Tag Archives: yugoslavia

Will Melania Trump make Slovenia great again?

Melania Trump could become the most influential Slovenian-born figure in American history. (Facebook)
Melania Trump could become the most influential Slovene-born figure in American history. (Facebook)

Donald Trump’s campaign to ‘Make America Great Again’ may be associated with halting immigration from Mexico or making deals with China, Russia or Japan. But a Trump administration might bring another country to the forefront of international relations. USflagslovenia

That’s because his wife, Melania Knauss Trump (in Slovene, Melanija Knavs) would be only the second First Lady born outside the United States.

Louisa Adams, the wife of the sixth president, John Quincy Adams, was born in England. Teresa Heinz Kerry, a Mozambican-born American, the wife of US Secretary of State John Kerry, would have also been a foreign-born First Lady, had Kerry won the 2004 presidential election.

With a staggering victory in Florida’s Republican primary on Tuesday, Trump has amassed around 673 delegates to July’s Republican convention in Cleveland — more than half of what he’ll need to reach 1,237 and the nomination, and much to the horror of a shellshocked Republican Party that’s watched Trump attack Mexican immigrants as racists, called for a blanket ban on Muslims entering the United States, threatened to sue journalists and encouraged physical violence at rallies.

So, even as Trumpmania sweeps right-wing voters across the United States, is the country ready for a Slovene-born supermodel in the East Wing?

For a candidate whose approach to presidential politics is anything but ordinary, Melania Trump’s approach to the campaign trail has been equally unorthodox in a race pitting her against former US president Bill Clinton for the title of ‘first spouse.’

If Bill Clinton’s role in a Hillary-led White House remains something of a mystery, so does Melania Trump’s. She hasn’t identified any particular key issues that she would champion as First Lady, such as Laura Bush’s focus on education and literacy or Michelle Obama’s focus on childhood obesity and fitness. But that’s also because she is raising a 10-year old son, Barron, the youngest of Donald Trump’s five children across three marriages. There’s more than a murmur of talk that Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, would fulfill more of the traditional roles of the First Lady.


Regardless, Melania Trump would certainly bring a level of elegance to the White House unseen since perhaps the 1960s when Jacqueline Kennedy lived there. As American voters focus on a general election showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, Melania Trump’s most important role could be humanizing and softening her husband’s image — he would enter the general election as the most unpopular major-party candidate in recent US history.

Born in 1970 in the small town of Sevnica in southeastern Slovenia, the 45-year-old Melania Trump, is the daughter of a fashion designer, which propelled young Melania’s own modeling career in Milano and Paris and, finally, New York City. She first met Donald Trump at fashion week in the autumn of 1998, and they married in 2005. To date, it’s been Donald Trump’s longest and, seemingly, most successful marriage. Although she became a permanent resident of the United States in 2001, she obtained her citizenship a decade ago in 2006.

But the 45-year-old supermodel, who has graced the cover of Vogue and GQ but not Time, is not exactly a ubiquitous presence on the campaign trail. She rarely makes speeches or gives interviews, though that has changed as Trump’s candidacy gained traction. The rapid transition from supermodel to campaign trail spouse hasn’t been incredibly easy. Most potential first ladies spend a lifetime in politics becoming just as savvy in politics as their spouses. Melania Trump, whose first language isn’t English, has had exactly nine months.

Moreover, when she has ventured into the media, she’s faced tough questions about her husband’s statements about women and his strong anti-immigration stands. In particular, she has faced criticism that as a European model, her path to American citizenship, which involved a special kind of H1B visa, has been far easier than most immigrants. In a debate earlier this month, Donald Trump appeared to soften his stand against the kind of H1B visas available to workers in high demand (including models), only to harden his stand again a day later.


But the nature of the modern presidency means that Trump’s nomination or, especially, a Trump victory in November, will bring Slovenia squarely into the center of American consciousness for, let’s face it, probably the first time in US history. It would be a surprise if many Americans could even place Slovenia on a map or even know that it’s part of what used to be Yugoslavia.

Television news crews have already started descending on Sevnica, a trickle that is likely to turn into a flood by the time of the July convention or, despite the terror of Democrats and more than a few Republicans, next January’s presidential inauguration.

More importantly for Slovenia, the rash of attention means that even if the Trump candidacy somehow fades this spring or falls short of 270 electoral votes in November, interest in Slovenia, including tourism from the United States, could skyrocket for years to come. Since 2012, The New York Times has published just four items in its travel section on Slovenia. It’s a smart bet that will change as the Trump narrative dominates headlines in 2016 and the American electorate gets to know Melania Trump and her background.
Continue reading Will Melania Trump make Slovenia great again?

Reform-minded ‘MOST’ party set to play kingmaker in Croatia

Croatia’s social democratic prime minister, Zoran Milanović, will now look to lead a second consecutive government. (Facebook)

Until this summer, the conservative Hrvatska demokratska zajednica (HDZ, Croatian Democratic Union), fresh off a convincing victory in the December/January presidential election, seemed assured of its victory in Croatia’s parliamentary elections, enjoying a lead of more than 10% in most polls.croatia

Then something changed.

But it wasn’t that the HDZ was losing votes. Instead, leftist voters were abandoning their flirtation with a new left-wing party, Održivi razvoj Hrvatske (ORaH, Sustainable Development of Croatia), formed in October 2013 by former environmental minister Mirela Holy. At the height of its popularity in autumn 2014, ORaH was winning nearly 20% of the vote in polls, most of which came at the expense of the governing Socijaldemokratska partija Hrvatske (SDP, Social Democratic Party of Croatia).

Over the course of 2015, as ORaH’s support plummeted, those voters returned to the SDP and its governing allies that comprise Hrvatska raste (‘Croatia is Growing’) coalition, the largest member of which, by far, is the SDP. In Sunday’s election, ORaH’s vote share collapsed so completely that it failed to win a single seat in Croatia’s unicameral parliament, the Sabor.

That, in part, explains why the SDP did so well on November 8. Nominally, the SDP won just 56 seats, while the HDZ won 59 seats. But three of the HDZ’s seats come from Croatian voters abroad, many of whom are ethnic Croats living in Bosnia and Herzegovina or elsewhere in the Balkans. Moreover, the SDP’s governing coalition can informally rely on a small regional party, the Istarski demokratski sabor (IDS, Istrian Democratic Assembly), which holds three seats, as well as eight additional legislators who represent national minorities, bringing the governing SDP to a more realistic base of 67 seats (just nine shy of the majority it would need for a new term in the 151-member Sabor).


Not atypically, the Social Democratic Party performed best in the Croatian heartland and in Istria in the north and the west, while the Croatian Democratic Union did best along the Dalmatian coast stretching southward and in the far eastern Slavonia.

2015 croatia
The HDZ (blue) triumphed in the south and in the east; the SDP (red) triumphed in the north and the west.

Ironically, it was the unexpected rise of a reform-minded centrist party, Most nezavisnih lista (Bridge of Independent Lists), that probably hurt the HDZ by drawing away reform-minded centrists. Barring the unlikely formation of a ‘grand coalition’ between the HDZ and the SDP, two parties with very different cultural and political traditions, it will be Most, a new party that formed only in 2012, and its 19-member caucus, that will now decide which of Croatia’s two dominant parties will form the next government.  Continue reading Reform-minded ‘MOST’ party set to play kingmaker in Croatia

Bosnia set for elections at all levels of government

mostarPhoto credit to Brittany Ann of brittlichty.blogspot.com. Mostar in 2011.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s election system might not be the world’s most complex, but it vies with highly fragmented countries like Belgium and Lebanon for the honor.federationsrpska

The difference is that Belgium is a wealthy country, and Lebanon, believe it or not, has an economy more than twice as large as the Bosnian economy ($45 billion versus around $17.5 billion) and a much higher GDP per capita ($10,000 versus around $4,600).

The country of Bosnia and Herzegovina quite literally cannot afford its system of government, which was always designed as a temporary structure as part of the Dayton accords that ended its civil war in 1995. More than two decades later, the country is staggering behind even its relatively poor Balkan neighbors, with a ridiculously high unemployment rate of 43.8%. Only Albania and   war-forged Kosovo, which hasn’t even achieved universal recognition as a sovereign state, have lower standards of living.

Slovenia has been a member of the European Union for a decade and a eurozone member for five years, while Croatia gained EU membership last July. Serbia and Montenegro are in negotiations for EU accession, and Albania and Macedonia are at least official candidates, Bosnia and Herzegovina joins Kosovo (and Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia) as a merely potential candidate.

Bosnia’s not a hopeless cause. The Bosnian metal industry was the pride of the former Yugoslav republic, and its capital, Sarajevo, hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. The country’s beauty, with the right infrastructure, could also yield greater tourism interest. Travelers shunning the well-worn path of tourist hotspots like Dubrovnik and Split (not to mention overcrowded Adriatic beaches) could turn to the Sarajevo’s nightlife or to untrammeled mountains and rivers.

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RELATED: Bosnia-Herzegovina census highlights tripartite fractures and constitutional problems

RELATED: Will Bosnian protests be the
final straw for the Dayton accords?

* * * * *

The paralysis of Bosnian government should be apparent in the daunting series of elections that the country will endure on October 12.

Its national government is fragmented into a tripartite system, whereby each of the country’s three dominant ethnic groups each choose a president. Though it’s mostly ceremonial, the presidency ‘rotates’ every eight months. It’s important insofar as it elects to chair of the Council of Ministers, the day-to-day executive body of the country.

But it’s even more complex in the Bosnian context, because the two major subnational ‘entities’ of the country, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (populated chiefly by Bosniaks and Croats) and the Republika Srpska (populated chiefly by Serbs) each has its own president and parliament. Furthermore, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina is further subdivided into 10 cantons, each of which will elect separate assemblies.


Each of the three ethnic groups has its own political parties that appeal to ethnic constituencies, in the same way that Flemish regional voters choose from among Flemish parties, not Belgian ones, or that Lebanese Maronite Christians or Sunni Muslims choose from among competing Maronite and Sunni factions.

In all three countries, that means that a truly national politics can never really emerge, and no truly national leaders can direct a coherent vision for economic, political and social policy.

Continue reading Bosnia set for elections at all levels of government

Will Bosnian protests be the final straw for the Dayton accords?


The Dayton accords ended the conflict among Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995, and established a nearly unworkable tripartite system of governance for the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia-Herzegovina

Though the structure established by the Dayton accords was always meant to be temporary, the country is crumbling nearly 20 years later under the weight of corruption, a stagnant economy, massive unemployment and the ridiculous state of tripartite government at the national level, with another layer of governance within the two subunits that comprise the country the (confusingly named) Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, home to most of the country’s Bosnian Muslims and Croats, and the Republika Srpska, home to most of the country’s Serbs.  Within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, arguably more political power rests within 10 sub-sub-national cantons.  Moreover, the High Representative, an internationally appointed officer designated to oversee the Dayton process, now undermines whatever legitimacy the central and subnational governments have.

Protests provide some glimmer of hope that everyday Bosnians from all ethnic groups are ready to jettison the Dayton system for a more workable model of governance.  The protests began in Tuzla earlier this month over job losses resulting from the privatization of local businesses.  But the protests took on a national character after the protests turned violent, and they’ve now moved from Tuzla and other cities to Sarajevo, the capital.  Since the protests began, at least three of the canton-level prime ministers have resigned, including in Tuzla and in Sarajevo.  Though Bosniaks (and not Croats and Serbs) are mostly leading the protests, the problems they are highlighting are just as dire for the country’s other ethnic communities.  It’s not coincidence that the current protests are taking place simultaneous to the process of the first census in the country’s post-independence history, the results of which could fundamentally shift political reality in the county.  Preliminary results show that the population fell from 4.4 million in 1991 to 3.8 million today, a significant drop.  If the Croat population falls below 10%, for example, or if it’s dispersed much beyond Herzegovina and western Bosnia, it will undermine the political status of Croatians and the possibility of a third Croat-based entity.  If Serbs comprise even more of the Republika Srpska, for example, does it mean that its leadership will push for independence?

So if any country needs a restart, it’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Dayton Accords have perpetuated a system of patronage and corruption that’s effected in triplicate.

As Jasmin Mujanovic wrote last week for Al Jazeera, Bosnia and Herzegovina faces huge difficulties:

For nearly twenty years, Bosnians and Herzegovinians have suffered under the administration of a vicious cabal of political oligarchs who have used ethno-nationalist rhetoric to obscure the plunder of BiH’s public coffers. The official unemployment rate has remained frozen for years at around 40 percent, while the number is above  57 percent among youth. Shady privatisation schemes have dismantled what were once flourishing industries in Tuzla and Zenica, sold them off for parts, and left thousands of workers destitute, with many still owed thousands of dollars in back-pay. Pensions are miserly too; the sight of seniors digging through waste bins is a regular one in every part of the country, while the wages of BiH’s armies of bureaucrats and elected officials have only grown.

After the general elections in 2010, it took sixteen months for a state government to be formed, one which collapsed almost immediately thereafter. Since then, on the rare occasion that Parliamentary sessions have actually been held, the members of this body have mostly concerned themselves with calling for the ouster of their political opponents. Zivko Budimir, for instance, the president of the Federation entity, was arrested in April of last year on suspicions of corruption and bribery. He was released shortly thereafter for “lack of evidence” and has since returned to his post. As Sarajevo burnt on Friday, Budimir declared that he would resign if the people insisted – apparently refusing to look out his window as he spoke.

Since 2008, the country has struggled with low growth and contraction.  As of July 2013, the unemployment rate was 44.6%, and its GDP per capita fell behind every country in the region except Kosovo (including Albania, Serbia, and Macedonia).  ethnicity-based corruption and inefficiency plague state-owned enterprises, and when (or if) they’re privatized, it’s done in the most disruptive (and often corrupt) manner possible.  So it’s no wonder that everyday Bosnians are angry.

Two parties in the governing coalition have already called for snap elections, which were already scheduled for October of this year.

But the elections are a choreographed waltz — not unlike elections in the religion-based ‘confessional’ system of Lebanese politics —  predetermined to balance the Croat, Bosniak and Serb communities at every key level of government.  Each rung of the ladder, however, is an opportunity for corruption, inefficiency and bloat. Continue reading Will Bosnian protests be the final straw for the Dayton accords?

Bosnia-Herzegovina census highlights tripartite fractures, constitutional problems

You won’t find it on any election calendar, but the census that ended today in Bosnia and Herzegovina amounts to the most important election in the country’s history since emerging from the brutal war that resulted from the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.srpskafederationBosnia-Herzegovina

The current governing structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a mess — the country remains divided largely on the lines of the Dayton Agreement from 1995, and a tripartite government more or less guarantees power to each of the country’s three main ethnic groups — Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats — even while the country itself remains divided between the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (51% of the country) and the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (49% of the country).

That governance framework effectively ended the gruesome fighting and ethnic cleansing that upended not only Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the entire former Yugoslavia two decades ago.  But it’s a governing structure that has inhibited the country’s political and economic development to the point that the Dayton-era mechanisms have been denounced by the European Court of Human Rights and EU leaders are demanding fundamental constitutional changes in order to begin talking seriously about the accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the European Union.

Into this volatile mix comes this month’s census, which began on October 1 and will officially conclude today.  The census attempts, for the first time in over two decades, to provide an accurate count of the country’s various ethnic groups — not just its Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats, but the country’s other minorities as well, including the country’s Jewish, Roma, Albanian, Hungarian, Montenegrin, Ashkali, Slovenian, Slovakian and so on.

In the last census taken in 1991 (just before the Yugoslav breakup) the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina, then just part of the greater Yugoslav federation, broke down as follows:


That represented nearly a complete reversal from 1948, when Serbs numbered around 44% and Muslims numbered around 30%.

The current census, which was originally scheduled to be conducted in 2012, asks each person to identify three attributes — their ethnicity, their language and their religion, each of are highly correlated in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ethnicity in the country breaks down largely on religious lines — Bosniaks are predominantly Muslim, Serbs are predominantly Serbian Orthodox and Croats are predominantly Roman Catholic.  A 2008 estimate by the Bosnian-Herzegovinian state statistics office found that 45% of the country is Muslim, 36% is Orthodox and 15% is Catholic, setting a baseline for what we might expect the 2013 census to establish more formally in terms of ethnicity.  While all three ethnic groups essentially speak the same, mutually intelligible Serbo-Croatian language, there are standard ‘Bosnian,’ Croatian,’ ‘Serbian,’ and ‘Montenegrin’ varieties of the language.

That means that political leaders from within each of the country’s three dominant ethnic groups are pushing hard to maximize turnout, lest one group’s numbers fall behind with constitutional reform likely to come in the years ahead — ethnic leaders want to enter constitutional negotiations from as strong a standpoint as possible vis-à-vis the other ethnic groups.  Even Croatia’s government has taken an aggressive interest in the survey by urging Bosnian Croats abroad to vote.


Furthermore, the choice for Bosnian Muslims is even more difficult, who are weighing what it means to be ‘Bosniak’ versus simply ‘Bosnian’ or even ‘Muslim’:

The new census will be the first time the country’s Muslims will have the opportunity to identify themselves as “Bosniaks,” an ethnicity that some Serbs say does not really exist.  “For the first time, Bosniaks will be able to declare themselves as Bosniaks speaking the Bosnian language,” says Sejfudin Tokic, the coordinator of a project called It Is Important To Be Bosniak. “This is a historic census — from the Austro-Hungarian period when they were forced to declare themselves as Muhammadans or during the Kingdom of Yugoslavia when a Bosniak identity was not acknowledged, or during Communist Yugoslavia when Bosniaks were forced to declare themselves as Serbs or Croats practicing Islam. In this regard, this is a historic census.”

Between 1974 and 1993, Bosniaks in Yugoslavia were permitted to identify their ethnicity as “Muslim.” After the war broke out, they adopted the term “Bosniaks,” a historic name dating back to Ottoman times.  But many Bosniaks are themselves wary of the Bosniak tag, which they see as overly politicized. Some have said they will answer “Muslim” or “Bosnian” when asked about their ethnic identity, a prospect that has alarmed Bosniak political parties.

Bosnia and Herzegovina featured the highest percentage of people who claimed ‘Yugoslav’ as their ethnicity in the 1991 census, which means that a large percentage of the country’s population could simply describe themselves as ‘Bosnian’ this time around.  That could be especially true among the younger generation that wants to put the memory of the Bosnian war firmly in the past, even as bullet holes still scar the urban landscape and land mines still dot the rural, mountainous countryside.

By way of background, Bosnia and Herzegovina is just one of several new countries to emerge from the former Yugoslav union at the end of the Cold War: Continue reading Bosnia-Herzegovina census highlights tripartite fractures, constitutional problems