It has been well over a year now since Mirsad Hadžikadić, a professor of 30 plus years at UNC Charlotte and a native of Bosnia and Herzegovina, announced his intention to run for the Bosniak presidential council seat in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Though he did not win, his “historic and unprecedented” results sparked the formal organisation of the Platform for Progress Movement, with sights set on the 2020 local elections and the general election in 2022. Tireless long days have been spent formally organising the movement in municipalities, towns, and cities across the country
This outreach, though, does not rest within the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as Hadžikadić and his team are well aware of the crucial role the diaspora will play in the future of the country. Currently, says Hadžikadić, the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina is approximately three million, with 2.5 million citizens residing outside of the country and within 10 years there could be more citizens living outside of the country than within, should this trend continue. Hadžikadić knows this mass migration needs to be addressed immediately for actual change to happen within Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“The young and even those well-established within Bosnia and Herzegovina are leaving in droves,” says Hadžikadić, “as they are fed up with the politics of fear, nepotism, and corruption. They are voting with their feet because they ache for a place to go. Germany, for example, has an insatiable appetite for skilled workers in many areas of IT, healthcare, construction, you name it. They have even changed their visa and work permit requirements, which make it even easier for citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina to migrate. Something has to be done to stop this migration and attract those back who have left or at the least get them more engaged in what is currently happening within Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Sixty per cent of the members of the Platform for Progress Movement, according to Hadžikadić, are under 40. Young people, many of which who have left the country, are embracing the message of hope and change, but have not voted in the numbers they represent. As Hadžikadić points out, the diaspora has tremendous potential to contribute back to Bosnia and Herzegovina through their economic and intellectual capabilities, but the process of absentee voting is cumbersome. For many, they have elected not to vote. Thus, the outreach has begun in neighbouring countries—Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Austria, and even the United States, Canada, and Australia—as the Platform for Progress Movement has begun the process of formally organising in key cities throughout these countries.
“We are trying to convince [the diaspora] that they have a greater responsibility now, more than ever, for what happens in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” says Hadžikadić. “The movement is challenged with trying to convince them to accept this responsibility and embrace a new system of values that has been presented and to become more involved. At a minimum, we want them to register to vote and then vote. We need their ideas, expertise, know-how, skill sets, money, all of the above. They are young, educated, understand democracy, the value of the rule of law, and we want them to help push the country down the right path.”
Hadžikadić adds, if people can start seeing that change is happening, those eager to leave the country may stay, and those who have left will hopefully come back and help prosper the country, be it the economy, healthcare, education, business, etc. He wants the new members to become more involved in politics not only in the countries in which they reside but Bosnia and Herzegovina as well. Once this happens, he envisions that it will benefit Bosnia and Herzegovina, the countries in which they reside, and also open doors for future dialogue for the movement with political and business leaders from the neighboring countries.
However, the challenges of doing this are numerous, but by no means impossible. Many of the neighbouring countries do not have bilateral agreements with Bosnia and Herzegovina; thus, the diaspora cannot vote in their homeland because they are not allowed dual citizenship, only a visa for travel. Hadžikadić hopes to convince some of these countries that dual citizenship will have a great benefit, politically and economically, for both countries. Another benefit is easing the tension amongst the diaspora and those who still remain in the country.
“Those who have remained in Bosnia and Herzegovina should engage and welcome those who left and stop treating them as if they are not welcome. It’s all about seeing the bigger picture moving forward, that none of this change will be possible unless they, we, all work together,” he says.
Hadžikadić continues to press for electronic voting, not only within Bosnia and Herzegovina but for the diaspora as well. This will make the process much easier, ease fears of the inherent corruption associated with the current paper ballot system, and hopefully motivate those who have grown apathetic with the entire process to become more involved. This, as he points out, will take approval from the ruling tripartite presidential council, which will be no easy task. He also envisions the diaspora will one day be represented within the political structure. This would include establishing two seats specifically for the diaspora within the Bosnian parliament, thus allowing them to provide input into legislative action. All immense challenges moving forward, but key, as Hadžikadić says, in establishing democracy and a better tomorrow in the country.
As Hadžikadić continues to canvass Bosnia and Herzegovina and neighboring countries, laying the foundation of the Platform for Progress Movement, he does admit that he is seeing the fruits of all of the efforts of the movement in just the last year and a half. He says this is a very dysfunctional period in the country’s history and that people are finally beginning to fully understand the games the controlling parties are playing. The people want a leader who is honest and makes real changes. “Things are really starting to align very well” for the message of the movement.
“I like the fact that people, particularly the young, want to be a part of something that is new, different, and bigger but can’t ensure immediate gratification,” says Hadžikadić. “The diaspora, along with citizens within the country, is beginning to understand they need to give before they will receive. Making contributions and understanding that is not about getting credit for something but getting something done for the betterment of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Hadžikadić admitted that when he started this journey in January of 2018 he never in his wildest dreams would have believed the progress that has been made—the enthusiasm, energy, hope, sense of possibility and a vision of change that is coming.