Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of Yugoslavia, many nations abandoned their communist alliances and ideologies, and flocked to Western alliances they believed would revitalize their suffering societies. The United States in particular saw this as an opportunity to expand its influence through democratization. It supported these nation’s efforts to democratize and incentivized these goals with NATO membership, a policy that still exists today. Unfortunately, the expansion of western political and military alliances is perceived as a threat by the new Russian state which has made efforts to limit their influence. This has resulted in a number of quasi-democratic states, teetering on the precipice of democracy, but consistently falling short of the mark. Much of the undemocratic influence these states experience is imbued by foreign nations attempting to advance their own political and military agendas.
One state that has suffered accutely from this fragmentation of ideologies is Bosnia and Herzegovina. Despite efforts to democratize, particularly to join NATO, they have struggled to politically unite. Bosnia has been categorized as a weak democracy since its inception in 1992. It has struggled to unify its vastly diverse society. To compensate for this variety, they established a tripartite presidency with two primary political parties to ensure equitable distribution of ideologies. While this approach appears democratic in the Dahlian sense, as it offers freedom to form organizations, freedom of expression and right for leaders to compete for support, it has actually allowed for certain groups to adopt anti-democratic policies and maintain legitimacy. In particular, the Serbian dominant, Russian backed, Republika Srpska, has continuously blocked Bosnian democratization. One of their primary objectives is to preclude Bosnia’s accession to NATO, a goal Russia shares as well. Under this leadership, they claim foreign influence is degrading Bosnian sovereignty and that joining the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program in 2006 and Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 2010 to reinforce military and democratic lapses within the country don’t serve Bosnian interests. Despite 70% of Bosnians wanting to join NATO, Republika Srpska has managed to maintain key policies regarding state military owned assets to deter accession. Unfortunately, freedom of religion and cultural expression, equality and access to voting, and accessibility to public office has ironically harmed Bosnia’s democracy. Despite Judith Shklar’s suggestions that to maintain democracy society must equally respect their political community and that inclusiveness is essential, Bosnia has allowed a tyranny of the minority to establish itself.
This minority has retained power through Serbian and Russian alliances to deter western military and political alignment. Rather than inclusion sparking a majority anxiety that leads to exclusion, as Charles Taylor would suggest, too much power has been given to the minority that propagates anti-democratic values. This inclusiveness has encouraged divisive, exclusionary policies. In addition to implementing policies that make international cooperation with western military forces impossible, a number of discriminatory and oppressive policies have been implemented to suppress democratic progress.
Russian influence extends through this Serbian leadership and through the Orthodox Church which projects Russian propaganda and anti-democratic messages. They promote anti LGBTQ+ messages, suppress voting and applaud genocidal actions. This directly limits the participation of all people in Bosnia. It limits the capacity for democracy in two ways: the government is prone to influence by leaders of foreign nations and it detracts liberal rights of its own citizens. It has also isolated portions of the population by claiming itself as a defender of Serbian territorial integrity. This boosts Russia’s popularity among Bosnian Serbs and puts pressure on Bosnia to maintain friendly relations with Moscow.
This relationship has caused Bosnia to become a victim of weaponized propaganda. Republika Srpska has legitimized many Russian positions regarding how Bosnia’s government should run. They have driven a wedge in society regarding western ideals that are difficult to overcome. This propaganda serves to demonize the goals other government actors and minorities in Bosnia aim to accomplish. This allows them to normalize violence against opposition and limit the consequences perpetrators might face. More than 237 war crime cases against 502 defendants were pending in Bosnia at the end of July, and there are 4,000 more suspects that have yet to reach the courts. Republika Sprksa has tried to limit a genocide denial law on its territory and they have refused to allocate funds to media sources they have deemed unfriendly to their goals. Pluralism, inclusiveness and representation have all been limited by one portion of the Bosnian government. What was meant to provide representation to one of the largest ethnic groups in a diverse nation has resulted in devastating weaponized propaganda, discrimination and violence.