Report: Study Tour for Journalists in View of the Bosnian Elections

During a meeting at the city hall, participants
met with the deputy mayor of Sarajevo.

Bosnia and Herzegovina goes to the polls on October 7 to elect a new government in an election that speaks to the country's future and the future of the Western Balkans more broadly. The country's complicated system of government, put in place as a result of the Dayton Accords in 1995, makes understanding what's going on and what's at stake especially difficult.

In order to introduce Bosch Alumni Network members to the complexities of Bosnian politics and further increase their knowledge about the ethnic and cultural dynamics of the Balkans, a group of twelve Bosch Alumni Network journalists traveled to Sarajevo in September for a four-day study tour implemented within the Bosch Alumni Network. The organizing team included five Bosch Alumni from four different countries, including Almir Šećkanović, a Bosnian journalist who is based in Sarajevo.

The theme of the trip was Bosnia’s upcoming elections and the issues at play. Which questions are most important to voters? How do ethnic identities play into voting and the country’s structure of government? And is Bosnia and Herzegovina at a crossroads when
it comes to its relationship with Europe and the West?

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The study tour began the first evening with an introductory session by journalist Saša Delić
of Al Jazeera Balkans, who outlined some of the major issues at play and helped lay the
foundation for subsequent meetings and interviews. Next came a walking tour of Sarajevo, highlighting such points of historical interest as the place where Archduke Franz Ferdinand
was assassinated in 1914, the event that triggered the First World War. Participants also learned about the cultural and religious history of the city, visiting churches, mosques and synagogues in the historic city center.

With that history as a backdrop, participants met over four days with high-ranking federal, state and local government officials, representatives in Bosnian culture and students. Meetings included those with officials and candidates at the highest levels of government: a conversation with Prime Minister Denis Zvizdić, for example, offered a perspective on the major issues facing the country and the current government’s major policy priorities.
Participants also met with two leading candidates for the Bosniak presidency, Šefik Džaferović
and Fahrudin Radončić.

Participants of the study tour with Prime Minister
Denis Zvizdić.

And the perspectives were not just limited to Bosnian ones: speaking with Lars Gunnar Wigemark, the European Union’s special representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina, provided perspective from the other side about how the country has progressed toward EU membership.

“I appreciated being able to meet with and talk to many high ranking politicians,” said Madeleine Schwartz, a Berlin-based freelance journalist who attended the trip. “Our access was amazing.”

The program allowed participants to wrestle with key questions about the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the ways in which its complex political system functions — giving  participants a solid background in the topic, but also providing plenty of ground for further reporting and exploration.

“I finally got a better understanding of the crucial issues the country is dealing with and the
complexity of the Bosnian political system: that ‘Frankenstein’ monster of a system created
in Dayton, as one of our interview partners referred to it,” said Michael Riedmüller, an Austrian
freelance journalist who participated in the study tour. “I got out of the tour with more new
questions than answers, which for me as journalist is always a virtue.”

During a walking tour of Sarajevo.

Just as important as the content of the meetings were the new connections and relationships created between the participants, who hailed from ten different countries.“Thanks to the tour I've now got a whole new long list of contacts and new friends I wouldn't have been able to make just wandering out in Sarajevo on my own,” said Michael Colborne, a Canadian freelance journalist
who covers Central and Eastern Europe.

This report was written by Emily Schultheis

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