Leading a Council of Europe delegation to Bosnia Herzegovina

Having recently led a Council of Europe delegation to Bosnia Herzegovina, to observe the way the general elections were conducted there, I expected our report would be of interest within the continent of Europe. The delegation included 18 MPs from 10 different countries. However, I was more surprised when two news organisations from China reported on our findings. Given China’s global reach and the level of investment in global business, I should not have been – one of those moments when the internal compass is subject to readjustment!

Bosnia Herzegovina’s political situation has steadied and settled since the conflicts of the 1990s. Yet, progress still needs to be made to reform some aspects of the constitutional and legal framework of democracy.

Voting was calm and the electors made their choice freely among a large number of parties and candidates. But our delegation expressed regrets that the election campaign remained segmented along ethnic lines. The elections were held in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights concerning discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and residency.

The freedoms of speech, movement and association were generally respected, although our delegation had concerns that some candidates resorted to polarizing and negative rhetoric. Of course, that can happen elsewhere and the United Kingdom is not immune. Recently there has been much discussion about the way algorithms operate within social media, so material which people encounter may be confined to their personal belief. It can be quite difficult to find a way of accessing information about other points of view. 

There’s a lot of truth in the old saying, “We can disagree without being disagreeable”. I think our Prime Minister was right to challenge the “herd” mentality which has led to some appalling personal attacks through social media upon individual politicians, based on race, gender and other characteristics. Involving family members is also horrendous: I worry that some good people are being put off from participating in our democratic process as a consequence. And the trouble with the speed and plurality of communications these days is that a lie can be spread and perpetuated even though the truth is completely different.

(This article was previously published in the Buckinghamshire Examiner and Advertiser)