The Sarajevo, Bosnia-based Liberalni Forum recently held a well-attended series of debates in various cities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The series, Advancing Liberty through Dialogue, aimed to identify challenges currently facing Bosnia-Herzegovina in the two decades since the fall of Yugoslavia. Academics from Bosnia and other Balkan states debated in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, and Tuzla, and the debates drew a total audience of almost 250.
“There are numerous and difficult challenges facing Bosnia-Herzegovina,” said Danijal Hadžović, CEO of Liberalni Forum. “As a former socialist state, Bosnia-Herzegovina, in spite of certain pressures from the United States and the European Union, has never in the right sense passed the transition from socialism to a modern democracy based on a market economy. Small business is burdened by high taxes (the highest payroll taxes in Europe) and harmful regulations. But it is not just the economy that is under political repression. From justice to culture, practically all segments of society are under the strong control of ruling parties. These problems not only concern Bosnia-Herzegovina, but the whole region of the Western Balkans.”
In the two decades since the fall of Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina has not seen the same levels of economic success of some of its neighbors, notably Croatia, Slovenia, and Macedonia. While these three former Yugoslav states have begun to embrace free-market economic policies, the remaining Balkan states, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, and Kosovo, have not. This is evidenced by the nations’ ratings in the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World Report, where the Balkan states which have come closer to embracing free-market ideals are ranked considerably ahead of those which have not. Bosnia-Herzegovina is ranked 99 overall, compared to 67 for Macedonia and 72 for Croatia.
Independent Bosnian politician Senad Šepić speaks at a Liberalni Forum event.
“When it comes to the recent debate series, Advancing Liberty Through Dialogue, which we facilitated thanks to Atlas Network, we discussed some of the key challenges facing our country,” continued Hadžović. “This included whether social democrat or liberal politics are a solution for Bosnia, how a new electoral law should look, and the possibility of our country becoming a member of NATO. The aim of this project was to foster a culture of dialogue in our society, and, through the debate with representatives of other ideologies, the promotion of liberal views on these issues. Five debates were held in three different Bosnian cities. Many visitors attended the debates, including some prominent politicians, foreign ambassadors, leaders of non-governmental organizations, and journalists.”
In addition to the debate series, the organization has hosted a panel of researchers and Members of Parliament to discuss the ramifications of proposed electoral reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Issues addressed included the continued presence of nationalist politics in the nation, the possibility of joining other former Yugoslav states Slovenia and Croatia as members of the European Union, and proposed changes in the vote counting system in Bosnia. The panel concluded with the members agreeing that furthering a liberal democracy was paramount to a more successful Bosnian nation.
Liberalni Forum is a recipient of Atlas Network’s Illiberalism Grant, which is awarded to help its partner organizations that are working to combat the new authoritarianism and stop the rise of illiberal statist sentiment.