Whatever aspirations Bosnia-Herzegovina had of joining the European Union may well have been set back by the results of Sunday's presidential and parliamentary elections.
Regional experts and political analysts had hoped that the election might produce a less-divisive coalition government, or at least one that might be less resistant to reform. But preliminary election results reflected the reverse -- continuing ethnic nationalism that would make it very difficult to form any kind of coalition. Bosnia-Herzegovina will likely need to demonstrate stability in its democratic institutions before it can join the EU and NATO.
Following the 1992-95 war, Bosnia was divided into two separate entities -- a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serbian Republic. Peace has held since the 1995 U.S.-brokered Dayton Accords, but internal healing has taken much longer. Deep ethnic enmities still linger.
"The election results generally indicate more of the same, and that is the polarization between the Serb Republic and Muslim Croat polities," said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Bosnia's "political paralysis" could make prospects for EU and NATO membership "remote at best," he added.
"Bosnians are feeling humiliated as our country's very existence is in question," said Sead Numanovic, editor of Bosnian newspaper Dnevni Avaz, quoted The New York Times.
Others said the lag time in forming a government is not unusual for Bosnia. "This is normal here. This has happened since 1995, the formation of new governments always lasted between four and five months," international peace overseer Valentin Inzko told Reuters.
Bosnia's Political Landscape and EU Prospects
With more than 70 percent of the vote counted for the national Parliament, "Muslims supported parties favoring a united Bosnia, Serbs backed nationalists urging secession and Croats voted for parties seeking their own entity within Bosnia," Reuters reported on Tuesday.
Bosnia's presidency is made up of one member from each of the country's ethnic groups -- a Bosniak and Croat elected from the Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serb from the Serbian Republic.
According to the constitution, the members of the presidency serve a four-year term together. The president who receives the most votes is the first to hold the position. Then, the office rotates every eight months.
Bosnia, along with other states of the former Yugoslavia, is seeking EU accession. "Slovenia is already a member, Croatia hopes to join by 2012 and Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia have all applied for membership," according to Reuters.
But Bosnia's complex political system itself could work against the country's membership aspirations, according to some analysts. "(Bosnia's government) is the most complicated, most absurd system I know as a political science professor," political analyst Jacques Rupnik from the Paris-based CERI Centre for International Research and Study told The Agence France-Presse. "With this system you can never join the EU."
EU membership criteria state: "stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities; the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union; and the ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union."
On Oct. 1, Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom William Hague and German's Minister of Foreign Affairs Guido Westerwelle published an article addressed to Bosnia-Herzegovina on the path to EU integration.
"We are both foreign ministers of coalition governments in our own country, and know what it is to put aside our differences and work with our political opponents to build a better future for our country," they wrote. "We urge Bosnia and Herzegovina's leaders to work constructively together and with the EU, NATO and the rest of the international community."
But Bosnians have serious issues before they can consider EU integration, including the basic question of how long the country will hold together before joining a larger entity. Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb prime minister, has repeatedly called for the Serbian Republic to secede, saying the Serbian Republic "will become independent within the next four years," reported The New York Times.