Bosnia and Herzegovina and Europeanization: between ethnic-national and European identities

'Europeanization' is not just an effect of EU membership: it applies to aspiring countries too, especially those with post-conflict identity struggles, like Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bedrudin Brljavac
25 April 2012

The process of extreme identification with different ethnic groups radically intensified after the end of the Ottoman regime in the Balkans. The emergence of an international system of states based on the idea of "the nation" at the end of the 19th century resulted in growing debates about national identity.

While Tito’s socialist regime repressed any ethnic-nationalist tendencies (perceived as a threat to the communist ideal of ‘brotherhood and unity’, where all people were considered equal and connected through the higher objectives of the communist ideology), the dissolution of Yugoslavia resulted in a renewed processes of re-building national identities. Three main national communities in BiH, namely Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Muslims or Bosniaks, were involved in nationalist and religious tensions between themselves. Subsequently, in 1992, the war started - and the three ethnic communities were locked in bitter conflict for almost four years.

However, the country is currently going through the European integration process, and so it is important to understand if, and to what extent, the on-going process of Europeanization has affected domestic nation-building discourses in post-war Bosnia. Does the process of Europeanization contribute to the awareness of a common identity of being Europeans among Bosnian citizens?

In the aftermath of the war in 1995 the country's national groups have started thorough processes of (re) building their national identities, respectively, thus considerably reducing common and integrating features of these national communities. What is more, such calls for separate nations even have been based on attempts at the dissolution of Bosnia and Herzegovina into three separate mono-ethnic territorial units. That is, the wave of nationalism has become “an ideological movement for attaining and maintaining autonomy, unity and identity on behalf of a population deemed by some of its members to constitute an actual or potential ‘nation’” (Smith, 1991: 73). Thus, the problem of intensified national identity-building could result in extensive ethnic segregation and even in open conflicts, as in the early 1990s.

Furthermore, the Dayton Agreement signed in 1995 ended the war in Bosnia, establishing the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina and dividing the country into two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (mainly controlled by the Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats) and the Republika Srpska (mainly governed by the Bosnian Serbs). Thus, territorial segregation along ethnic lines further empowered ultra-nationalist projects of building separate nations on all sides. Although more than fifteen years passed after the war, ethno-political segregation and ethnic polarisation are still a key feature of the Bosnian social and political climate, preventing almost any democratic initiative in the country. In other words, the post-war political and social discourses have been largely dominated by three ethnic groups, leading to the institutional marginalization of minority groups and other citizens who are not part of the three ethnic communities. In post-Dayton Bosnia the majority of citizens are in a position of homo duplex, or a divided humanity, since they are in a struggle, torn between being a genuine human being and a loyal ethnic being. In fact, political space has become limited and ever more unwelcome for groups such as those who see themselves as Yugoslav, Bosnian, non-nationalist, and so forth. As Touquet and Vermeersch point out:

“These people have now been excluded from mainstream accounts of the outcomes of the recent conflict: it is not possible to be a Yugoslav, a Bosnian or an Eskimo in a situation in which ethnic nationalism has transcended all else and in which there are intensely localized variations in identity and ‘national’ sentiments” (2008: 280).

On the other hand, Bosnia has been going through a thorough Europeanization process since the late 1990s, when the EU initiated the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) to establish more tangible political and economic links with countries in the west Balkan area. This Europeanization process has been an important force for strengthening political stability, economic prosperity, democracy, rule of law, and peace in the countries in the region. Also, the Europeanization process does not only entail the adoption and implementation of EU policies, rules, and laws, but also it has promoted its norms, values, and identity in EU candidate and potential-candidate countries. In fact, the impact of Europeanization is not limited to the realm of policy, but can impact on all aspects of domestic society including political discourse and identities. Jenkins and Sofos point out “to the extent that localities, regions and supranational institutions are empowered and achieve democratic legitimacy, national consciousness may be reduced to its proper place, as one of a set of ‘multiple identities’ where citizenship and politics are no longer confined within the boundaries of the nation-state” (1996: 29). Since the Europeanization process may impact identities in the EU candidate countries, it is relevant and in fact urgent to examine its impact on the process of nation-building in BiH. It seems that the best foundation for such an [European] identity is the emphasis on a shared political future, rather than a shared national past (Winn, 2003: 5).

Europeanization has become a very fashionable concept amongst intellectuals, who use it to denote a variety of changes within both European politics and international relations (Featherstone & Radaelli, 2003: 3). Yet, Europeanization has been used in a number of ways to describe different contexts and different processes of change; it is a slippery concept, generally used when studying “the domestic impact of the EU” (Sedelmeier 2006: 4). The concept is very important within the studies related to transformative power of the EU through diffusion of ideas - namely rules, values and norms. Europeanization is generally used when analysing to what extent the EU policies and politics are influential within a domestic context both in the EU member states and applicant countries. In other words, an understanding of the Europeanization process as being limited only to the EU member states may be misleading, since Europeanization can also be exported, especially towards the candidate countries (Papadimitriou, 2002:5). Hence, the Europeanization process can influence identity-building process in the EU aspirants, especially in post-conflict societies such as Bosnia-Herzegovina. Since the question of national identities is subject to slow change, it is indeed debatable to what extent the transformative impact of a Europeanization can affect the process of nation-building in BiH. Yet, regardless of the social and political context, identity is not static but dynamic (Jacobs and Maier, 1998: 3).

In the past the question of national identity mainly operated at a national level, but with the progress of increasing Europeanization process and similar transnational processes, national and ethnic aspects of orientation are losing their exclusivity. As a result, national identity is today more global and pervasive (Smith, 1991: 143). For instance, a European citizenship as defined by the Maastricht Treaty is the result of the common good offered by the European Union. The citizens of the EU states can be ‘Eurocitizens’, have both a national identity and a regional one. Thus, one dimension of Europeanization is concerned with the evolution of a sense of community among the citizens of the European Union’s member states, often defined as a ‘European Identity’. In this regard, the Europeanization process is defined as the construction, institutionalization and diffusion of beliefs, norms, rules and policy paradigms which are consolidated in the EU policy process and then incorporated in the national discourse and structures (Bulmer and Radaelli, 2004). No doubt the largest success of transformative EU power relates to reshaping the identity, values and norms of the Central and Eastern European countries (Keukeleire & MacNaughton 2008: 334). In this context, the EU paradigm can provide the citizens of BiH with a new social, legal, and political space to develop and strengthen alternative identities that cross chauvinist ethnic lines, leading to growing awareness that there are supranational causes which are universal values and as such are equally important to all citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Similar to the CEE citizens, the majority of people from Bosnia have viewed future EU membership as their ‘return to Europe’ after the socialist Yugoslavia and a post-Dayton era of technocratic regime.

In fact, identification with Europe as a supranational community can in Bosnia and Herzegovina become a way to overcome the identity fictions that exist among the country’s ethnic groups. For instance, a vast majority of Bosnians among all three ethnic backgrounds support the country’s EU membership. In fact, eighty-eight percent of Bosnians support Bosnia’s European ambitions, according to the poll conducted by the Bosnian agency for European integration, for which 1,200 people were questioned. Furthermore, the poll results show that support for EU membership is strongest in Bosnia’s Muslim (Bošniak) community, with 97 percent in favour, while 85 percent of Bosnian Croats support it and 78 percent of Bosnian Serbs (Kotonika, 2011). Such a significant number of supporters of EU integration among the citizens of all three ethnic groups is an opportunity and reason to expect that the EU can make these ethnic groups identify with this new supranational community. Although significant number of Bosnians aspires to enter the EU because of better economic opportunities many Bosnians perceive Europe or the EU as a source of an alternative identity (supranational). Thus, similar to the emergence of a European Community, which strengthened post-war Europeanization in Germany, it is possible to discuss a similar scenario regarding the post-war Europeanizers among the Bosnian ethnic groups. The European integration process has contributed to reorientation of Bosnian complex identity toward modern-liberal Europe. In fact, the Europeanization process of BiH is starting to look like evidence of a small step toward the country’s supranational transcendence.

For example, the Europeanization process has proved its impact on identity building by fostering a democratic, tolerant and more inclusive society in EU aspirants, especially in the Central and Eastern European countries. Thus, referring to the accession process of the ten CEE countries Risse argues that while it did not forge completely new identities, the EU accession reinforced identification with Europe (2010). In fact, the Europeanization process in the CEE resulted in increasing identification with Europe, besides their national and other identities, in most of the countries in the region. Both candidate states and potential candidate states that integrate with Europe have to adopt the acquits communautaires which will as a result affect construction of a new identity. In fact, there is more space for Europe in the various collective identities than is commonly assumed (Risse, 2000). Thus, the process of Europeanization is, among other things, based on the spread of norms and values by the EU towards the accessing country and therefore implies a change in the national identity towards a more European identity. In fact, identities can change over time and are shaped by different influences. Especially social constructivists argue that: “... Collective identity is not naturally generated but socially constructed...” (Wagner, 1995). As a result, Bosnian citizens are currently mediating between ethnic-nationalist identities, which are based on chauvinistic calls for ethnic apartheid, and a Europeanization process which provides hopes for supra-national identity which is based on values such as democracy, inclusion, solidarity, and rule of law.

For instance, the process of institutional inclusion of minority groups and non-nationalists in BiH, necessary before the country’s EU membership, can become a way to overcome the historical citizenship tensions that exist among the country’s ethnic groups. In fact, while minority groups were completely marginalized during the peace negotiations among warring ethnic groups, their presence and political inclusion could be utilized for the development of a democratic and open society. While after the ruling of the ECHR minority groups have become a 'huge problem' for the country's integration into Euro-Atlantic associations, they could actually be a part of a long-term solution regarding the country's democratisation process. Furthermore, institutional inclusion of minority groups and those which do not identify with dominating ethnic groups in the country require thorough reforms which will considerably impact the core of the political system such as  the electoral process, administrative policies, education policy, etc. In other words, the EU-initiated processes of institutional engineering and systemic inclusion of minority groups and non-nationalists into policy-making processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina signals an important and historic shift from an ethnocentric citizenship model towards a democratic and inclusive citizenship regime. Being aware of the fact that such reforms will result in extensive transformation within current ethnic-based citizenship, ruling ethnic politicians resist inclusion of vulnerable groups in policy-making. Despite serious challenges, which have attempted to prevent such a democratic process, the policy of inclusive and democratic citizenship is unavoidable if Bosnians want to enter the EU in the future.

Thus, citizens from each ethnic group in BiH becoming more aware of the existence of supra-national communities such as the EU, of which they will hopefully become a member in the future, will start identifying more and more with Europeanness, thus softening current ethnic tensions which are to a large extent a result of the identity-based disputes. For instance, currently significant numbers of Bosnian citizens on each ethnic side do not want to see in their neighbourhoods member s of a different ethnic group - Serb, Bosniak, Croat, Turk, Cetnik, Ustasa, Balija, etc. However, by approaching the EU, ethnic groups in BiH have increasingly accepted the fact that the country is becoming a part of a larger community with which they also start identifying. In fact, these local identities can go hand in hand with supranational identity, as described by the metaphor of 'marble cake'. It opens the possibility of a “heterophilic Europe of multiple and mobile identities and a gradual erosion of the difference between “them” and “us” (Hudson, 2000). Also, increasing identification with the European Union or Europe is likely to be omnipresent among those citizens who strongly support the pre-war brand of a multi-national and multi-religious Bosnia. They increasingly perceive the EU as the offspring of a tradition of cosmopolitanism as formulated by Immanuel Kant. Still, it should not be forgotten that probably this project can also lead to the conclusion that the Europeanization project is predominantly about the process of technical implementation of rules and principles in local policy-making, thus excluding any possibility of significantly affecting the course of national identity-building within individual countries or ethnic groups.



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