethnically based politics and a lot of political infighting.

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