The presidential election in Bosnia and Herzegovina is this Sunday, Oct. 7, and among the 15 candidates is UNC Charlotte Information Technology Professor Mirsad Hadzikadic. He’s taking a year off to run for the office in his home country. In an interview this week, he talked about his campaign, death threats and how he sees the outcome.
Politics, ethnicity and religion divide Bosnia and Herzegovina. The presidency is actually a three-person council that rotates among Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Eastern Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats. Hadzikadic is one of six candidates for the Bosniak seat.
On WFAE's Charlotte Talks in May, Hadzikadic talked about why he's running for the country's top job.
“I believe that as an independent candidate," he said, "This is the position… from which I can influence the country the most, and push it a little bit toward better days."
Speaking with WFAE's David Boraks Wednesday by Skype, Hadzikadic acknowledged that he's an outsider, up against better-funded and better-known politicians who have been in government for years. But he said this is a critical election that will determine the future of his country.
HADZIKADIC: The forces of nationalism are so strong that there are indications that two of the three nations' peoples within Bosnia, or at least their politicians, would like to see secession to be in their future and joining with neighboring countries. And the sense is that [if] this time nationalists win again, there might not be next elections simply because the country might be going toward the path of disintegration.
BORAKS: What are the major issues that you are running on? What are they talking about? What are their concerns?
HADZIKADIC: Don't think about parties. Don't think about specific people subgroups. Think about all citizens in the country first.
The second is economy. Economy is not doing well. We need to get stronger.
And the third one is youth. Our young people are leaving in droves — leaving this country. They're going to [the] European Union. We lost about 170,000 people since 2009 and that trend is accelerating. Those are our issues.
BORAKS: How are you getting your message out? What does your campaign look like?
HADZIKADIC: There are two issues that we have. One is obviously the lack of money. Therefore, we cannot have billboards, and we cannot buy the airtime for television and to have the video spot and to run it on the national television. We didn't even have the money to pay for the people to run the campaign. So they are all mostly volunteers, who are people who are inexperienced. However, what we have is the energy and enthusiasm behind it.
The interesting thing is also is that we are blocked by many media outlets to express our views.
Uh, there are also received two death threats by now.
BORAKS: Oh geez.
HADZIKADIC: The fact that there are those death threats. The fact that they are blocking us whenever they can — that means that they are seeing that the message is taking hold. We are fighting it by having town hall meetings. I travel constantly everywhere. We are fighting it by through the direct contact with people.
BORAKS: So how big is your campaign budget and how does it compare to the big guys?
HADZIKADIC: I think the big guys can spend, legally, it’s 3 million marks, which is let’s say $2 million. I think they spend two, two-and-a-half times that. Not everything is legal. And I think our campaign will be about probably $100 thousand to $150 thousand.
BORAKS: Speaking of media and media coverage, one of the big things this week was presidential debates that were televised on the national channel. This is a big moment in your campaign, and a big statement that you made. Tell us what happened.
HADZIKADIC: Right. Thus far, we had about three of those debates. On the first one, the people from three major parties didn’t show up. Then in the second one, the public service TV station decided to divide the candidates, these 15 candidates, in two groups: the major ones and the lesser ones. And we objected to that, because that was a message to the population that, hey, these are their favorites and these are not. We objected, but we actually went through it.
The last time was national TV, we showed up and the same thing happened. I don’t agree with that. I don’t want to be part of that process, and I walked out. I walked out within 80 seconds. That broke that blockade, media blockade, of our views. Everybody reported that, and I got so popular you wouldn’t believe it.
BORAKS: What are the polls showing?
HADZIKADIC: There are some surveys that were done where I am fourth or fifth, out of six. There are those who are done on the Internet — by social media — and I'm often number one or number two. Neither one is correct. I would say I’m probably somewhere between third and fourth place right now, but we'll see what will happen in the end.
BORAKS: Well, thinking back to your announcement that you were going to run and your decision to take a year off year and go try this, how are you feeling right now?
HADZIKADIC: I'm feeling absolutely ecstatic and I'm going to tell you why.
There's really not much chance I'll be elected. But what I wanted to do is to change the dialogue, the nature of the discourse — political discourse. It was very negative four years ago. It was almost cutthroat. The response to my message was so strong that every single member candidate got it. And this campaign has been the most civil of all.
But what also happened in the process is that people are talking about our ideas. Young people are behind us. Everybody is saying, "Mirsad, please, please, please. No matter what happens, no matter what happens, we need to continue this movement in some shape or form."
Now, I have to figure out, do you have to form a political party or can it be done otherwise? I'm thinking about Martin Luther King a lot these days, because he influenced existing parties through his message and ideas. I really think that's something that this country needs.
Clark Curtis of Charlotte, a former colleague of Hadzikadic at UNC Charlotte, has been keeping a blog about the campaign here.