When Nedžad Branković, the prime minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), resigned after months of public protests and a political gamble that failed, his departure left a question of whether FBiH was seeing a surge of citizens’ initiative or just a political misjudgment.
Some in media and activists groups were more than ready to take the credit for Branković’s resignation, but others saw it as Branković’s failure in a power struggle within the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which assigned him the post of prime minister.
‘I don’t want to underestimate the power of the media or public pressure, but this happened only because of the balance of forces within the party’ said Asim Mujkić, a professor at the School of Political Sciences in Sarajevo. ‘Had the balance of forces been different, this resignation would never have happened.’
But colleague Šaćir Filandra, who describes himself as Branković’s friend, disagreed.
‘Even if it weren’t for the SDA congress he would have been replaced, because the pressure from the public was too much’ he said. The political post is demanding, difficult and less than rewarding, he added, and that played a part in Branković’s decision to step down.
Branković told reporters for the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) that he did not want to comment on either his actions or the resignation.
The Political Argument
Buttressing the idea that Branković’s fall was due to a bad political gamble is his relationship with the president of the SDA, Sulejman Tihić. Branović had ignored Tihić for years and sided with Bakir Izetbegović, the son of Alija Izetbegović, who had left the party to Tihić.
In 2007, ignoring Tihić’s instructions, Branković directed the replacement of the management of BH Telecom and allowed that Jasminko Akšamija, Izetbegović’s son-in-law to join the company’s management.
That move gave the Izetbegović family a measure of control over a company with annual income nearly 150 million KM. Branković also advocated selling BH Telecom, although Tihić opposed it.
When Izetbegović announced a run for party president at the SDA congress in 2009 and Branković supported him.
Tihić’s position seemed perilous, both because of the challenge and because he was undergoing treatments for cancer. His cabinet did not want to discuss his illness but confirmed he’d undergone 11 surgeries as well as chemotherapy and radiation.
Branković, close to the Izetbegovic family and a neighbor for years, gambled on Izetbegović winning, believing that Tihić, weakened by the disease, would simply relinquish his place.
But other forces were at work as a result of the story about Brakovic’s apartment deal that CIN published in September 2007.
The next year, public attention was reawakened by a citizens’ movement — and the reaction to it by the than Prime Minister of Sarajevo Canton Samir Silajdžić (Party for BiH) and by than Sarajevo mayor Semiha Borovac (SDA).
The Dosta Movement
An activist movement that calls itself Dosta (Enough) defines itself as people fighting through public expression of their discontent for the dignity of BiH citizens. The group, which came together in 2006, has been known for organizing demonstrations calling attention to problems in education, employment, corruption and with individual politicians.
For instance, after a series of attacks on citizens in Sarajevo, including a murder of a teenager, Dosta members demonstrated to bring attention to the increasing problem of personal safety in the Bosnian capital.
Silajdžić called the protestors a ‘mob’ after which new protests were organized, this time against him and Borovac, demanding their resignations.
Darko Brkan, 30, one of the early organizers of the group, who spent years as a conscientious objector demonstrating against conscription, said the movement, which has about 500 members, tries to rally citizens to take a proactive role in democratic processes. Leadership is fluid and members propose then act on ideas everyone agrees upon.
Brkan said that the members wanted to react to the story about Branković’s apartment earlier, but had been preoccupied with the protests against Silajdžić and Borovac.
They were prompted to finally do something, in part because they saw they had made a difference with the Silajdžić and Borovac demonstrations. Silajdžić resigned, while Borovac’s party lost its majority in city council.
Even before then, Branković returned to the public eye when a regionally known and politically engaged rock band Dubioza Kolektiv edited part of CIN’s interview with the prime minister into its ‘Šuti i Trpi’ (“Shut up and Take It” ) song. Branković repetition of not being able to remember how he had bought the apartment while saying everything ‘was legal’ became the most repeated of the many sound bites the band used in the number.
By the summer’s end several journalists from Sarajevo weeklies filed a criminal complaint addressing the apartment deal between Branković and former prime minister Edhem Bičakčić.
Following that prosecutor Oleg Čavka began investigating Branković and used the documentation from CIN’s initial story as evidence. He filed his indictment in April, just before the SDA presidential elections. He said there was no political motive for the investigation or the timing of the indictment.
‘I didn’t even know that the SDA Convention was coming up’ Čavka said, adding he would have addressed the issue earlier but ‘was overwhelmed with the Gaši case’ that recently ended with the conviction of eight people led by brothers Muhamed and Aziz Gaši on organized crime charges.
Whatever the motive for it, Tihić cited the indictment in asking for Branković’s resignation during the pre-convention campaign and Branković said he would wait for SDA chose a new president before he decided.
‘Give the apartment back you thief’
Dosta was still involved also and acted after January, when a graffiti-slogan that read ‘Give the apartment back you thief’ was painted at the entrance to a building where prime minister lived.
Even though he was not named, Branković called on the judiciary for a swift action against the vandals, claiming that his safety was threatened. The media reacted, calling his reaction arrogant.
Dosta, using the social networking website Facebook, created a group titled ‘Yes, I’m the hooligan who attacked the Brankovićs with graffiti’. In just a few days 5,000 people joined the virtual group. The movement continued to gain attention from the media, which kept the issue before the public.
Dosta financed several billboards with a slogan that said ‘Apartment for 920 KM only’ hinting at the cost of the apartment to the prime minister. The Sarajevo cantonal government reacted by having the billboards torn down. Though the structures had been up for years, officials now said they had no permission for it.
‘For this kind of change the synergy between media and citizens is the key because neither one nor the other can do something on their own’ Brkan said. He believes Dosta’s persistent public pressure may have played a part in Izetbegović’s loss.
Brkan called the apartment one of Branković’s ‘lesser sins’ but he said it worked as a powerful symbol for citizens, many of whom cannot grasp the concept of millions of KM lost to mismanagement. What they could understand easily as not right, he said, was the idea of a big apartment in the center city for hardly anything.
Representatives of several BiH political parties disagree on what were the exact reasons Branković stepped down.
Kenan Efendić, spokesperson for the youngest opposition political organization in BiH, Naša Stranka (Our Party), said, that in BiH politicians are not accountable to voters and citizens but to their narrow party leadership. That Branković resigned forced by the Tihić ‘s return to the post of the chairman is proof of this, as he sees it.
Safet Halilović, a member of Party for BiH, a coalition partner with Branković’s SDA, said ‘many factors play a role’ in Branković’s resignation.
‘One-third of the causes’ he said, ‘were doubtless the media which are under the control of the Social Democratic party (SDP) which sees an ally in Tihić. Another third are conceptual differences within the SDA, while another third still is due to the public, that is, the public’s mood that is being influenced by media and citizens’ movements.’