Sarajevo, 15 January 2023-27
Krug 99 (Circle 99)
               Following Bosnia’s elections last October, the rhetoric we are now hearing might lead one to believe that there have been noticeable changes in rhetoric on the part of the political class that we call “pro-Bosnian.”  We might even believe that these changes go beyond the stylistic corrections that ordinarily accompany a change in leadership and the formation of new coalitions. This unusual discursive excess is concentrated around the central themes of “relaxation,” “new environment,” or “political compromise,” which are regularly espoused by proponents of the group of parties having the ambition of forming a government on all levels.  They consist of the “Sarajevo Troika,” the core group of the so-called “Eight,” who have pronounced themselves in a coalition with the SNSD [“Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, the leading political party in Republika Srpska] and the HDZ [“Croatian Democratic Alliance,” a nationalist Croatian party]. The metaphor relaxation, which actually derives from the world of sports medicine, is significant in itself.  It presumes a previous condition of tension that needs to be treated with particular measures and remedies.  The superficial attraction of this concept of relaxation of relations is that it suggests the elimination of those hindrances to communication that in the first place caused disagreement, aggressiveness and intolerance.  In the political jargon of those espousing this narrative, this is frequently referred to with the phrase that “we will focus on those things that we agree on, and we will avoid things that we do not agree on.”
               The claim is advanced that in this way a new environment emerges for coming to agreements and conflicts can be reduced to the lowest possible level.  At first glance, this approach sounds constructive.  But precisely because of this it conceals one principal trap:  namely, in this way political issues are reduced to personal relationships, while the ideological matrix of players is completely ignored, along with long-term motives and strategic objectives of political actors participating in this process.  In fact, this might indeed sound like a solid agenda for common political issues.  But, on higher levels, where there is a definite international dimension, which is especially significant in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina, such an approach suffers from a certain naivety.
               In this new narrative of relaxation, the mental image of provocation is of particular importance.  In a series of statements issued by the key protagonists of the “Eight,” and in the writings of some media commentators parroting their views, there flows a basic theme that the long-standing destructive politics of Milorad Dodik and Dragan Covic were really caused by the constant provocations of “political Sarajevo.”  This narrative has it that, since the SDA [“Party for Democratic Action,” the largest Bosnian party] has been removed from power, now these players have “turned toward Europe,” as one well-known political analyst wrote, and are now prepared to cooperate.
               In other words, relaxation in this case means the absence of “provocation” from Sarajevo towards the long-standing alliance of the SNSD and the HDZ.  In accordance with this view, some media commentators depict these groups and their leaders as all of a sudden positive figures who have changed their attitudes and are determined to lead the country down the path of “European integration” – even though in actual fact there is no real evidence or support for this.
               The problems with this narrative are multifaceted.  Even a superficial analysis clearly shows that this view is out of step with reality.  Even though he has only rarely made public statements in recent weeks, Covic has not renounced his objectives.  Quite the contrary:  HDZ advocated for adopting the election law as a first test for its coalition partners in the “Eight.”  For his part, Dodik has not performed even basic stylistic corrections.  Rather, his regular arrogant pronouncements continue, as well as the unconstitutional adoption of a law on state property in the Parliament of the smaller entity [Republika Srpska], the equally unconstitutional and pompous military parade on January 9 in the Sarajevo suburbs and the awarding of a medal to Vladimir Putin.  All of these are obvious signs that the notion that there is a “kind of new Dodik” is pure fantasy.
               In spite of all this, the spokesmen for the new coalition insistently maintain this illusion, which goes beyond normal political propaganda and achieves an effect that is the exact opposite of the objective proclaimed in any relaxation of relations.  Potentially, the effect is especially dangerous because a truly significant diversion in public remarks from the obvious facts leads to a situation where language and reality lose any connection and where the communication link falls into a schizophrenic constellation.  This can lead to significant tensions packed with explosive dangers.
               This kind of creating of a parallel reality closely resembles the discursive operations of the Trump movement, which in many respects contributed to the establishment of a fatal post-factual culture, which, in turn, as we have seen, caused enormous divisions in American society.  Such a fateful scenario is possible in Bosnia, especially in that part of society that is colloquially and awkwardly called “pro-Bosnian.”
               The long-term conflict line between so-called pro-Bosnian or civic-democratic policies on one side and ethnic separatist policies on the other would now, metaphorically speaking, move to Sarajevo, in other words, into what might be called the pro-Bosnian public domain.  While “relaxation” would be applied toward separatist politics, tensions would be transferred into the very heart of the body politic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, inside of which a dichotomy would be even further radicalized.  We are already witness to such radical tendencies in the virtual world of social media, and these can very easily merge into material reality.  According to Helmuth Plessner, the trigger for a pre-revolutionary or anarchical condition is the division of a community into two parallel realities that have practically no further points in common.
               Some members of the international community, inasmuch as they support this dangerous narrative, are not aware of the consequences for the stability and development of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Or, perhaps they are actually contributing to the advancement of destructive objectives.   **
Summary of Session of 15 January 2023 Professor Doctor Vahidin Preljevic, Philosophy Department of University of Sarajevo
               Adil Kulenović, President
Association of Independent Intellectuals – Circle 99 (Bosnian: Krug 99), a leading Bosnian think-tank, was established in Sarajevo in 1993, in the midst of the Bosnian war (1992-1995), while the capital was under siege. Circle 99 provides a platform to bring together intellectuals of various professional and ethnic identities; university professors, members of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, artists, journalists, entrepreneurs, diplomats, and other prominent figures from Bosnia and from abroad. Multidisciplinary discussions and initiatives are held each Sunday throughout the academic year, in the form of regular sessions about politics, science, education, culture, economy, and other societal issues. The overall goal is to sensitize the public towards a democratic transformation, achieving and maintaining peace, and integration of modern Bosnia into the community of countries fostering liberal democracy. Circle 99 has been declared an organization of special significance for the city of Sarajevo.