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Visiting Speaker: Dr Adis Merdzanovic

For the individual, the demos, or the group?
Evaluating the prospect for a liberal Bosnia and Herzegovina in light of ideological alternatives


Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Time 6:00 - 7:30pm

Cañada Blanch Room, (COW 1.11), 1st floor, Cowdray House, LSE, London WC2A 2AE 


Dr Adis Merdzanovic, Postdoctoral Junior Research Fellow at South East European Studies at the University of Oxford (SEESOX)

Chair Dr Vassilis Monastiriotis, LSEE Research on SEE, London School of Economics

adis_merdzanovic_hrDr Adis Merdzanovic is a postdoctoral Junior Research Fellow at South East European Studies at Oxford (SEESOX) at the European Studies Centre of St Antony’s College, University of Oxford. He obtained his PhD in political science from the University of Zurich and was previously a Swiss Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C. His research focuses on democratisation of divided post-conflict societies with a particular emphasis on political and constitutional orders in the Western Balkans. His current project, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, investigates challenges of liberalism in the Western Balkans in light of the region’s European Union membership perspective. Recently, he published his monograph Democracy by Decree: Prospects and Limits of Imposed Consociational Democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Ibidem, 2015).



Dr Vassilis Monastiriotis presenting the speaker


Dr Adis Merdzanovic, SEESOX

About the seminar: 

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has been involved in a profound transition process supposed to take the country from the post-war stabilising efforts of the Dayton Peace Agreement to full-fledged membership in the European Union (EU). Apart from the many practical challenges on this road ‘from Dayton to Brussels’, there exists a fundamental obstacle. BiH’s political system follows the logic of a corporate consociational power-sharing arrangement that primarily accommodates the interests, and protects the rights of the three ethno-national groups––Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats. Yet as part of the integration process, the EU, implicitly or explicitly, insists on the establishment of a liberal democracy that legitimises itself primarily towards the individual.

Liberal democratic values have thus been central to the EU’s engagement with Bosnia and Herzegovina. But efforts to insist on these values have hit enormous domestic roadblocks. At the same time, the once predicted notion of liberal democracy’s dialectical triumph as ‘the only game in town’ seems challenged; globally, we observe a rise in illiberalism and authoritarianism that most often finds its ideological foundation in nationalism and its voice in populism. While nationalist sentiments have been omnipresent on BiH’s political scene, it is especially liberalism’s insistence on market liberalisation and privatisation that has left much of the population disenchanted with the liberal democratic model itself. It is for this reason that other models for the country’s future have been proposed, most prominently perhaps more direct forms of popular and citizen engagement as articulated during the protest movements two years ago.

In this paper, I analyse the prospect of liberalism taking hold in Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially in light of existing or proposed alternatives. The latter constitute a continuum, ranging from a continuation of ethno-national consociationalism, over a shallow adaptation of the European liberal democratic model and a soft incorporation of political liberal democratic values, all the way to novel forms of direct democratic engagement through citizen activism and maybe even referenda and popular initiatives. The paper analyses liberalism and each of these alternatives in terms of the adequacy of their underlying legitimising structure, their aptness to provide good governance, and their practical chances of being adopted. The paper concludes that liberalism has only a chance to take hold in BiH if it is not merely understood in a technical manner, but as a comprehensive ideology encompassing not only political and economic aspects but providing social justice as well. The major challenge is not that liberalism is structurally or ideologically incapable to take into account the serious challenges posed by the alternatives, but that it has not done so as a matter of political reality.


A complete listing of the 2016-17 Visiting Speaker Programme is available here.




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