Irma Baralija went to the Human Rights Court because she wanted local elections in Mostar, capital of Herzegovina. Her success surprised everyone.
Thanks to Irma Baralija, local elections are taking place again in the Herzegovinian city of Mostar Photo: Dado Ruvic/reuters
Irma Baralija is the real heroine of the Dec. 20 elections in the Herzegovinian capital Mostar. Because no local elections had been held there since 2008 due to a lack of legal basis, she had gone to the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg in 2018. It was a big surprise for the city’s elites when Baralija was proven right as an ordinary citizen in October 2019 and elections had to be scheduled.
Baralija was born in Mostar in 1984 and is a combative woman. She can no longer stand the rule of the nationalist parties with all their corruption and the associated injustice in the city. Mostar, she said in an interview with the taz in 2019, is traditionally a multinational and multi-religious city. Situated under the Veles mountain range and divided by the waters of the Neretva River, a city had grown up here in Ottoman times, with the Old Bridge in the center declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco. "It was nice to grow up here as a child," Baralija says.
But then came the Bosnian war. The city was divided, Croats got the west, Muslims (Bosniaks) got the east. The national parties that emerged during the war later divided Mostar among themselves. There was no democratic control. "These are kleptocratic parties with mafia structures," Baralija said.
When the verdict of the Strasbourg Human Rights Court came, the ruling powers in the city and in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina were astonished: The existing state of affairs was illegal and incompatible with European law; there had to be elections in Mostar with its 100,000 voters. Irma Baralija had won. And that was a sensation. An intellectual spat in the face of the nationalist political elites. Baralija had shown that, despite all the obstacles, it is possible to achieve something with civic commitment.
She is brave enough to get things going
Baralija studied philosophy and sociology at the University of Sarajevo. She later completed her master’s degree in political science in Madrid at Complutense University and returned to Mostar in 2011. "I didn’t want to stay in Spain, because I wanted to change things in my hometown," she said in an interview with the taz.
She is one of those few women trained abroad who have returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Baralija is a precise and charismatic analyst. She joined the non-nationalist party "Naša Stranka" (Our Party) and shortly afterwards became its vice-chairwoman. Now she wants to enter the city council in the December 20 elections. If she succeeds, she will have no inhibitions about speaking her mind to the ruling kleptocracy.