Why am I, someone who has been working to help the community I love for 22 years, suddenly considered a domestic traitor?

Why are opponents of crime, corruption, and autocracy, not to mention champions of human rights and freedom, branded as traitors and foreign mercenaries?

When you live in an authoritarian society, being an activist or a journalist is risky. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, activists often find themselves in the crosshairs of criticism and attacks, not just from the government but also from the very citizens we work for. The community we support sometimes treats us as pariahs. Those who dare to seek solutions — those who dare to speak out — are frequently viewed as a disruptive force, disturbing a so-called ‘peaceful’ and ‘established’ life.

Of course, the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina are used to enduring their pain in silence. Driven by a precarious sense of security, many choose not to protest, fearing the loss of even their meager possessions. As someone who has worked for years to cultivate a healthy and liberal society in an environment that’s not particularly receptive to that effort, I sometimes find it challenging to cope with the stress and pressure this struggle entails.

Because whenever discussions concerning peace in Bosnia, freedom of speech, corruption, or civil liberties arise, it becomes evident that I am no longer a welcome member of the community in which I was born and raised. My perspectives and opinions are met with hostility. I’m seen as a traitor to the country, its people, and its distorted version of history.

Right now, activists in Bosnia and Herzegovina, specifically within the region of Republika Srpska, are bracing themselves for an array of new challenges. Authorities in Republika Srpska are planning to enact a law that will impose strict government oversight and intense scrutiny of non-governmental organizations. Those receiving funding from abroad will be required to register as “foreign agents.” 

The president of Republika Srpska claims that this new law resembles a “solution” similar to one in the United States: the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). However, in reality, the draft of this law is much closer in nature to legislation in Russia, known for suppressing dissent and undermining civil society.

For a radical take on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, see the 8:50 mark of Learn Liberty’s latest featured interview, with Professor David Friedman:

If this law passes, Republika Srpska will move closer to autocracy. It would provide authorities more leeway to avoid scrutiny and criticism — a concerning trend for those advocating transparency and accountability.

The ultimate goal of this law seems apparent: to restrict or even extinguish the activities of organizations not under government control, effectively silencing dissenting voices and those who expose government irregularities. Moreover, a few months ago, the government of Republika Srpska enacted a poorly defined law that criminalizes defamation but also suppresses free speech and media freedom.

Journalists and activists play a pivotal role in democratic societies; they are best positioned to hold elected officials accountable, combat corruption, and fortify the rule of law. This is precisely why authoritarian regimes across the globe often cast them as traitors.

For a more detailed breakdown of how government propaganda works, see the following Learn Liberty video:

Ultimately, our objective is to enhance the well-being of our community, raise awareness, safeguard individuals, and foster a more prosperous and free society. Labeling activists as ‘traitors’ or ‘mercenaries’ is a tactic employed by governments to shield themselves. 

If the state’s intentions are genuinely good-natured and well-intentioned, then the question is: What are they so afraid of?

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This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.