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2:30pm on Friday, 23rd April, 2010:

Racist Spin


Following the civil war in Bosnia, the US brokered the 1995 Dayton peace agreement. The three main communities in Bosnia — the Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (AKA "Bosnian Moslems") — basically got their own institutions and a rotating presidency. The make-up of the upper house of the Bosnian parliament was set such that each of the three parties got a fixed number of members.

OK, well you can see why this happened: if it hadn't, the different groups wouldn't have stopped fighting.

So, back in the present day, there's a guy called Jakob Finci who is respected by all three groups. Being Jewish, he was neutral during the civil war, running a soup kitchen during the siege of Sarajevo, and he later headed up the country's Truth and Reconciliation committee. Finci wants to run for parliament, but he can't: he isn't a Serb, Croat or Bosniak. Yes, that is discriminatory and unfair, but it's an artefact of the peace agreement. It's not just Finci who has fallen foul of this, either: Dervo Sejdić is a Roma who can't stand for parliament either. The Bosnian Constitutional Court upheld the constitution, so they have both applied to the European Court of Human Rights to try get the constitution overturned. I don't know if they''ll get very far, given that the constitution is ultimately he authority that allows Bosnia to sign up to the ECHR, but you never know.

Finci was interviewed in The Guardian this morning. Here's the headline:

Uh? No, he wasn't banned for being Jewish; he was banned for not being Serb, Croat or Bosniak. Putting it like this headline does makes it sound as if the Bosnian constitution is anti-Semitic, in the same way that the UK constitution is anti-Catholic. I thought that this was just sloppy sub-editing, but the text of the article itself says: "Finci is barred from standing for the Bosnian parliament's upper house or the presidency for one simple reason: he is a Jew".

This isn't right. The Bosnian constitution may be xenophobic, but it's not anti-Semitic. Finci couldn't stand if he were Irish or Cambodian or Arabic, either — or Roma, like Sejdić. The fact that his ethnicity is mentioned specifically as if any other would be fine is misrepresenting what's going on. No wonder so many Jewish people still feel picked on.

Would The Guardian run the headline "Barred for being Austrian" if Arnold Schwarzenegger went to the US Supreme Court demanding that the US constitution be overturned so he could stand for president? I think not...

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