ECPR General Conference location:Potsdam date:10-12 September 2009
To what extent is political mobilization across ethnic boundaries possible in states with highly ethnicized state structures? This paper focuses on post-war Bosnia. More specifically I explore the opportunities and obstacles that individuals and NGOs in Bosnia meet when they seek to utilize post-ethnic and integrative discourses as a basis for political action. Our main case is Nasa Stranka, a political party that was established in 2008 by a number of civil society actors. The party participated in the municipal elections of October 2008 but succeeded only in winning one mayor position, in the town of Bosansko Grahovo. There are a number of important conclusions to be drawn from this particular case. First, contrary to what is often thought, and despite the centrifugal nationalisms that seem to dominate the top political level, there are civil society actors in Bosnia who indeed engage and believe in integrative political mobilization. Their post-ethnic politics is inspired by the successful integrative work they have been able to accomplish as NGOs. Second, these civil society actors face difficulties that go beyond the often cited problem of the tendency of the constitutional state structure to reify and solidify ethnic identities. We find that successful post-ethnic civil society actors are impeded by an obstacle that is not directly related to the state structure: the idea of politics. Many people perceive these actors' engagement in politics as a betrayal of their seemingly more neutral NGO activity. Challengers of the nationalist status quo are thus prevented from successful post-ethnic mobilization not simply because their actions have to cut across institutionalized ethnic boundaries, but because their involvement in politics discords with the deeply ingrained notion of "Politika," which relegates politics to the realm of the corrupt and immoral.