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Resources, City Spotlights Brčko District

City Spotlight: Brčko District, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Brčko District is located in northeastern Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and was established in 1999 as an outcome of the Dayton Agreement, which marked the end of the Bosnian war in 1995. Brčko District is a self-governing condominium of BiH’s two governing entities – the Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska, operating independently of both but under the supervision of an international supervisor. The District’s 83,000 residents form a delicate ethnic balance of Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs and is a rare example of functional coexistence among BiH’s three largest ethnic groups.

The District has participated in Strong Cities activities since 2022, starting with the Western Balkans Regional Hub’s Inaugural Workshop in Sarajevo in February 2022. Since then, representatives of Brčko District have taken part in a number of other Hub activities.

What is the local government concerned about?

Social Cohesion

Like other parts of the BiH, Brčko District grapples with political polarisation, ethnic segregation and a lack of trust between communities and between residents and the local government. These factors pose obstacles to achieving social cohesion. Moreover, incidents rooted in ethnic or religious differences, often stemming from wartime grievances, are on the rise. For example, in 2022, Serb nationalists disturbed a ceremony dedicated to remembering the more than 100 victims of the 1992 Brcko bridge bombing. Local authorities are particularly concerned about growing levels of intolerance amongst youth.

Further, although the District has historically stood out for being able to mitigate potential escalations in inter-ethnic tensions, it is concerned about the spillover of ethnonationalism from other areas of BiH, particularly in light of the District’s reliance on dialogue and consensus among its three majority ethnic groups to function effectively as a local government. The impacts of a lack of such consensus is evidenced in the ousting of two mayors in quick succession by the local council.

Political polarisation, much of which is underpinned by inter-ethnic tensions, is additionally slowing down administrative and economic projects in the District. This is causing apathy and disillusionment amongst residents, which in turn contributes to an increasingly volatile situation that is easily exploited to sow hate and division. The Brčko District Supervisor, Jonathan Mennuti, has recently highlighted the importance of reform-driven conversation geared towards addressing the needs of citizens as a counterweight to the surge of ethnonationalist rhetoric. However, credible alternative narratives are sparse, and the local population that does not buy into ethnonationalist rhetoric remains largely sidelined and silent.

Rehabilitation & Reintegration (R&R)

The District is host to a number families that have returned from conflict zones such as Iraq and Syria since 2019, whose reintegration is monitored by both security and civil authorities. The District is concerned about its ability to manage the dual challenge – R&R and a rise in Islamist extremism – in the long-term. It recognises that it requires a coordinated, multi-actor approach that involves education, health, social, and security services, which the District feels it lacks the resources to sustain.

How is the local government responding?

Brčko District takes the prevention of hate, extremism and polarisation seriously, having dedicated staff to coordinate responses to these threats. These staff maintain open channels of communication with representatives of the Federation and Republika Srpska as well as other local governments (or “Cantons”) in the country.

The District has also committed to bringing communities together. For example, illustrating an inclusive approach to acknowledging the historical grievances that could reignite inter-ethnic conflict, Brcko District brought individuals from different ethnic backgrounds together to establish a memorial as a symbol of reconciliation, agreement and coexistence. This memorial is unique in its endeavour to commemorate all war victims within the District equally, regardless of their ethnicity. This has garnered positive feedback from both residents and the international community engaged in BiH.  

Moreover, aided by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission to BiH, Brcko District has initiated a locally-driven Coalition Against Hate – a multi-actor entity comprised of community-based organisations designed to respond to incidents of hatred, which has adopted a Community Cohesion Action Plan to guide its work. Amongst its many initiatives is the removal of hate-motivated graffiti, which it does in collaboration with local police.

Practitioners in Brčko District also consistently participate in exchanges with regional counterparts from the Western Balkans on relevant topics ranging from R&R to youth and community engagement.

Further, in an inspiring example of national-local cooperation, practitioners of Brčko District have participated in discussions leading to the drafting of the National Strategy for Prevention and Countering Terrorism 2021 – 2026 and have produced a local action plan that carefully outlines the needs and measures Brčko District will take to implement this strategy at the local level.

What’s next?

Brčko District is prioritising the implementation of this action plan.  For example, it will establish a coordinating body tasked with overseeing implementation and tracking progress within a designated timeline. It will also take steps to ensure members of this body possess the requisite capacities, both related to the subject matter and understanding of international good practices, with the local action plan identifying international exchanges – such as what Strong Cities provides – as important to this process.

The District is also prioritising community awareness raising, a vital component of the action plan. To this end, together with the coordinating body, the District government will seek to enhance cooperation with the media to run campaigns that deepen residents’ understanding of local manifestations of hate, extremism and polarisation. The District is also committed to promoting positive narratives that demonstrate the value of democracy, rule of law, tolerance and dialogue through community-based campaigns delivered in cooperation with civil society and other community-based stakeholders.

The District will also prioritise multi-actor coordination, enhancing intercultural and interreligious dialogue as well as collaboration between various government institutions and civil society. It will also invest in research initiatives to create a better understanding of the local threat landscape and ensure programmes to mitigate such threats are data-driven.

R&R programmes are also a key component of the local action plan. However, the District seeks international support and funding to ensure its approach to R&R aligns with international good practice. To supports its R&R objectives, it will also prioritise interagency coordination and cooperation through regular meetings to identify and address R&R-related capacity gaps that can impede cooperation between local government and security representatives.

While the Action Plan serves as a comprehensive diagnostic of local challenges, outlining a clear path to improvement on the ground, funding to implement the suggested measures to tackle these issues remains a critical gap. The District is committed to fundraising and pursuing partnerships to address its resource and capacity gaps.

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