Debate on participation of citizens in democratic processes held in Mostar

European Union Ambassador in BiH Johann Sattler hosted a public debate in Mostar on “Elections and Citizens’ Participation in Democratic Processes” organised by the EU in BiH within the “TOgether We are EUrope/ZAjedno smo EUropa” project, with the aim to encourage discussion on BiH’s EU path, particularly in the context of the 14 key priorities from the European Commission Opinion on BiH’s application for EU membership.

The discussion was joined by Austrian Ambassador to BiH Ulrike Hartmann and, via video-link, U.S. Ambassador to BiH Eric Nelson, as well as representatives of youth associations, academia and civil society from Mostar and the whole BiH.

Ambassador Sattler particularly emphasised the importance of holding the debate in Mostar, a city where around 100,000 people will elect their local government representatives for the first time in 12 years. “Enabling the holding of local elections in Mostar is one of the brightest spots in this year’s European Commission Report on BiH. Do not underestimate your vote, every vote matters!” said Ambassador Sattler, adding that the EU and the entire international community would closely monitor the country’s election process.

Two panel sessions were organised within the debate, the first of which was dedicated to the role of active citizens in elections, while the second delved into elections in the service of citizens. Discussion points included what having local elections after 12 years means to the citizens of Mostar, how citizens can be active in the democratic process outside of Election Day, and how young people can achieve positive change in society. In the context of the country’s further progress on the EU path, the crucial importance of the first on the list of the Opinion 14 key priorities on the importance of the conducting elections in line with European standards was underlined.

Ambassador Nelson, in his address via Zoom, said that BiH has the capacity to progress, but that the reason for slow progress lies in the lack of political will, and that citizens must therefore use their vote. Speaking in the first panel, Austrian Ambassador Hartmann said the act of going to the polls is not the only way to participate in the election process, but that it is the most important one, and called on citizens to actively participate in the election process but also in activities after the election.

Also taking part in the debate was Dario Jovanovic, manager of the EU-funded project “Systemic Transparency in the Electoral Process” (STEP) and the Coalition “Pod Lupom”, as well as representatives of the Local Democracy Agency Mostar, Youth Centre Abrasevic, NGO Minores from Mostar, Youth Initiative for Human Rights in BiH (YIHR BiH), as well as the Open Society Fund BiH.

In concluding the debate, Ambassador Sattler called on all election participants to refrain from divisive rhetoric during the campaign and to focus on the real issues of citizens, such as kindergartens, infrastructure, landfills and pollution. “Some BiH cities are among the most polluted in the world. It is necessary to change the narrative and demand more responsibility from politicians in solving this and all current problems that all BiH citizens face,” said Ambassador Sattler.

The public debate was held at the Intera Technology Park, with a limited number of visitors due to preventive epidemiological measures for stemming the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to those present, approximately a hundred representatives of civil society organisations, academics and members of the business community, young people and media were able to follow the event and join the debate via video link.