Address by the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, H.E. Željko Komšić

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

25 January 2022

Mister President,

Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

At the beginning of my speech, allow me to thank you for the opportunity to address the Parliamentary Assembly in the year when Bosnia and Herzegovina is celebrating its 20th anniversary of entry into the Council of Europe. Also, allow me to use modern technologies as a means of addressing you, so that we can respect all measures set in place due to the new wave of this increasing infection with the COVID-19 virus. However, this will certainly not affect this opportunity to present to you the current socio-political situation in my country, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Of course, I will give my presentation through a special prism of those Council of Europe fundamental values, that I personally continuously advocate in my work, and which, I am sure, the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina wish to see embedded in our country's  political and social system.

Therefore, at the very beginning of my address, I will briefly review the main principles established during the founding of the Council of Europe in 1949, namely: protection of human rights, multiparty parliamentary democracy and rule of law, spreading awareness of European identity, conclusion of specific international treaties, securing continent's unity, finding solutions to social problems in Europe.

The reason behind these goals is understandable after the end of World War II. In the war-ravaged Europe, many countries were in the process of transition towards the fundamental principles of liberal democracy, and, at the time, that was not an easy task.

The context of the time, especially that of geopolitical nature, led to the creation of two poles, of a distinctly ideological nature, one turned towards liberal democracy and market economy, and the other towards communist doctrine and centralized economy. A bipolar world order was created on the global level, which lasted for almost five decades, until the fall of the Berlin Wall, when a whole series of transition processes began in various European countries.

Today, however, we have utterly different geopolitical relations in the world, based on a multi-polar world order and global powers’ interests development, which are produced and manifested in different countries of the world. In such circumstances, there is a number of countries that have not completed their transition processes, in accordance with the principles of liberal democracy and market economy, which makes them an “easy prey” for various geopolitical interests of big players.

My country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a country with a tradition spanning for almost a thousand years, and, at different points in time, it had its own different internal arrangements. At one point in history, Bosnia was a kingdom lasting for several centuries, and, at that time, given the size of its territory, it was the largest country in this region. After that, there had been conquests of Bosnia and Herzegovina by various kingdoms and empires, bringing their culture, customs and religion, and incorporating them into the social system of my country. Still, Bosnia and Herzegovina has survived and outlived such kingdoms and empires.

During the World War II, the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina had joined the anti-fascist movement en masse, participating on the side of those forces that fought against Fascism and Nazism. At the same time, they also made the decision to restore our statehood and join the former Yugoslavia, together with other former republics. Bosnia and Herzegovina's participation in the former Yugoslavia lasted until March 1992, when the citizens decided, in a referendum, to make Bosnia and Herzegovina a sovereign and independent state. That same year, the Constitution of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was adopted as a democratic expression of its citizens, which had already contained the basic principles of liberal democracy and market economy, principles identical to those embedded in the foundations of the Council of Europe. Bosnia and Herzegovina became a member of the United Nations in May 1992, thus gaining the status of a subject of international law.

In these aforementioned time periods, Bosnia and Herzegovina was never a country of divided or segmented society, nor has there been any form of discrimination against its citizens.

However, the declaration of independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina led to an aggressive reaction of the neighbouring countries, which, in the period of war from 1992 to 1995, during the aggression against my country, sought to obliterate any existence of Bosnia and Herzegovina and claim parts of its territory through war and conquest.

Such war activities have led to unprecedented horrors, escalating to committing crimes of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

All these elements, which I have mentioned, were determined in the judgments by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, based in The Hague. The judgements have established the existence of several joint criminal enterprises, involving individuals and groups from Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as those from neighbouring countries, aimed at establishing ethnically clean territories in order to annex such “cleansed” territories to those neighbouring countries.

The reason I speak of this is because, in the second part of my presentation, I will clearly point out that such policies are still present in Bosnia and Herzegovina today, but the method of war conquest has been replaced with political and diplomatic means, that is, there are some who are still trying to implement their war goals in peacetime.

The war in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended with the signing of the General Framework Agreement for Peace, which was initialled in Dayton and signed in Paris in 1995. It was signed by the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (whose legal successor is today's Serbia), or, as clearly stated in the international law – the peace agreement is usually signed by participants of the war.

This removes any sort of a dilemma that there was a civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, because it was an interstate armed conflict, as established, among other things, by the International Court of Justice in The Hague in several of its judgments.

An integral part of this Agreement, colloquially called the Dayton Agreement, is the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as its Annex 4. So, it is obviously an imposed constitution, and not an expression of the democratic will of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Rather, it is a document that is a part of a peace agreement. It defines Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country with two entities and one district, with different ethnic communities.

In that Constitution, which we must all respect, many open questions and ambiguities remain, leaving a lot of room for various arbitrary interpretations, most often inspired by particular interests of different political elites, both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the neighbouring countries.

This Constitution has established a new political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that was to evolve according to democratic standards and values, such as those contained in the goals of the Council of Europe. Unfortunately, that never happened.

In contrast, active ethnic politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina have sought, and still do, to create an artificially divided society dominated by ethnic affiliation as the only valid licence for political action. Although the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms is an integral part of the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, I must point out here that it is, unfortunately, under-implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Their reason for such ambitions lies in that unfortunate term of “constituent” which is mentioned in the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the Constitution contains no legal elaboration or statement or determination of what that actually means.

That is why a new legal practice has emerged, one I consider highly dangerous, and that is to achieve various political goals through the use of the term “constituent”, in which domestic political actors participate, with visible political support from neighbouring countries. In such, as I see it, wrong political and legal practice, one's ethnicity becomes a conditio sine qua non for any form of political activity, which goes as far as that one cannot even get a job if one is not of the appropriate ethnicity. Isn't that a visible form of systemic discrimination, which unfortunately exists in my country?

As a legalist, here, I can freely say that the term “constituent” is actually the source of systemic discrimination in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has been established in five judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, listed chronologically hereafter: Sejdic-Finci, Zornić, Pilav, Šlaku and Pudarić. These judgments have clearly established the existence of discrimination based on ethnicity and place of residence, and ordered the respondent, ie. the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to make the necessary changes to its Constitution, from which all elements of discrimination must be removed. Unfortunately, that never happened.

If we look at what was stated in the Sejdić-Finci judgment, then we will see that ethnic discrimination is a derivative of racial discrimination. Do we need something like that in today's Europe and in the modern liberal democratic order? That is a question for all of us, not just for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I am absolutely certain we will all agree that we do not need such legal or even constitutional frameworks and that we must, all together, make effort to combat all forms of discrimination.

There is a part form the Zornić Case judgement that is particularly interesting. It clearly states that Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have full democracy, but limited or restricted democracy through the distribution of political power between ethnic communities, which in my country are called “constituent peoples.” This lack of full democracy is, in fact, in stark contrast to one of the fundamental goals of the Council of Europe.

That is why the Zornić judgement orders Bosnia and Herzegovina to change its Constitution to enable the realization of full democracy in which there will be the necessary equality of every citizen of my country. This is a very important issue.

How else can we achieve the rule of law or organize a law based state, if all citizens of any country, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, without exceptions, are not equal before the law?

How can we achieve liberal democracy, at the core of which is the struggle of equality against all forms of inequality, if we know that in Bosnia and Herzegovina the imposition of a system of inequality is being politically forced?

Then it is certainly not a liberal democracy, and I find that unacceptable.

It is obvious that the current political system in Bosnia and Herzegovina, based on ethnicity, is creating three parallel totalitarian systems, based on the affiliation to one of the three ethnic communities, which they seeks to govern in an autocratic way.

In such a system, through ethnic communities’ affiliation, as an expression of ethnic politics’ exclusivity, there are efforts to rule over resources, jobs, tenders, public procurements, all kinds of privileges, profits or gains, which clearly creates an environment for corruption of unimaginable proportions. After 26 years of the Dayton Accords, instead of evolving the political system of Bosnia and Herzegovina into one based on democracy and the rule of law, my country is moving down a regressive path. While pushing this country backwards and away from democracy, there are efforts to maintain and even strengthen the ethnic political system that generates corruption in all parts of society, through the use of ethnic politics and manipulating with fear the members of different ethnic communities.

It is important to underline that such ethnic politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina reach for the emotions and empathy within their communities once all other tools for ruling over their ethnic communities have been exhausted. They do so by instigating fear that, ultimately, forms a system conducive to corruption and denial of the rule of law. I believe we share the same opinion; such a political system has no place in modern Europe.

Allow me to use this opportunity to address, in a few sentences, the different ideas of those who seek to maintain the principle of inequality in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who propose the introduction of consociational democracy, by allegedly copying the political systems of Belgium, Switzerland, Northern Ireland or South Tyrol. There are at least two problems here. First, consociational democracy is not the same as liberal democracy, and it does not exist in the aforementioned countries or in parts of other countries, in the way that it was imagined.

Such countries or parts of specific countries have a completely different historical context from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and those political systems are simply not compatible with my country.

The second problem is that the possible introduction of consociational democracy to Bosnia and Herzegovina would certainly lead to new proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights, because this type of political model is based on inequality and annulment of fundamental principles of liberal democracy, regardless of the fact that it contains elements of proportional representation as one of its principles. Using such long-outdated political models in Bosnia and Herzegovina would certainly be a step backwards.

Such politics go as far as to deny the existence of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian nation, a country that has existed for almost a thousand years. They wish to portray every expression of nationality through the issue of ethnicity. Today, I want to say that I am a Bosnian and Herzegovinian by nationality and a Croat by ethnicity, because nationality is an expression of belonging to one's own state. Neighbouring countries deny the nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, trying to use the ethnic identities in my country to their advantage, creating such an environment that we, Bosnians and Herzegovinians, should ask them for consent, whether we can be Bosnians and Herzegovinians by national affiliation. This is absolutely unacceptable and in complete contradiction with the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

On the other hand, when we look at the decision-making system, today in Bosnia and Herzegovina we have a situation where the existence of any majority in the lower houses, i.e. directly elected legislative bodies, is completely made void through a new political tool called “entity voting.”

In a nutshell, this means that in the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which has 42 MPs, even just five of them can block any decision-making, because they come from one of the two entities. Is such a thing an expression of liberal democracy? Of course not, because it is obvious that a political minority can stall any decision-making to the detriment of the political majority, until that minority is satisfied. We have something like this today in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This country is being held in a political hostage crisis through obvious separatist activities, which ultimately hides the system of blockades, blackmails and keeping Bosnia and Herzegovina in complete political uncertainty, until the wishes and intentions of some political leaders are met.

Isn't that an expression of a complete autocracy and a lack of fundamental principles of democracy?

To make matters worse, the reason for keeping Bosnia and Herzegovina in a state of crisis is because someone refuses to accept the judgments of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, that have established the crime of genocide had been committed. Just imagine now, what would disrespecting the decisions of any court mean in your countries? Undoubtedly, the criminal liability of those who fail to respect the judgments of the courts.

The situation is similar with the decision-making process in the upper house of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina called the House of Peoples, which consists of 15 indirectly appointed MPs, where two of them can block any decision-making process in such a way that even if all 42 MPs from the House of Representatives make a unanimous decision, it takes only two of them from the House of Peoples to bring it all down, due to necessary entity majority vote.

Isn't this a clear indicator of inequality of MP votes in the two Houses of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the vote of one Member of the House of Peoples, appointed by political parties, has at least three times more value than that of an MP from the House of Representatives elected by the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina?

This is being used today as a political tool, in order to prevent the normal functioning of the institutions of the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with complete disregard for fundamental democratic principles, and I find that unacceptable. This is also the cause for the newest appellation before the European Court of Human Rights pertaining to the inequality of votes in the two parliamentary houses in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Unfortunately, for the past 26 years, the application of the concept of “constituent peoples” and ethnic voting in everyday political decision-making in the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, does not serve to protect the rights of “constituent peoples” but to prevent Bosnia and Herzegovina from stabilizing and progressing.

Since 2008, when BiH signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union, parties supporting ethnically based decision-making system have used ethnic quotas in decision-making in the executive and legislative bodies to prevent the adoption of European standards. Laws concerning the adoption of the EU acquis fail precisely in the Houses of Peoples or through entity voting in the BiH House of Representatives. This happens almost regularly, even though the laws of the acquis communautaire do not affect ethnic identity, culture, tradition, language or education as values that the Houses of Peoples should protect.

For this reason, dozens of laws from the European agenda are at a standstill in the parliamentary procedure. That is why we cannot fill out the Constitutional Court of the Federation of BiH, why there are no appointments of governing bodies of many independent law enforcement agencies, and why we are wasting European funds. There are many other things that are to the detriment of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, all under the guise of fighting for the legitimate ethnic interests of the “constituent peoples”.

This is, therefore, an abuse of the rights of the “constituent peoples” to prevent Bosnia and Herzegovina from becoming a part of a civilized community of European parliamentary democracies and never becoming a member of the EU. Such policies are intended to turn my country into a territory where foreign regimes will have an influence, either through economy, or by creating a new “Transnistria” in the Western Balkans from one of its parts.

I would like to remind you that even the European Commission has precisely and legally identified, in the “Opinion” from 2019, everything that my country needs to improve in order to continue its long path towards the candidate status.

In that moment, political actors advocating the disappearance of Bosnia and Herzegovina decided to stop all processes and bring 3.5 million people back to 1995, by talking about the rights of “constituent peoples”, restoring entity competences, and, finally, giving an anti-civilizational resistance towards punishing denial of adjudicated genocide and war crimes.

Nowadays, when there is talk in Bosnia and Herzegovina about the necessity to amend the Constitution and the Election Law, with the goal of implementing five judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, we again have the emergence of those political forces that have no intention to implement those judgments, but are rather trying to create a new constitutional arrangement and electoral system with deeper discrimination that would be shielded behind the inequality of votes of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Unfortunately, neighbouring countries also have direct participation in that and their goal is very clear – to achieve all wartime goals using political and diplomatic means in peacetime.

Their intention is reflected in two aspects. The first is to create a system, through amendments to the Constitution and the Election Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where those neighbouring countries will have a “golden share” or a key word in all decision-making in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and thus complete control over my country. Such intentions are easily recognized every time they talk about the “constituency of peoples” or in the phrase how they will accept “everything that the three ethnic communities agree upon.”

Regardless of the fact that they are striking at the foundations of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, they often do something like that in diplomatic talks, even before you, for I believe, even you were occasionally faced with that.

And second, when they see that such a thing cannot succeed, then they reach for their allies in Bosnia and Herzegovina who, on behalf of those neighbouring countries, block the work of Bosnia and Herzegovina's institutions, trying to create an illusion that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a dysfunctional state.

In addition to invading my country's political system, through their political satellites in Bosnia and Herzegovina, neighbouring countries are trying to obtain complete control over my country's natural and all other resources. How else to explain political intentions of neighbouring countries not to define the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina through an international border agreement, both on land and at sea, but with the goal of them having an option to manage the natural resources of Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Therefore, I use this opportunity to ask all of you not to accept this type of diplomatic talks, because it harms Bosnia and Herzegovina and its citizens.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to point out my vision of a solution for Bosnia and Herzegovina. First of all, I strongly believe, and I cannot back down on this, that it is necessary to achieve equality for every citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to create a society of equal opportunities.

This would eliminate all forms of discrimination associated with the phenomenon of “constituent peoples”. Let me emphasize this once again; it is a principle or a tool for creating an environment of incalculable and persistent corruption or a society where those who succeed are not the best among us, but those who are politically suitable or family connected and appointed through nepotism.

A system dominated by systemic corruption is not acceptable in any modern society, including Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Second, it is necessary to change the political system of Bosnia and Herzegovina from a limited or a restricted democracy and establish a system of full democracy, as set out in five judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, but also in accordance with the 2005 Venice Commission's Opinion, which has analytically, accurately, and legally specified all the changes that Bosnia and Herzegovina must make if it wants to be a part of modern democratic societies.

Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to ask you all to get acquainted with the Venice Commission's Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2005, because it is very important that we accept its Opinion as the Council of Europe's assistance to countries in transition.

Finally, changes to the Constitution and the Election Law of Bosnia and Herzegovina must not be made without respecting the fundamental principles of liberal democracy, human rights and the rule of law, because everything else will lead my country to additional instability, and thus to the instability of the entire Western Balkans region. We all know very well that a citizen, an individual, is the bearer of the sovereignty of a country, and this must also be applied in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I use this opportunity to ask you all not to agree to any of the diplomatic and political talks that seek to harm Bosnia and Herzegovina, and you will easily recognize such talks – they will be outside of the fundamental principles of the Council of Europe.

Thank you for your attention.