Forever Stranded? Rethinking Approaches to Bosnia and Herzegovina

December 14, 2018
09:00 am - 10:30 am

About the event

More than two decades ago, the peace process in Dayton ended the bloodiest conflict in Europe since World War II and created what some consider to be the most complicated system of government in the world. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s multilayered, bureaucratic, and dysfunctional governance structure has allowed its politicians to exploit ethnic divisions in pursuit of personal gain while evading accountability for poor performance. The general elections held in October 2018 produced a predictable outcome: despite their failure to improve the country’s economic and social prospects, nationalist parties further consolidated their grip on power by exploiting ethnic appeals. Under these conditions, elections alone can hardly contribute to Bosnia’s democratization process, and the best the country can hope for is the deficient status quo. In such a difficult environment, civil society faces an uphill task in fostering and demanding greater political accountability and transparency while stimulating public engagement on quality-of-life issues concerning all citizens.

This discussion reflected on some of these challenges as well as examined new ideas and opportunities for domestic civil society and the international community to jumpstart the country’s stalled progress. The panelists revisited some of the previous approaches to Bosnia’s democratization, consider their own efforts, and suggested new ideas for comprehensive and sustainable change that would lead to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s democratic consolidation and full Euro-Atlantic integration.

about the speakerS

Gretchen Birkle serves as Deputy Assistant Administrator at the USAID’s Bureau for Europe and Eurasia. In this capacity, she oversees U.S. development policy in the region and a portfolio of bilateral and regional programs in democracy and governance, energy security, and economic growth. Prior to joining USAID, Ms. Birkle served overseas and at the Washington DC headquarters with the International Republican Institute (IRI). Ms. Birkle’s public sector experience includes work from 2004-2006 as a senior coordinator in the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. She also served as a board representative to the interagency process for the Millennium Challenge Corporation. From 1997-1999, Ms. Birkle was a legislative assistant to Sen. Arlen Specter. Ms. Birkle graduated from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies with a MA in Soviet Studies and International Economics and from the Pennsylvania State University with a BA in International Politics and a minor in Russian Area Studies.

Srđan Blagovčanin is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina. He is an expert in the field of rule of law, good governance, and anti-corruption reforms, policies and legislation, and has authored a number of studies and analyses on these topics, which were published by the John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, Center for Transatlantic Relations, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, and Transparency International, among others. Mr. Blagovčanin has also worked with the World Bank, USAID, Global Integrity, and other international organizations and institutions. A former Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow, he holds a LL.M degree from Karl-Franzes University in Graz Austria and a specialization in Law and Human Rights from the American University’s Washington College of Law.

Darko Brkan is a founding President of Zašto ne (Why Not), a Sarajevo-based nongovernmental organization that promotes civic activism, government accountability, and the use of digital media in deepening democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina. A leading civil society activist, Mr. Brkan began his career in civic activism over a decade ago. He was Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and in that capacity researched how new technologies can assist the efforts of civil society organizations. His professional interests are mainly digital and social media and elections and political processes, as well as civic activism and participation. Mr. Brkan is an alumnus of the Council of Europe’s Academy of Political Excellence, Fletcher Summer Institute for Advanced Studies for Non-Violent Conflict.

Ivana Cvetković Bajrović is Associate Director for Europe at the National Endowment for Democracy, where she works on grantmaking programs to civil society organizations, think tanks, and independent media across Europe, with a focus on Southeast Europe. Her previous experiences include training U.S. soldiers deploying to the Balkans and supporting the NATO peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina immediately after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords. She has testified in the U.S. Congress, authored a book and articles, and appeared on leading international media outlets to discuss developments in the Western Balkans. Ms. Cvetković Bajrović holds an MPA from Bowie State University and an MA in Democracy and Human Rights from the University of Bologna and University of Sarajevo.

Tanja Dramac Jiries is Program Officer at the National Endowment for Democracy, where she manages the Bosnia and Serbia portfolios. Her previous experiences include working for the Permanent Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the United Nations in New York City and the Office of the European Union Special Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as a number of grassroots civil society organizations in the country. She received her MA in Political Science from the Central European University and is set to defend her PhD dissertation on the recruitment and radicalization process of foreign fighters from Southeast Europe at the Scuola Superiore Sant’ Anna.


Photo by Flickr user Dayou_X.