The peace that is not: Bosnia and Herzegovina is a stark example of neoliberal peacebuilding failures – Bosnia and Herzegovina

In the media, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is often presented as a country incapable of repairing itself. Between the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the image of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country on the verge of collapse figured strongly in the headlines: from Bosnia “threatened to burst” to warnings of a “brewing crisis” or “the Balkan explosion”. In this article, we explore the perception of BiH as a dysfunctional state torn between its aspiration to become a member of the European Union and the self-interested corruption of its ethno-national elites, and dig behind the headlines to uncover the reasons behind the failure of the peace process in BiH.

Gorana Mlinarević and Nela Porobić October 6, 2022

Why has peace failed in BiH?

To some extent, it is true that BiH is a country in which the aggressive militarist and nationalist strategies of its elites have resulted in a total blockade of the country’s institutions. But the truth about when, how and why things went wrong with peacebuilding in Bosnia and Herzegovina goes far beyond the sanitized analysis of the mainstream media and political corridors of London, Brussels, Moscow, Istanbul. or Washington.

The story of failed peace in BiH began the day the war ended and a peace deal between ethno-nationalist and international elites was agreed, with the people of BiH conspicuously absent from these negotiations. Everything that has happened since then – from corruption, militarization and the strengthening of ethno-nationalist projects to the post-war mass emigration – is the result of how this so-called peace was built. and by whom.

Such a result was not inevitable. The failure of the peace process is the product of the colonial approach of the international community to “build peace” according to its needs, and of the feudal and autocratic behavior of the ethno-nationalist elites. A functioning state could not have been built on structures that ensure eternal impunity and the rule of corrupt elites, both domestically and internationally, just as a lasting peace could have been built on an unchallenged spread of capitalism. neoliberal under the guise of implementing a peace accord.

Having lived in this neoliberal “experiment”, wrapped in the language of peacebuilding and recovery, we know very well its insidious workings: reducing democracy to an election day, using reconstruction and recovery as a paravane for privatization and the attack on our public and commons sector, using the implementation of the peace agreement as a pretext to transform our political economy without giving us a say, introducing fiscal consolidation measures and austerity and pretending it is socio-economic reform, consolidating political and economic power in the hands of a few and calling it progress, using international loans under the pretext of investing in energy and sustainable infrastructure while destroying and polluting our ecosystem and driving us deeper into debt. It is crystal clear that the current international peacebuilding efforts are a vehicle for the spread of neoliberal capitalism, with an international peacebuilding industry in the driver’s seat.

Understanding this context, unpacking the reasons why neoliberal peacebuilding in BiH is faltering seems to us of utmost importance. Nobody is off the hook. In our work, we have been warning for some time now that we need to go beyond traditional and localized interpretations, narratives and understandings of peacebuilding in Bosnia and Herzegovina to see all the implications for the political, economic and social in which we find ourselves. try to restore our lives, individually and collectively. It is essential that we reflect on how war and peace have been interpreted, applied, projected and reproduced within Bosnian-Herzegovina society and how a process of peacebuilding, firmly rooted in neoliberal ideology, generated results contrary to the very essence of peace.

The global failures of neoliberal peacebuilding

BiH is not the only country victim of the neoliberal peacebuilding industry. It is, however, a particularly glaring example of how this approach has been and continues to be flawed. Other feminists have also warned, about Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and many other places, that the real consequence of the neoliberal approach to peacebuilding is militarization, exploitation, deepening inequalities and depoliticization. Not peace. And it is a structural problem with global consequences.

As the invasion of Ukraine, as well as the militarization of our societies and our daily lives, normalizes in public debate, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Balkans re-emerge as the next potential war zones in the openness without end of new fronts . Building peace by and for the people, rather than the elites, should be high on the global agenda, but it is not.

Unless we start to open up discussions about the militaristic workings of neoliberalism and look for other solutions, we are approaching the point of no return and risking the future of our planet. The first step is to recognize that peace and neoliberal capitalism are two mutually exclusive concepts and to seek alternatives. More than 25 years of failed peacebuilding in Bosnia and Herzegovina have made this painfully evident.

About Eleanor Blackburn

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