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Concerns over ethnicity overshadow other exclusions in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Concerns over equality for the three constituent groups have effectively silenced other inequalities that affect members of marginalized communities.

It can be said that no other country is more associated with ethnicity than Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The Centre believes that the Global Pluralism Monitor: Bosnia and Herzegovina report offers a unique viewpoint into the challenges and opportunities that the country continues to work through.

With BiH’s deeply entrenched ethnic struggles, conversations around pluralism are often centred on promoting equality amongst the country’s three constituent groups: Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. These groups are allocated equal political, economic and social rights to limit group-based inequalities and avoid reviving pre-war animosities. However, the Global Pluralism Monitor: BiH report has found that in designing BiH’s society around equalizing its three constituent groups, the country has done two things. First, it limits individuals’ ability to participate equally in society for those who fall outside of these three groups. Second, conversations around ethnicity often overshadow other issues that hamper the country’s ability to pursue greater pluralism and equality, such as class divisions and discrimination based on race, religion, gender and sexuality.

While BiH has not witnessed an outbreak of violence similar to its pre-war past, incidences of inter-group violence targeting gender, LGBTQIA+ minorities and migrant and refugee communities are on the rise. As a result, concerns over ethnic equality for the three constituent groups have effectively silenced other inequalities that affect members of marginalized communities. The silencing of these communities prevents the country from becoming more inclusive and pluralistic.

Another group that is examined in the Monitor is that of the ethnonationalist elites of the country. Although a democracy, a handful of ethnonationalist elites maintain the majority of power in the country. After BiH’s movement from a state-owned to market-based economy in the 1990s, post-war ethno-national elites monopolized the country’s privatization process. As a result, the country’s few elites furthered their own interests at the expense of the rest of the country. Whether by controlling government institutions or media outlets, political elites developed a capacity to perpetuate narratives that reinforce certain ethnic identities and interests. Elites’ consolidation of power and economic entitlement often fuel mistrust, animosity and prevent the majority from accessing more equal opportunities that would enhance pluralism in BiH.

To learn more about how pluralism uncovers divisions beyond ethnic lines, visit the Bosnia and Herzegovina country page.