Crisis Governance in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia

The Study of Floods in 2014

by Vedran Džihić (Volume editor) Magdalena Solska (Volume editor)
©2018 Edited Collection 230 Pages


This comparative study at hand has been the result of a two-year research project on floods in 2014 in the Western Balkans engaging eight research teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia. Representing quite different disciplines, the authors of this volume have analysed diverse aspects of the crisis governance and its ramifications. This publication’s goals are twofold. Firstly, it pins down the characteristics of the crisis responses during the floods of 2014 in three affected countries, preconditioned by the existing institutions, crisis leadership, the role of media and the social capital as well as the foreign financial aid. On the other hand, through the lenses of the crisis governance we conclude on the state capacities and the nature of political regime of the cases under study. The flood megacrisis did not constitute a "window of opportunity" for individual or institutional learning. On the contrary, it did unveil some authoritarian tendencies in Serbia and Bosnia, and thus stalled the hitherto ongoing democratization process.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • 1. The Floods of 2014: Crisis Governance, State Capacities and Political Regimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia (Vedran Džihić / Magdalena Solska)
  • 2. Crisis Response in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia (Damir Kapidžić / Dušan Pavlović / Gordan Bosanac)
  • 3. Leadership in Megacrisis: The Case of the 2014 Floods in Serbia (Marko Vujačić)
  • 4. Media and Floods under Crisis in Serbia (Snježana Milivojević / Bojana Barlovac)
  • 5. Managing Floods, Challenging Ethnopolitics in Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Example of the Town of Doboj (Danijela Majstorovć / Zoran Vučkovac)
  • 6. The Role of Economic and Social Capital during the Floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Adnan Efendić)
  • 7. International Financial Aid in the Postcrisis Phase in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia (Iva Kornfein Groš)
  • 8. Crisis Leadership in Governing Floods: Lessons from the Western Balkans (Sanneke Kuipers)
  • Appendix 1: Mapping an Unfolding Crisis: Key Developments during the Floods in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia (Damir Kapidžić / Dušan Pavlović / Gordan Bosanac)
  • Appendix 2: Flood Protection Systems in the Precrisis Phase: The Cases of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Dušan Pavlović / Damir Kapidžić / Gordan Bosanac)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series Index

← 6 | 7 →


1.  The Floods of 2014: Crisis Governance, State Capacities and Political Regimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia

This introductory chapter considers the different political systems in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Serbia and Croatia and tries to capture theoretically the relationship between crisis management, the art of leadership and governance. It also seeks to draw conclusions about state capacity through the lenses of crisis governance. Finally, it looks at the relationship between the specific response to the crisis and the process of learning at individual and institutional levels in democratic and nondemocratic regimes. We argue in this chapter and throughout the whole volume that the ways in which countries deal with major crises reveal much about their state capacity and about the fundamental character of their regimes.

Keywords: crisis governance, leadership, learning, state capacity


The floods in May 2014 in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have been termed the most devastating event since the wars. Despite this landmark occurrence, the causes of the disproportionate damage, the apparent lack of preparedness or efficiency of the main institutions and individuals in charge have not attracted much academic attention. This volume attempts to fill in this gap and explore central tenets of crisis governance in the three countries under study. ← 7 | 8 → 1

Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina share a common past in the former Yugoslavia and the fact that they were severely affected by the wars of the 1990s. The point of departure for the transition towards democracy for all three countries was marked by the end of the war in Bosnia in 1995 but, more fundamentally, by the death of Franjo Tuđman in Croatia in 1999 and the so-called “Serbian October revolution” in 2000, when Slobodan Milošević was overthrown. The sudden changes in Croatia and Serbia were accompanied by the emerging perspective of EU integration for the Western Balkans in 1999 and 2000.

Following the years from 2000 until the financial crisis of 2007–2012, which hit the Balkans particularly hard, democratization efforts translated into reform programs and agendas aiming to strengthen democratic institutions, the rule of law and the economy in the region. There were also signs of democratic convergence and of the rather linear transitional path previously traced in the majority of countries in Central and Northeastern Europe that entered the EU in 2004. However, the economic crisis revealed the weaknesses of institutions and democratic governance in the region. In Bosnia the new economic and social downturn in the late 2000s had a very negative impact on the political climate in the country. Already strong ethnonationalism became even more pronounced, leading to a situation where major political parties and their leaders in the country emphasized symbolic politics rather than reforms and incremental societal changes. Serbia was also hit hard by the economic crisis, leading to an increase in unemployment, reduced economic growth and rising public debt and trade deficit. Parallel to the economic crisis, Serbia at that time found itself in a very painful process of dealing with the Kosovo issue (Kosovo became independent in February 2008), so the economic downturn went hand in hand with very emotional public discourse on Kosovo, which resulted in democratic reforms slowing down. ← 8 | 9 →

Stimulated by the negative impact of the economic crisis but primarily due to internal political circumstances (the weakness of the rule of law, strong nationalism in both countries and a deeply dysfunctional state administration), both Bosnia and Serbia slipped back towards the process of “dedemocratization” (Tilly, 2007) and, to an extent, democratic regression. As some authors argue, both countries entered a phase of “democracy fatigue” in which democracy was not the only game in town (Ćurak, 2016).

In 2012, the Freedom House report detected a new “fragile frontier” for democracy on the European periphery. Its 2013 report concluded that countries in the Balkans entered a phase of “authoritarian regression” and experienced “the pressures of austerity” (Freedom House, 2012 and 2013). The evaluation of political developments at that time, particularly in Southeastern Europe, reads very negatively:

Stagnation and decline have … become apparent in the parts of Southeastern Europe that lie outside the EU. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, and Macedonia have all suffered decline in national democratic governance over the past five years, driven in part by the overlap between business and political interests and the nagging problem of organized crime. (Freedom House, 2012, pp. 2–3)

Croatia, despite all its problems, managed to stay on a pragmatic EU course by sticking to reforms and asking for help and support from the EU and countries like Italy, Austria or Germany. It was mainly due to its consistent efforts to professionalize public administration and to stay firmly on the “reform path” even in difficult times (in the late 2000s Slovenia blocked Croatia’s negotiations with the EU due to bilateral disputes) that Croatia managed to fulfil all the requirements for the membership. Despite weaknesses in the judicial system, corruption and economic development that was problematic overall, there was a clear political will on the side of the EU to accept Croatia as the 28th member state. This EU internal “window of opportunity” was used and Croatia joined in 2013, whereas Serbia and even more Bosnia are still in the process of EU integration – and the outcome of the process remains uncertain.

When it comes to the assessment of democratic development or the quality of democratic reforms in these three countries, Bosnia, in the last few years, has significantly lagged behind Croatia and Serbia. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, with a score of 4.87 (on a scale ranging from 0 to 10, 10 being the best score) in 2016, Bosnia belongs to the group ← 9 | 10 → of hybrid regimes. Croatia and Serbia score better (Serbia’s score is 6.57; Croatia scores 6.75). The weak performance of Bosnia can be explained by specific aspects of its postwar development (a dysfunctional state structure based on the Dayton Peace Agreement from 1995 and the Dayton constitution) and the permanent political impasse in the country caused by predominantly ethnic political parties for Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks. On the other hand, the rather ethnically homogenous Croatia and Serbia, which were involved in wars but were not as badly affected as Bosnia by far and thus have different and more functional state structures, as well as political institutions and administrations with a higher level of functioning.

Even though the scores differ between Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, there are also common trends in all three countries, where the democratic order (or democratization process) is constantly challenged. The main obstacles are arbitrary decision making by strong leaders beyond institutions (as in Serbia), political control of public administration and the judiciary (partly in all three countries), dominance of executive power (in Serbia but also partly in Croatia) and, finally, huge political polarization between more liberal and nationalist parties (strongly visible in Bosnia and Croatia). It is the latter that has been preventing Croatia from further consolidation of its institutions and state capacity. In Bosnia and Serbia we observe an increasing trend towards the reduction of media freedom, concentration of power in the hands of political elites and their clientalistic networks and a very high degree of corruption. Combined with symbolic politics and nationalist mobilization, these regimes are able to stay in power (Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group, 2017).

It is against this background that we analyse crisis governance in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia during and after the floods in May 2014. We ask primarily if democratic regimes react to and deal with crisis differently from transitional or “greyzone” regimes. Boin, McConnell and ‘t Hart argue that “It is time for crisis management research to come out of its academic ghetto and blend in with the mainstay of research on governance and democracy” (Boin et al., 2008, p. 313) and formulate with this quest one of the core elements and motivations for our volume.

The general assumption is that more democratic regimes are better capable of providing coordinated and functional responses to a major crisis, while transitional regimes – both due to limited capacities, weak institutions and a very personalized and partly authoritarian approach to leadership – react differently. We argue that the way in which countries ← 10 | 11 → deal with major crises reveals much about their state capacity and about the fundamental character of their regimes. Finally, the question arises whether the flood crisis has been salutary in any way regarding the democratization of governance and the increased transparency of the decision-making process.

This chapter aims, firstly, to capture the relationship between crisis management, the art of leadership and governance. Secondly, through the lenses of crisis governance, it seeks to draw conclusions about state capacity. Finally, it looks at the relationship between the specific response to the crisis and the process of learning at the individual and institutional level in democratic and nondemocratic regimes. Combining work on crisis management, leadership, governance and state capacity allows the exploration of the political dimension of the flood crisis, such as existing crisis protection mechanisms, the actual emergency response and communication activities, accountability processes and organizational learning; however, it also provides an insight into its societal dimension through the prism of social capital theory and ethnopolitics.

Theoretical Considerations

The crisis management research focused primarily on organizational and societal responses to disaster as well as on postcrisis recovery efforts (Smith and Elliot, 2006; Kuipers and ‘t Hart, 2014, p. 589). More specifically, it evolved around the debate on crisis conceptualization (see Smith and Elliot, 2006), organizational systems and their failure potential. The bulk of the research was devoted to the way one makes sense of crisis in the acute response phase and how one deals with its aftermath (Boin, 2005; Boin et al., 2008). Later on, the focus turned to decision-making processes against the backdrop of international relations. More recently, the multidisciplinary approach to crisis management has come to the fore, including cognitive studies and exploration of long-term effects of natural disasters on individuals and collectivities.

This growing literature on crisis and crisis management constitutes a good reference point for the investigation of the flood crisis in the Balkans. However, given that Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are not consolidated ← 11 | 12 → democracies and can rather be described as transitional regimes with weakly consolidated institutions, crisis management merits a more holistic approach complemented by the concepts of leadership and governance.

Conceptualizing Crisis and Crisis Management

Crisis situations are novel, unstructured threats, outside of an organization’s or individual’s usual operating framework (Reilly, 1993, pp. 116–120). They interrupt routine procedures and demand nonprogrammed decisions. Crises can therefore be described as unexpected, uncertain situations that constitute threats to major values, both organizational and personal; crises are harmful and disruptive. The crisis situations are characterized by time pressure and an inflow of often insufficient and ambiguous, if not conflicting, information; they trigger a sense of human and institutional insufficiency.

In the literature the terms “crisis” and “disaster” are often used interchangeably (Smith, 2006, p. 1). “Disaster” is defined as a crisis with “bad ending”. Some disasters are referred to as “catastrophes”, marked by “unprecedented damage, a prolonged breakdown of life sustaining functions in a social system” (Boin, 2010, p. 131). The floods in May 2014 presented such a catastrophe or even more precisely, a “megacrisis” in its own right. The concept of megacrisis is increasingly used to stress “the continuous development of increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters stimulated by climate change and growing numbers of metropolitan agglomerations” (Engel et al., 2012, p. 320). A megacrisis is a crisis that greatly surpasses others of its kind (Engel et al., 2012, pp. 320–321). Given the unprecedented magnitude of the May floods in the Balkans, the use of the notion of megacrisis appears justified.

Crisis or megacrisis management, therefore, involves several stages (Reilly, 1993, p. 120; see also Chapter 8 in this volume): problem sensing (accurate perception, recognition and diagnosis); decisional response; resource mobilization and implementation; internal information flow and external information flow. The cognitive processes of perceiving, collecting, selecting and processing information appear critical to effective crisis management but the management capacity of any organization also depends on active communication among the employees and responsible managers. External communication, moreover, involves the key ← 12 | 13 → “interpreters” of the crisis, the media, as well as other central external stakeholders or major customers. Failed communication, in any case, may have long-term consequences on public confidence in an affected organization (Reilly, 1993, p. 120).


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (May)
crisis governance floods megacrisis state capacities political regimes Western Balkans Bosnia and Herzegovina Croatia Serbia
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 230 pp., 7 fig. b/w, 5 tables

Biographical notes

Vedran Džihić (Volume editor) Magdalena Solska (Volume editor)

Vedran Džihić, PhD, is a senior researcher at the Austrian Institute for International Affairs, co-director of the Center for Advanced Studies, South East Europe and senior lecturer at the Institute for Political Sciences, University of Vienna. Magdalena Solska, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer in political science at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.


Title: Crisis Governance in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
232 pages