In this interview series, we reach out to some of our liberal party leaders to hear their thoughts on liberalism, Europe and beyond. For this month’s interview, we spoke with Predrag Kojović, leader of ALDE member party Naša Stranka in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The interview was conducted in August, as the number of COVID-19 cases started to slowly increase again across Europe.
Predrag Kojović, you have been a leader of Naša Stranka since 2015. What have been some of your key achievements, and what do you find to be the most rewarding part of your work?
Naša Stranka was a small liberal party until 2014, but in every election cycle since then we have doubled the number of voters and representatives. After the 2018 general elections, our rapid growth resulted in the Sarajevo Canton government being led – for the first time ever – by a liberal prime minister, Edin Forto.
Forto’s government did not only start a major anti-corruption fight but it won the hearts and minds of citizens with its transparent and rational decisions on public spending. His government also organised the first ever Pride Parade in Sarajevo. It was our first test in governing and we are very proud of how we did.
I really enjoy being in direct contact with our voters and with those who are undecided, talking with them about the future of our country.
Given the political and ethnic challenges in Bosnia and Herzegovina, how is Naša Stranka planning to overcome these?
It is certainly an uphill struggle. The war ended 25 years ago, but the national parties continue to wage war by different – political – means. Our plan is to keep on pressing until they are history – which is where they belong – and until Bosnia and Herzegovina is a member of the EU and NATO.
As the coronavirus hit Europe, many countries entered lockdown. How did you manage to combine working from home and leading a party, and which tactics and tools did Naša Stranka use to communicate with communities and supporters?
We are all in the same boat now, aren’t we? I guess many share my opinion that social contacts with party members and voters cannot be established and maintained as well via Zoom as in ‘real life’. But it is what it is, as they say.
As a party, we have always been very present and active on social media: not only because we lacked finances to advertise on traditional media, but also because the majority of our voters are on social platforms. So, during the pandemic, we have been doing what we have done in the past but simply much more of it.
It is yet impossible to evaluate all impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, but what kind of progress do you hope to see in your country and in Europe in the coming years?
We are certain that leaders of nationalistic parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not interested in the country joining the EU. EU membership would mean ‘game over’ for them politically and, probably, personally.
Of course, they pay lip service to the idea. They say they are working hard to get Bosnia and Herzegovina closer to the EU and they take lots of photos with visiting EU officials. But they know that the closer we get, the less time in power they will have. So, as soon as the EU officials get back on the plane, all EU legislation is quietly put on hold. It’s a pity that the EU officials do not seem to realise that or call them out on it.
Progress has been made to achieve gender equality but there is still room for more action. In your view, how can political parties do more to promote female participation in politics?
Naša Stranka has made a concerted effort to ensure that our organisation and candidate lists are gender balanced. A few years ago, we organised our first internal campaign called Initiative 50% through which we organised educational sessions for women interested in politics. And we continue to do this even today. I am very proud to say that after the 2018 general elections, 62% of the party’s elected representatives are women.
Across Europe, democracies have been backsliding in recent years. How can liberals fight back?
It’s a very hard, probably the hardest, question right now. Liberals won in 1945 and again in 1989 but now we are losing ground.
Did we take democracy for granted? Did we think change was irreversable? Did we promote and defend an economic system that does not actually work for most citiziens? We have to ask ourselves all the hard questions and start doing what liberals do best – think, question, fight and keep an open mind.
How has Naša Stranka benefitted from being a member of the ALDE Party and the wider liberal European family?
It’s an honour for us to be in such company, and we did get the help we needed when we needed it. Many Naša Stranka members have benefitted from educational seminars organised by the ALDE Party, and the opportunity to meet liberals from other countries to exchange best policies and practices has also been very valuable.
But I would say that the most important part of it all for us is the feeling of belonging to an organisation that shares our political values. It feels like we are with family.
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