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By Jan Z. Kulenović

The transition, started 25 years ago in Bosnia-Herzegovina, was not only the travel from planned economy to free market economy and from socialistic one-party system within Yugoslavia to the pluralism and democracy. Immediately it happened together with political instability, a war with 100.000 killed citizens and 1,3 million refugees and with huge challenge to transform the country from war to peace. The role of international community and these days political elite is still not clear and defined, but one thing is obvious that majority of Bosnian citizens regardless of their ethnicity wanted the transition and the new democratic arrangement. The results of 1990 elections showed that. What they did not know is that Balkan/Bosnian transition is not „one shot event“, a switch, a door from which you enter to the heaven and Eldorado. It was and still is a slow process, a long painful travel that has cost a lot of sacrifices of everyone.

Today, Bosnia-Herzegovina is independent country, on its path towards European Union, but in the same time the second last European country based on Prosperity Index published just this week. The transition in words of local citizens means – undefined space for corruption, division, segregation in schools based on ethnicity of children, the highest youth unemployment (63%) and general poorness. Such transition was not the picture they had wanted to see 25 years ago.

If we look GDP, quality of education, employment rate etc. before the transition the older citizens are right with that nostalgic feeling about the past and with general low level of trust in nowadays political institutions in the country. However, the objective and the purpose of the transition is not wrong, but the path and the way of travelling is something to be considered and analyzed. For Slovenia and Croatia (today both in EU) it was needed almost 20 years to have the first political charges and trails for corruption of the highest political figures (in fact both former prime ministers are in jail). The real rule of law with such strong institutions (court, prosecutors, police) is still missing in Bosnia-Herzegovina and is precondition of citizens’ trust, good governance, foreign investments and general development.

Another challenge in the transition (and maybe answer how to speed up the transition) is the role of citizens and civil society. However, in country like Bosnia-Herzegovina with 42% of labour force that has only 8 years of school or less and 40% of all employed population is working in public sector the strengthening of democratic citizenship in fast and easy way is almost as an illusion. In less complex country it needs decades and in Bosnia-Herzegovina with 16 parliaments and 14 governments (including 14 ministries of education) it looks more like Kafka’s novel.

Moreover, Bosnia-Herzegovina is the only country that got in the transition a new flag, passport, car boards and anthem decided and adopted by the international community through its Office of the High Representative (OHR), still being here. The real transition should also mean how to get full ownership of the country and how to grow from the babysitting position to the adulthood and full responsibility.

The transition is painful, but necessary. The speed is important, but without push and support of the free media, better educated citizens, strong civil society and more decisive international community the process and travel can be suffer for citizens in the country and potential security problem for others.

Jan Z. Kulenović is the Executive Director of the Youth Information Agency in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a leading national NGO in the field of youth policy development and youth empowerment. He was a pioneer in the youth peace movement “School of Peace” in the Balkans, which brought together youth from the former Yugoslavia just a few years after the war. He is co-author of a number of articles, manuals and reports on youth and civil society in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Balkans.

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