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EU ACCESSION AND YOUTH PARTICIPATION IN BOSNA AND HERZEGOVINA

The accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the European Union is the stated aim of the present relations between the two entities. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been recognized by the EU as a "potential candidate country" for accession since the decision of the European Council in Thessaloniki in 2003 and is on the current agenda for future enlargement of the EU. Bosnia and Herzegovina takes part in the Stabilization and Association Process and trade relations are regulated by an Interim Agreement.

There are five recognized candidates for membership of the European Union: Turkey (applied in 1987), North Macedonia (applied in 2004), Montenegro (applied in 2008), Albania (applied in 2009), and Serbia (applied in 2009). All have started accession negotiations. Kosovo*, whose independence is not recognized by five EU member states, and Bosnia and Herzegovina are recognized as potential candidates for membership by the EU. Bosnia and Herzegovina has formally submitted an application for membership, while Kosovo has a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU, which generally precedes the lodging of membership application.

Beset by problems such as corruption, high unemployment, and ethnic tensions, the stalling of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession talks with the EU has only added to the challenges the country faces. The process, which began almost two decades ago, must be given new impetus if the country is to break out of the impasse in which it currently finds itself.

Having the complex and difficult political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina in mind with its deep-rooted political disagreements and obstructions, reform stagnancy and institutionalized corruption, there is some doubt that an approach away from structural and constitutional reforms ahead towards socio-economic reform can be successful. When looking at Bosnia and Herzegovina one must have in mind that the main problem certainly lies within the political structures and the political elite generated by that system – an elite that declares its support for European Union integration but which at the same time is not willing to transform the process into successful democratic dynamics. Politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina benefit from the current system of ethnic politics, a system that does not allow fundamental reforms and generates corruption and stagnation. The divisions caused by the war may have been frozen, but their scars remain deeply entrenched in the society and have been easily revived for political goals.

Politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina publicly claim that their goal is to bring the country closer to the European Union, but the lack of compromise on all levels and topics speak a different language. In reality their main goal is to maintain the status quo and keep the state paralysed. Reforms would only endanger their positions.

Bosnia and Herzegovina certainly needs socio-economic, infrastructural reforms but at the same time the country must be allowed to move from the Dayton structure, a compromise that ended the war, towards a functioning modern state structure. This cannot be done without serious political and constitutional reforms, too. A more comprehensive approach for Bosnia and Herzegovina is needed, considering all the factors that have been paralysing the state for years and that have allowed the country to backslide rhetoric-wise into the 1990s, but at the same time helping the state to make real progress and move forward by liberating itself from the political destabilization and system of ethnic politics.

It would be a fundamental mistake by the European Union to leave Bosnia and Herzegovina behind. Now, more than ever, the country needs an acceleration of the reform process with a serious prospect of integration into the European Union initiating real reforms – social, economic, political, and constitutional – on all levels which would place Bosnia and Herzegovina irreversibly within the larger European Union context.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina youth work, young people and their participation in society, and mobility are recognised better at the level of the entities, the district, and at local level than at the level of the country itself.
The most relevant law regulating all youth issues, including participation and mobility, is the Youth Law of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This law guarantees youth participation in youth representative bodies, primarily youth councils, at local, cantonal, and federal level. Through these bodies youth will be able to participate in decision-making processes, creating youth policies and strategies and other processes that concern them. Another law relevant to youth is the Law on Volunteering of FBiH, which regulates the rights and obligations of volunteers, and defines volunteering as an ”activity of interest to the Federation of BiH, which contributes to the improvement of life quality, active involvement of citizens in social processes, and to the development of a more humane and equal democratic society.’’

There is no specific national strategy on youth participation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as an overarching public document, an action plan, or a set of official documents integrating the major directions to be followed in the organisation of policy making at national level;  but in Bosnia and Herzegovina, civic education is being conducted in some parts of the country, while in some cases it is not implemented at all. The local civil society organisation CIVITAS has played a major role in the promotion of civic education, which has been working on the promotion and implementation of civic education in elementary and secondary schools in Bosnia and Herzegovina for years through its Network.

Young people in BiH are aware of the need for activism. Although they often encounter a lack of understanding of the environment, some have decided not to give up an continue to work on change.

For me, activism in BiH is a way of life. Because activism helped me to focus on very important things, to rearrange my life accordingly to that, and of course it gave me a lot of professional and practical knowledge.

I am guided by the quote "Be the change you want to see in society" and I want to be an example of "change" to young people in my city. I fight for the better of all young people in my city, with my example I want to show them that everything can be achieved when you want and try hard enough, and that they should never give up if they fail at first. My projects  have great significance for me as an individual, because through their realization I learn and gain experiences that I do not have the opportunity to gain in school and through formal education. For that reason, I consider this whole story of activism extremely important for a young person. It is also very important that we meet young people from other cities and areas and go beyond some of our own framework and see that it can always be better and that there is something else we can do. 

Author: Belma Merdanovic, LDA Zavidovici

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Posted: Nov 10, 2020,
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