October 4, 2010
Last Saturday and Sunday the citizens of two small European countries, Latvia and Bosnia, went to the polls to elect new parliamentary and presidential leaders, respectively. Both countries are experiencing severe ethnic tensions that could, if unchecked, drag into the fray larger neighbouring federations, such as the EU or Russia.
Parliamentary elections in Latvia
Latvians went to the polls to elect 100 deputies for the country’s Saeima. Affected by the economic crisis, Latvia is struggling with 20 percent unemployment and a sharp decline in economic activity. The Latvian society is divided among ethnic lines between the Latvian majority and the Russian minority.
Although voters have returned the centre-right coalition of the incumbent prime minister to power, the leftist pro-Russia Harmony Center party has gained 30 seats in the new parliament, up from 18 seats, and 25 percent of the votes. This is good news, as the party’s leaders had vowed to reach out across ethnic divides to ordinary Latvians, more interested in solving their economic woes than in any nationalistic feuds. The election’s outcome will thus benefit Latvians as well as the country’s relationship with its often-demonised neighbour Russia.
All too often in the past, Baltic countries like Estonia and Latvia have been used as a tug-of-war with Russia, by fuelling ethnic tensions there. Estonian nationalist politicians, for example, did all they could in 2008-2009 to bring about a deterioration of diplomatic relations between the EU and Russia.
Election results in Bosnia
Disgruntled voters in Bosnia have sent two moderate leaders to the collective presidency of the country. Croats have elected Zeliko Komsic and Muslims replaced their incumbent president with Bakir Izetbegovic, who declared during the campaign that he is interested in reaching out to the country’s other ethnic groups.
The exception is represented by the Serbs from Republika Srpska, who elected Nebojsa Radmanovic – a secessionist leader – as their president. Nebojsa is quoted as saying that if Serbs could not get a better deal from the current political arrangement, he would lead the tiny republic to secession from Muslim-Croat Bosnia.
Technically still a Western protectorate, Bosnia has so far failed to implement needed reforms after the signing of the Dayton agreement in 1995. The country is ridden with corruption, Bosnia being the poorest state entity to emerge from the ashes of the Yugoslav federation. The current federal agreement and three-partite, rotating presidency have pleased no-one, least of all the Serbs. Ethnic politicians still dominate Bosnian life, a fact that represents a further source of tension at the EU’s doorsteps. (sources: AFP, Reuters, LA Times, Baltic Times, Le Monde)Florian Pantazi