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Exclusion politics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brexit case study and USA

This essay was written as part of the 2016 Humanity in Action John Lewis Fellowship at The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia.


In this essay I will try to articulate the problems of the political rhetoric of fear of globalization through the lens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, The United Kingdom and USA elections. I know it seems like a lot but bear with me.

I’m going to start with a decade old hot topic in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the constitution. It was made by prominent members of the international community locking up the main political actors of the ’91-’95 war and making them rethink their actions, hence the Dayton Agreement was made and it would be the first constitution that is also a peace agreement. Fast forward twenty-one years and the country is locked in a political paralysis with the constitution judged as a violation of Human Rights three times by the European Court of Human Rights, first time in 2009. 

These cases were connected to the election law that states only constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs) can be considered for presidency. The country has always been on the crossroads between East and West, being previously invaded by Ottoman Empire for about five centuries, followed by the Austrian Hungarian Empire and the willing accession to Yugoslavia. During all this time, it was also a sanctuary for Sephardic Jews and many other European minorities. This created a very complex society that many locals like to call a « melting pot of cultures », coincidentally a word used to describe USA too. 

Unfortunately, nowadays the focus is only on the three constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats), putting aside the needs of minorities and the three peoples themselves being a minority in different parts of the country.   These conditions were agreed upon in peace treaty. The system where people are chosen based on their religious and ethnic background has proven not to be the most efficient since those characteristics don’t necessarily make a good leader.  It has created a segregated state where each group blocks the progress of another based on the logic that it may be bad for « us » but it’s worse for « them », bringing back the 1990’s rhetoric of « us » vs « them » and neglecting the fact that it’s still one country, under one umbrella government.   

This rhetoric isn’t isolated to Bosnia and Herzegovina, but is prevalent in other Western countries; the actors may be different but the effect is the same. Transitioning to the UK with the words of British Ambassador to BiH, explaining the obvious blame of political will to solve these issues, « But the Presidents are the heads of their parties — and it is their job to lead. »  

Almost a month ago, on July 24th, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.  The leave campaign was heavily based on the fear of the British people of « foreigners » taking their jobs. It had a general language that appeals to broader masses promising everything and nothing in particular. For example the leave campaign stated that « a huge amount of money is going to the EU and wouldn’t it be great if that same amount went to health care? », explaining after the referendum that they don’t really have the means to do this. 

However, the UK may never exit the European Union because Article 50  has to be triggered which is left to the next Prime Minister, since David Cameron resigned.  The data shows that people from areas which benefit the most from EU programs are the ones who voted to leave. The general public says they weren’t quite sure of the pros and cons of leaving and this crisis could potentially result in some of the territories of the Kingdom making their own referendums for independence. It should also be noted that this referendum was non biding. The referendum emboldened racists to speak more loudly, as it was pointed out by complaints.  

Across the ocean the presidential elections are culminating in the US with two candidates. Now, I am too young to have followed all of the previous elections across the ocean but what people are saying is that there has never been an election like this. While I can see the sensation of potentially having a first female President and a first orange President, my focus is more on what does the « rise of Trump » mean and how does it compare to Brexit and Bosnian context. When people feel a big change they turn to leaders for guidance. Unfortunately globalization has left some folks behind who were unable to reap the benefits of an on-growing global market, easy access to information, exchange programs, etc. This created a whole new minority who feel excluded from this conversation and threatened by the changing demographics. Which would pretty much be the oversimplification for all three cases and most visible in the USA. Dr. Kim further explains that this group might be the middle class in high income countries.   

Many would argue, including people such as Derrick Kayoing of the NCCHR, that the sole reason why the USA is strong is because of the variety of cultures coming and bringing different perspectives. While that is the liberal popular opinion of today, unfortunately this is not the first time in US history where there was advocacy and actual implementation of migrant exclusion and racist laws.  Main motto of Trumps campaign is building a wall to keep the Mexicans out and of course making them pay for it. This argument completely neglects the fact that there is a wall at the border, but that doesn’t seem to matter. 

To conclude with some counter arguments: in Bosnia and Herzegovina not all policies are far right, but the segregation rhetoric is strong. For example just recently the anti-discrimination law was amended to offer protection to inter-sex people and LGBTIQ community.   Back to UK, vote to leave won with only about 4% difference. Leave campaign also made some other arguments like security concerns and economic growth because the decrease in value of the Euro is directly effecting the UK. Furthermore, Trump isn’t running unopposed and there is a speculated string of hope that the populist politics of Trump is only there for sensational purposes.   These are also facts that should be taken into account.

So, what do we do to combat the rise of right wing parties and segregation policies? We need to think of « global inclusion ». It is a term coined by former UN Secretary General Kofi Anan to refer to ensuring globalization benefits (economic, political and social) to a wider population within the « global village ».  The task now is to address this issue by engaging people from various backgrounds: all classes, rural areas, urban areas, young and old, etc. with the benefits that come with an exchange of culture.  

Young activists can’t afford to live in the « liberal bubble » anymore, the issues of rural communities and disappearing middle class must be addressed. We can’t stay silent while separate but equal laws are trying to find their place in the 21th century. In the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I’m going to finish up with a quote from Pastor Martin Niemoller from the Holocaust Memorial museum: 

« FIRST THEY CAME FOR THE SOCIALISTS, AND I DID NOT SPEAK OUT— BECAUSE I WAS NOT A SOCIALIST.
THEN THEY CAME FOR THE TRADE UNIONISTS, AND I DID NOT SPEAK OUT— BECAUSE I WAS NOT A TRADE UNIONIST.
THEN THEY CAME FOR THE JEWS, AND I DID NOT SPEAK OUT— BECAUSE I WAS NOT A JEW.
THEN THEY CAME FOR ME—AND THERE WAS NO ONE LEFT TO SPEAK FOR ME. »

In my opinion, it is the duty of the new generation, the Millennials as people call it, to create an environment where conflicts are not avoided but are seen as an opportunity to grow through civic engagement. The duty to leave the world a little better then we found it. In the words of one of the John Lewis Fellows « Love is the biggest form of resistance, not encouraging the system, not continuing the cycle of bitterness » and it’s how I chose to understand when John Lewis says « Love your enemy like a brother ». You don’t run from a family conflict, you confront it. Our respective nations and all the fellow citizens in them are our family, even when we don’t agree we live in a global village and isolation is not a sustainable response.

« WE HAVE TO CALL UPON OUR MEDIA TO DROP THE LANGUAGE OF FEAR AND BE TOLERANT TO ONE ANOTHER » -  ALEXANDER BETTS

Love is resistance. 

… And civic engagement. Please vote. Four years is a lot. 

References

1. European Court of Human Rights, Press country profile: Bosnia and Herzegovina http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/CP_Bosnia_and_Herzegovina_ENG.pdf

2. The status of constituent peoples and Minorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina http://www.refworld.org/pdfid/469cbfd80.pdf

3. Pod Lupom, election irregularities statistic http://www.podlupom.org/en/nepravilnosti.php#5

4. Bosnians applaud as their neighbors cows perish http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/bosnians-applaud-as-their-neighbours-cows-perish-07-21-2016

5. MOSTAR: Time to restore democracy http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/edwardferguson/2016/08/02/mostar/

6. Ted Talk, Alexander Betts: Why Brexit Happened and what to do next https://www.ted.com/talks/alexander_betts_why_brexit_happened_and_what_to_do_next#t-947729

7. Nigel Farage: £350 million pledge to fund the NHS was 'a mistake’ http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/06/24/nigel-farage-350-million-pledge-to-fund-the-nhs-was-a-mistake/

8. Article 50 by Lisbon Treaty means any state can withdraw from the EU in accordance with the state’s constitutional requirements

9. Will article 50 ever be triggered? http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/26/who-will-dare-pull-trigger-article-50-eu

10. Brexit: Increase in racist attacks after EU referendum http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/06/brexit-increase-racist-attacks-eu-referendum-160628045317215.html

11. The answer to anger over globalization is not xenophobia http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p043h3qb

12. Jim Crow laws of the 1940s-50s American South and Chinese exclusion act of 1882

13. Illegal Immigration: Current Length of US-Mexico Border wall http://www.newsmax.com/FastFeatures/U-SMexico-border-wall/2015/09/04/id/673637 

14. BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA AMENDS ITS ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAW; INTERSEX PEOPLE OFFERED PROTECTION FOR THE FIRST TIME http://www.lgbti-era.org/latest-news/bosnia-herzegovina-amends-its-anti-discrimination-law-intersex-people-offered-protection-for-the-first-time 

15. In 1988, Oprah Asked Donald Trump If He’d Ever Run For President. Here’s How He Replied. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-oprah-show_us_55b691b9e4b0074ba5a5a7a0

16. N YALE UNIVERSITY ADDRESS, SECRETARY-GENERAL PLEADS CAUSE OF ‘INCLUSIVE’ GLOBALIZATION http://www.un.org/press/en/2002/SGSM8412.doc.htm

17. There are really two Americans. Urban one and a rural one. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/10/21/there-really-are-two-americas-a-urban-one-and-a-rural-one/ 

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