Fourth International Conference Report

A citizens’ association “The Path of Justice” Banja Luka in cooperation with the association “Justice for David and all children in Bosnia and Herzegovina”

Report 

from of the fourth international conference

“Advocacy campaign to raise awareness among young people about the importance of participating in public elections”

October the 29th 2022

Hotel “Bosna” Banja Luka

“Political participation of the young people of Bosnia and Herzegovina” was the topic of the fourth international conference of the citizens’ association “Path of Justice” Banja Luka and the association “Justice for David and all children in Bosnia and Herzegovina” from Vienna, Austria. The conference was held on October the 29th 2022 in the conference hall of Hotel “Bosna” Banja Luka, starting at 10:00 a.m.

The citizens’ association “The Path of Justice” Banja Luka was founded in 2019 by a part of the human rights activists “Justice for David”. Some of its goals are: creating an institutional environment for the legal resolution of the murders of David Dragičević and all unsolved crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, promoting the rule of law and advocating for the harmonization of the laws of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the laws of the European Union, promoting civic activism, educating members of the Association about laws, citizens’ rights, as well as the protection of human rights and freedoms, educating citizens about their rights to participate as citizens in changes to the system so that it is in the function of the citizens themselves, cooperation with international organizations as well as organizations throughout the EU in the direction of realizing the goals of the Association, raising awareness of the public and society about civic activism and the importance of citizens’ participation in the creation of the system in which they live and promotion of the right to access information important for citizens. 

The conference is part of a campaign to raise awareness among young people about the importance of participating in elections, which is being carried out by the citizens’ association “The Path of Justice” – Justice for David, Banja Luka, with the financial support of the European Agency for Democracy.

After the introductory speech by Sofija Grmuša, president of the citizens’ association “Path of Justice”, Banja Luka, followed a plenary lecture on the results of the research on the political participation of young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina – Marjanović, J., M.Sc; Grmuša, S., B.Sc; Ostojić, R., Ivić, M., Dragičević., D. & Perduv., O.– Jelena Marjanović, M.Sc. After which the first panel discussion was organized on the topic “Analysis of the election on the general elections 2022” while the second panel discussion related to the topic “Civic and political passivity of young people when it comes to election processes” .

Conference participants in the panel discussions were Davor Dragicevic and Suzana Radanović, activists of Justice for David from Banja Luka, Ozren Perduv, activist of Justice for David, president of the political party “The Movement of Justice”; Danijal Hadžović, journalist, Maja Isović, journalist, Tanja Topić, political analyst, Vera Bulić, communication specialist, Jovana Kisin, lawyer, Vladimir Kovačević, journalist, Emir Galijašević, candidate of the Zenica Doboj Canton for Tešanj City Assembly and Milko Grmuša, councilor in the Banja Luka City Assembly.

During the plenary lecture, the results of the conducted research were presented, where, in accordance with the operationalization of political participation into traditional and modern ones (Pippa Norris, 2004), we tried to test the hypothesis that more pronounced political participation implies greater involvement of young people in electoral processes. In addition, we tested the reasons for the passivity of young people when it comes to electoral processes. The hypotheses were tested on empirical data obtained through a survey conducted in the period from May to September 2022 via the Internet and in the field, in different cities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Based on the conducted research, it was determined that young people are relatively interested in participating in elections, striving for changes, and deciding relatively independently when voting, but according to the size of the included sample, the problem is the small number of young people in our country and the large outflow of young people abroad.

The drastic decline in the population under the age of 15 is the most worrying. In 2013, the Republic of Srpska had 142,000 inhabitants under the age of 15, while in 2018, that figure dropped to only 100,000 (Statistical Institute of the RS). Furthermore, 530,000 inhabitants left Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2013 to 2019. The data are from the labor force survey, which is published by the BiH Statistics Agency and the Union for Sustainable Return and Integration in BiH. In addition to leaving the country, many citizens renounce their Bosnian citizenship. According to official records, nearly 85,000 people have done so since the end of the war. At the same time, there is no state strategy that would keep, above all, young people to stay. The small percentage of young people who remain in the country are in a situation of confusion and bewilderment because they want to vote and want changes, but according to the analysis of the research, they do not know who to decide for and think that even if they vote, there will be no concrete changes.

According to the official data of the Central Election Commission, there are 1,259,322 registered voters in the Republic of Srpska, while 2,109,344 voters were registered in the Federation, of which 54% participated in the previous general elections. In this context, and on the subject of the first panel discussion, Ozren Perduv pointed out that the number of voters for the elections is high, if we take into account the daily outflow of the population, because all the individuals who went to the elections, are voters who actually live in Bosnia and Herzegovina. All irregularities related to the election process of the 2022 general elections have been transferred by the Central Election Commission to the appropriate Prosecutor’s Office. Taking into account the work of the prosecutor’s office from the point of view of Justice for David, one can immediately assume what the outcomes of the filed criminal charges will be. Systemic corrupt practices were consolidated in the election processes, but despite such a factual situation, CEC members voted for such election results and thereby verified and made them credible.

Maja Isović, a journalist from the respected portal BUKA, points out the devastating attitudes of the CEC regarding the recognition of irregular election results because it must be accepted in some way because the CEC does not have the financial resources to repeat the elections. Maja Isović emphasizes the devastating results of the 2018 elections after the first long-term, civil protests of the Justice for David movement. If you look at the activism of young people, they are active in protests when they need an additional exam period and when they need the construction of another pavilion in the student dormitory. If this activism of young people is compared with the activism of young people in, for example, France, where young people go out to protest because of changes in the law on the pension system which they consider to concern them, because these changes will affect them when they retire, then one can conclude that our young residents are rather lethargic in terms of active participation in social issues. Here you can actually see how passive the youth in our population is and not interested in broader social and political changes.

Danijal Hadžović, a journalist, highlights three important aspects of the previous general elections in 2022. The first refers to the voting process and holding the election, the second is the counting of votes and the third is the election result itself. The High Representative said before this year’s elections, that there will be no election theft and that they will be sanctioned even in the smallest form. The electoral process is very outdated and primitive, which also applies to the counting of votes. The threats of the High representative did not have any effect because all political parties acted as they did in the previous elections. Hadžović points out that it is incomprehensible that non-governmental organizations, political parties and society itself did not advocate more for the purpose of introducing electronic voting and electronic scanning, which would reduce the possibility of fraud, and obtain election results in a short period of time.

Some countries, like Estonia, have electronic voting over the internet, while in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we do not have election results even after a month. Hadžović points out a huge number of irregularities when announcing the winners of the election process, where the president and members of the Central Election Commission repeatedly presented wrong information to the public. What should be the task of the civil sector, foreign embassies, high representatives and opposition parties is to exert pressure, so that the next elections are not met with this kind of vote counting system. Hadžović emphasizes that the election processes were indeed irregular, but that this kind of election result, in addition to everything else, still represents a real reflection of the electoral will of the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The machinery of tens of thousands of employees in public companies, their family members and public companies that receive public procurement and tenders enable the ruling parties to remain in power.

If you look at the political ideologies of the opposition parties, there is no ideological pluralism, they are all national and politically conservative. There are no liberal and social democratic parties. The situation is the same in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is no political, ideological, or any other pluralism, but all existing parties resemble each other in terms of their ideologies and programs.

Comparing the political situation with Zoran Đinđić’s former policy in Serbia, Hadžović highlights the lack of new political options. The big problem is that no one offers an alternative to the current political options. The parties in the Republic of Srpska all have the same ideological positions, it is the same in the Federation, only “Our Party” shows a certain prominence, however its reach was not greater than Sarajevo. No movement or organization has emerged that is strong enough in terms of organization and ideology to oppose the ruling parties.

If we look objectively, as Hadžović points out, SDA and SNSD voters are doing well, how to encourage people who are not feeling well in this country, who are not satisfied with this situation, to act, is a pressing question. The general problem is the lack of adequate research. What is the range of people, who really want alternatives to existing policies, and existing elites, who want real change? Hađović emphasizes that, to begin with, it would be necessary to conduct comprehensive research in order to find out the needs of citizens in the political context and the possible desire of the citizens themselves for change, because the fact is that the political elites do not work against the real will of the citizens and correspond to their mentality and needs.

Commenting on the election campaigns, Hadžović points out the constant emphasis on nationalistic themes, while the attention of the media was absolutely not devoted to the pressing problems of constant inflation and rising energy prices, heating, rising fuel prices, nor was any serious plan offered to prevent the constant demographic drain of our country. The question arises, how will the pension system be financed in ten years with the constant departure of the workforce?

We are ruled by interest groups whose only goal is to stay in power, for the purpose of drawing budget funds and other interests brought by the government in order to control public resources. While the war is still being waged and war goals are being fantasized about, Bosnia and Herzegovina is dying demographically and economically. 

Tanja Topić, political analyst, points out three factors important for the previously held general elections in 2022. She asked an open question: “How to tell someone and motivate them how important it is to participate in the elections after these held elections?”. The CEC is certainly not an independent body, which it should legally be, because they have and must have the green light from the political parties in their activities. CEC is an institution alienated from the people and alienated from election processes, which is reflected in the devastating state of consciousness and spirit, which relativizes criminal acts and violates human rights.

Commenting on the repeated control counting of votes, Tanja Topić points out that the difference of up to 300 stolen votes in favor of Milorad Dodik is minor, because if we count that there are over 2000 election stations, assuming that only 10 votes were stolen in one station, at the end 20,000 votes were stolen. This shows that the theft went up to 500 votes per station, and the scale of that theft is fascinating.

Political elites consciously pushed their subjects to commit crimes. The members of the electoral committees deliberately approached crime and corruption, which has become socially acceptable and is not considered a problem. Crime is justified and not punished. In the context of the protests, Tanja Topić points out that citizens come out to support the protests and applaud the politicians of the social democratic province who enjoy wealth at the expense of taxpayers. We entrusted our tilers to think for us and to act for us.

There is no trust in the institutions of the system, the CEC transfers responsibility to the Prosecutor’s Office and the courts, however, no concrete actions have been taken from that side. Tanja Topić points out that citizens are directly responsible because they do not point out anomalies in society, tolerate crime, relativize crimes and do not act. That border has been constantly shifting from 2008 till today, citizens have been constantly tolerating crime more and more, from individuals who are persecuted by the regime, while it has reached entire groups of citizens, as is the case with the activists of Justice for David. 

Ozren Perduv, an activist of Justice for David, emphasizes the importance of the campaign itself before the elections and the completely politically colored polling committees. The manner in which electoral committees are elected determines and enables the direct influence and control of election committees. Lists of independent candidates that are totally unknown work for the regime, because this is how the ruling parties maintain control over the election boards. Independent candidates are appointed by the ruling parties and in this way the polling committees and the structures of the polling committees that work in their interest are respected. In the same way, we work with parties that have only one candidate each and that have the right to voter committees, and those parties are also instructed by the regime, and in this way direct influence is exerted on the voter committees.

As Hadžović points out, members of election committees publicly agree to participate in crime. Our citizens persistently elect criminals. The problem can further be defined deeper in society: What drives our citizens to participate in crime and criminal activities? What is the response of the education system to this situation? Is it necessary for kindergartens to present these phenomena to children and teach them how they should or should not behave in these situations? What consequences will the individual bear if he behaves in this or that way? According to certain researches, Bosnia and Herzegovina has the highest percentage of religious people, also statistically proven to have the highest percentage of crime and corruption, so the question arises, where does the level of thefts, murders and everything else come from if we are so many religious people? Why we are the way we are, are questions that need to be entertained through deeper analyzes of these phenomena.

Maja Isović, journalist of the BUKA portal, points out the fact that we have not finished with the war and war events, we have not defined what happened and we have not come to terms with war traumas and that is one of the key problems. The war traumatization has not been resolved, no conclusions have been reached in any way even more than 30 years after the war.

Tanja Topić points out the inadequate work of the “Under Scrutiny” coalition, which after a month was the first to announce that the elections were adequately conducted. There is no research of the possible election results, they were not conducted before the election, there is no relevant agency for investigating public opinion. The “Under Scrutiny” coalition is a project of the International community and they did nothing concrete regarding these elections, they extended the hand of those politicians who are in power and work in their interest. An open question arises: “What is the meaning of the coalition “Under scrutiny?”. They are financed by the international community with large financial resources. If we take a look at the whole of Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is no NGO or company that deals with research on these issues. Questions such as: “What are voters looking for, who are potential voters, how to attract new voters?”. There is no survey of voters’ mood, there was none for the previous general elections, no party came out with data and results of possible pre-election results.

The second panel discussion was held on the topic of youth participation in electoral processes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Panel moderator Vera Bulic asked panel participants about their specific political participation and how active they were in political processes. Panelist Jovana Kisin, a lawyer, pointed out that she has never been an active participant in any political options. Vladimir Kovačević emphasized that it would be much more useful to talk about this topic in schools in the context of educating children on this important topic. He emphasizes that he has never been actively involved in politics.

Milko Grmuša, member of the Banja Luka City Assembly representing the Party of Democratic Progress, points out that there is an interest of young people in politics and political issues, however, there is no adequate political organization of this population. Young people get involved in political organizations, but from the motive of personal interests and control of public resources, and not from the motive of political organization and changing the current situation in society. According to his experience, those young people who enter politics based on ideals later change their principles and begin to act in a different way, taking on the roles of controllers of public resources for the purpose of personal interests.

Emir Glajiašević, councilor of the Zenica Doboj canton of the Tešanj, the Party for Progress, the youngest participant of the panel at 28 years old, during the discussion, highlights the great support of young people in his community. He emphasizes how the actions that he organized with young people from his environment had a great effect. In certain circumstances, young people organize and work in their local community, but the level of that organization is small for more specific socio-political changes.

The panelists emphasize, in the context of civil and political passivity, the lack of any ideas and programs for young people. They do not like the political rhetoric that young people hear every day in the public space, the current political setup from the side of the position and the opposition does not meet their criteria and needs. One of the solutions is the emergence of a new political option, a sufficiently charming and constructive political option that will try to make major political changes.

In 2020, Pravda za David participated in the local elections, with new concrete ideas that deviated from the current narrative, which did not achieve greater political success. Insufficient money and insufficient media support meant that the political activities of Justice for David went relatively unnoticed. In addition to the above, Vladimir Kovačević points out that there are certainly more individuals and groups with good political ideas, but our citizens are deeply uninterested in such phenomena. Political groups that promote backward ideas get a lot of political points instead of the other way around.

Why are young people passive? The answer must be sought in the education of children, the education of young people, and the education system. Our children do not learn enough about democracy and political processes in schools, nor are political processes explained to them, and the fact is that Bosnia and Herzegovina is politically complicated. Citizens are interested in political realities, many people think that politics does not directly affect them. The fact is that individuals who are in power and who are decision-makers affect everything, the system of education, health and all other relevant institutions of the system. Children leave school politically illiterate, in contrast to Western or American countries where children are educated democratically and politically already in elementary school. An additional complicating factor is the absence of independent media, we do not have a media that has a large viewership and is absolutely independent of politics.

Milko Grmuša cites the example of the verdict of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which concerns the case ofJustice for david. He states that it is one of the best legal documents ever written in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the strongest legal victory in this unfortunate event. However, nothing was done about it. That document was not further exploited politically, it was not sufficiently applied to the lower legal body, neither the prosecutor’s offices nor the lower courts reacted. Grmuša emphasizes that what bothers him the most in politics is the brutal spending of topics, time and money, because all political topics are current for three to four months, and are not brought to an end. There is a great absence of accountability and consequences for any negative behavior. Young people who in 20 years from now, will be in decision making are today deep in virtual reality, and it is a big question how much, as such, they will be able to bring about any major changes in our society.

Emir points out that people are activated as a result of some event, people vote but do not choose. The problem is that young people are not leaving their comfort zone, young people do not have enough interaction with each other, young people who live in the heart of Europe do not have enough communication, which also results in less political engagement. Young people do not socialize and are not educated enough, the problem is not only political illiteracy, but elementary illiteracy. The generation that was the youngest to have the right to vote was born in 2004, and they do not understand that politics determines their daily lives, and for these reasons they are much less politically active.

Jovana Kisin points out that the primary thing is to find out why young people do not vote, it is not so difficult and impossible to reach young people as a target group. How to influence young people through your work? How to increase influence on young people through topics that are interesting to them? The goal is to try to offer young people some other content, but in a fun way. We are talking about processes here, not about one day. As Jovana emphasizes, in order for a certain idea to attract the attention of young citizens, it needs to be promoted and formed in order to attract a certain type of financing and be noticed. Jovana Kisin emphasizes that through all activities it is necessary to work on mental hygiene, strength is within us, personal maturity and personal importance is important for people who come forward and are change makers.

Vera Bulic emphasizes that children are a great inspiration and that we certainly find strength in our children. Vera emphasizes, in the form of a short conclusion, further focusing of research and projects primarily on direct contact with young citizens in order to analyze the factors that would further motivate them to become more involved in electoral processes. The programs offered by the existing parties do not meet the needs of young people, they focus on nationalist-ethnic themes that turn young people away. The needs of young people are not represented in the offers of the existing parties, they are outdated and much more discourage the engagement of young people than attract them. In the current political sets, young individuals are not represented as a target group in the programs and do not offer them solutions for their needs. Consequently, young people are not sufficiently involved in electoral processes and are looking for a better future abroad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.