BiH Elections and Success of the Srebrenica Campaign

On Sunday, October 7, 2012 Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) held local elections and according to the results, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) won the largest number of seats, 34, in the Federation of BiH followed by the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in the Republika Srpska (RS) entity, which now has 27 municipal mayors. The SDS won more votes in the RS than the current ruling party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) led by Milorad Dodik, the President of the RS.

The recent election was especially tense in the town of Srebrenica where in 1995 the Serb paramilitary forces led by General Ratko Mladic slaughtered over 8,000 men and boys within a five day period. In order to prevent for Srebrenica to be run by the present Serb majority that denies the wartime genocide and ethnic cleansing, the citizens of BiH started the "I Will Vote for Srebrenica" campaign in order to encourage and register BiH citizens to vote against those who deny genocide. "Although we faced discrimination and harassment from the RS authorities, we managed to ensure a fair outcome for Srebrenica" stated Emir Suljagic, one of the founders of the campaign. Many citizens of BiH participated as well as Bosnians living in the United States. "We thank the U.S. government for their support over the years and for standing by Srebrenica" said Reuf Bajrovic, an organizer of the civil society led campaign.

Although justice prevailed in Srebrenica, the results are worrisome in the remaining parts of BiH where ultra-nationalist parties are on the rise. Milorad Dodik's Serb nationalist party – which denies genocide and advocates for the collapse of BiH as a whole, lost power at the local level to an even more extreme Serb nationalist group, the SDS. Formerly led by the indicted war criminal, Radovan Karadzic, the SDS and its rule at the local level are expected to have serious drawbacks on the unity and democratization of BiH.

In addition, the allowance of convicted war criminals such as Branko Grujic, Simo Zaric and Blagoje Simic to run in BiH's local elections can also be deemed as a threat to stability and unification of BiH. Branko Petric, the president of the Central Electoral Commission pointed out that the prohibition of candidates to run only applies to those who are currently serving a prison sentence or if they failed to appear before the court for violations of humanitarian law.

While the success of the civil society initiative in Srebrenica should be celebrated, the rise of political parties such as the SDS not only poses a risk to the development of democratic institutions in BiH but could be seen as a dangerous indicator of things to come.