“Members of constituent peoples in BiH will feel much better in their own skin once their ethnic identity doesn’t institutionally discriminate others.”
This is one of the statements made by civil society activist and president of UG “Zašto ne?” Darko Brkan for FENA (Federation News Agency). He will be one of participants of the public debate on the subject of “Population census – controversies and consequences”, which will be held on Thursday in Sarajevo organized by FENA with the aid of City of Sarajevo.
Replying to the question if the process of nation forming in the Balkans is over, especially the Bosniak nation, Brkan stated that the real question is the meaning of the term nation.
– What I believe is the core problem is that we are constantly mixing up terms on how a nation or ethnicity is formed.
He emphasized that ethnic identity is a collective identity based on individual affiliation of belonging to a ethnic group out of common motives of the group.
– Therefore I believe that it is incorrect to question if the process of forming a nation is complete since this process requires individual affiliation, and in the context of constant cultural, social, and political processes, it is impossible to speak of finite processes. What is certain is that we are living in a era in which relations in a political science are being defined and redefined between ethnic groups and those groups which do not carry a ethnic identity or affiliation, presented by many citizens of BiH. I believe that currently the process of forming ethnic identities is not in question, however, understanding what ethnicity means and what rights ethnic groups can have and if they can limit rights of others who do not belong to the specific ethnic group. I think that once members of what we call constituent peoples will feel much better in their own skin once their ethnic identity doesn’t discriminate those who do not identify as such, stated Brkan.
In terms of religious and ethnic identification of Bosniaks, Brkan states that atheists can also identify as Bosniaks since everyone has the right to identify themselves in terms of ethnic and religious affiliation.
He also states that the interest for the theme of identity among the public displays how these questions are very sensitive in our society and how these questions can generate change of the current status quo in a political and social sense.
– “The confusion apparent in your question is understandable since we are witnessing entire campaigns dedicated to give instruction on identifying one’s own ethnicity, language and religion. Therefore it is important to inform citizens of the census process so they can freely express their identity during the census”.
Speaking on the tension between citizen and national identity with ethnic/national identity, Brkan states that the identity which arises from citizenship is of administrative nature and is different from ethnic identity which is rooted in individual feeling of belonging.
However, this does not mean that the two identities exclude each other as is apparent in most of the world today, therefore there is no need for collision between the two identities. For example, large number of Austrian citizens or nationals are ethnic Austrians or members of other ethnic groups, therefore citizen/national and ethnic/national identity do not exclude each other.
– “We have a very similar situation here in Bosnia. There are a considerable number of BiH citizens that ethnically identify as Bosnians and Herzegovinians. On the other hand, also present are other ethnic identities, out of which Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats are constituent peoples under the BiH constitution. However, the real problem is not a collision of identities, the problem is the special rights which the constituent peoples hold, which includes discrimination of all others who are not constituent. Because the existence of other ethnic groups represents the legitimate argument for deconstructing special privileges of constituent peoples, the public is fed narratives of “territorial” identities, “national” identities which cannot be ethnic identities, and even scaremongering citizens of belonging to “others” under the constitution, meaning not having equal rights as constituent peoples”. Again, ethnic identity is that of individual feeling of belonging to a group, therefore the arguments of “illegitimate” or “non-existing” ethnic identities are non-sense.”
He also believes that there will be absolutely no institutional or political consequences if the census results display that Bosniaks in Bosnia and Herzegovina account for more than 50% of the total population, except potentially adding to separatist demands by members of ethno political elites of the other two constituent peoples which would manifest as a result of ethno politics attempting to homogenize a group due to fear mongering.
– “Other than the mentioned scenario, which also doesn’t seem likely, there are no other real consequences which could take place. Collective rights emanating from the status of being a constituent people give the three peoples exclusive position in political and institutional sense and their powers are divided equally irrespective of total numbers of members of each constituent peoples. So far we have witnessed a consensus on this issue by political representatives of ethnic-national political representatives, therefore I don’t believe the census will have any effect in changing the status quo.”
When asked about the possibility that the census will show that the number of persons who identify themselves as Bosnians and Herzegovinians outnumber one or more of constituent peoples, Brkan states that what is most tragic is that we will probably need census results to begin to have a public conversation on ending discrimination embedded in constitution and laws of BiH.
He believes that the census will not have any direct consequence on the discriminatory system in BiH, and can even worsen as positive discrimination measures will be reduced since they are based on census results from 1991.
– “However political potential of the census is in that it will show how many people are discriminated in BiH and to potentially display how many people are dissatisfied with the current system of government and exclusive rights held by constituent peoples and their domination over other groups.
He states that the greatest potential of the population census is to gather all discriminated citizens in BiH and those who are against discrimination, around a common cause and platform for removing discrimination and provide legitimate arguments for campaigning against discrimination as the most important civil rights campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
– “Off course, other than the challenges to the census process, other challenges can manifest such as political parties attempting to strengthen the position of constituent peoples by misusing the implementation of the “Sejdić-Finci” ruling through solutions presented by the HDZ – SDP agreement. If such a agreement would become implemented in practice, then the goal of our campaign would be to challenge all political parties and their individual representatives who would support such a agreement in BiH institutions. Similar campaigns have taken place in South Africa and United States as illustrated by Rosa Parks who fought against discrimination and apartheid. We also have to struggle for civil rights and a place in BiH institutions and in BiH as a whole. Therefore I believe that it is most important to identify oneself as a citizen of BiH”, stated Brkan.