Change is never easy, but necessary

By Johann Sattler

If willing, humans can do just about anything.

Run a marathon under two hours. Walk on the Moon. Successfully eradicate smallpox.

If willing, humans can ensure that one country’s constitution protects everyone. Not just “yours” or “mine”, but leaving no one behind.

For too long, this country has not shown that will.

On 22nd December 2009 – a decade ago – the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rendered a judgment finding that Bosnia and Herzegovina discriminates against its citizens on ethnic grounds. The verdict in the famous Sejdic – Finci case disputed the provisions of the BiH Constitution which permitted only those belonging to one of the three constituent peoples to stand for election to the BiH Presidency or the state-level House of Peoples.

I wonder how Mr Sejdic and Mr Finci felt when they first heard about the ECtHR’s decision. Did their hearts race with excitement? Did they celebrate? Plan to stand for election for the highest offices in the land? And what do they think about it all now, 10 years later? Have they lost hope?

TEN years is too long.

Tens of thousands of Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens are still discriminated against based on their ethnic affiliation or lack thereof, or the place of residence.

No country is perfect, but valuing the freedom of every person to make a choice for themselves and creating opportunities to turn those choices into real options is what every aspiring EU member state should do. In other words, if a Jew or Roma, or any other citizen for that matter, want to run for election in any EU member state, they must be able to do so.

Some may try to find excuses for why ten years was not enough for politicians in this country to find a solution that would protect and affirm basic democratic rights of all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Dayton Peace Agreement stopped one of the bloodiest wars in the late 20th century, but I don’t think that its deficiencies were meant to remain unresolved. Rebuilding a long-lasting peace is about overcoming and challenging the retrograde narrative of the past. For a start, by ensuring that one’s rights are not diminished under the pretence of protecting someone else’s.

Subsequent ECtHR rulings including recent Baralija case, reaffirmed that not all BiH citizens are equally exercising their right to political participation to this day.

Over the years, I heard dozens of reasons why the implementation of the Sejdic – Finci ruling is overly complicated or even impossible. Regardless, it simply has to be done to ensure that the country protects individual freedoms and provides just fundamental principles. It is also a binding international obligation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and one of the priorities identified in the EC Opinion on its application for the EU membership. The “political obstacles, practical difficulties or even a lack of funding cannot be excuses for not implementing an ECtHR rulings,” as also noted in the recently published Expert Report on Rule of Law issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Mostar citizens must finally be able to go to the polls and elect their own local authorities in October 2020. All BiH citizens must be eligible to stand for the Presidency in 2022.

Change is never easy, but necessary.

Accomplishing what was previously thought to be unattainable is what true leaders do. That is, if willing!