Rethinking needed after Bosnian elections

Article published on Oct. 10, 2010
community published
Article published on Oct. 10, 2010
In my earlier article - Bosnia on the road to the EU, sorry to Dissolution - I described a bit the background and made some small forecast about outcome which seems to be not so far away from reality. Now elections are held and most votes counted.
Turnout in the vote -- the sixth general elections in Bosnia since the end of the 1992-95 war - was some 56 percent, the highest since 2002 (in 2006 the turnout was 55.3 percent).The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has assessed that the elections were generally in line with international standards for democratic elections, although certain areas, including ethnicity and residence-based limitations to active and passive suffrage rights, require further action.

Bosnia is created according Dayton agreement and split into two semi-independent entities – the Serb dominated Republika Srpska (RS) and Bosniak-Croat populated The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) federation which together form the basis of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

In Croat-dominated areas, parties that have called for the establishment of a separate Croat entity performed strongly but the winner for the presidency's Croat seat anyway was Social Democrat Zeljko Komsic, known as a strong fighter for a unified, multiethnic Bosnia. However, his victory was disputed by Croat nationalists who said he earned it thanks to Muslim, not Croat votes.

The Bosniak seat went to Bakir Izetbegovic of the Bosniak Party for Democratic Action. Bakir is the son of SDA founder and Bosnia’s wartime president Alija Izetbegovic, who invited al-Qaeda into Bosnia and was the main organizer in smuggling of illegal weapons into Bosnia. Anyway the new Bosniak leader stated repeatedly during the campaign that finding a compromise between the Bosniak, Croat and Serb communities was the only way to achieve necessary reforms in the country and push it forward on the path to European Union membership. His position is in stark contrast to the uncompromising stance of Haris Silajdzic, the leader of the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, SzBiH, who continues to insist on greater centralization under terms rejected by a large majority of Bosnian Serbs. This time moderate Izetbegovic won.

Serb incumbent Nebojsa Radmanovic of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats won the Serb seat in presidency; he backs the idea of Bosnian Serb secession from the rest of the country. Indeed RS is already a de facto independent country, establishing diplomatic and investment relations overseas, and largely ignoring day-to-day national-level politics. Regardless, independence and even unification with Serbia are popular causes. Even the entity's two main opposition parties staunchly favor autonomy along Dayton lines.

Results from The Central Election Commission pages here!

Democracy vs. EU

"After WWII, we were full of enthusiasm and confidence in our strength, which demonstrated itself in the recovery of the country. Conversely, the war in the first half of the 1990s is still going on. It might be without weapons, but features all the elements of hatred, division and rift,"

"The United Nations were caught with their pants down, because their forces were only passive observers of the events. Similarly, the European Community limited its activities to providing humanitarian aid. It showed utter incompetence, which still continues,

(Raif Dizdarević a retired Bosnian politician who held senior positions in the Yugoslavian regime)

The EU has demanded that if Bosnia wishes to join to EU, it must create a stronger central government. Negotiations – led by EU and U.S over constitutional changes to strengthen the central government have been long and unsuccessful were frozen in Summer in hopes that it would be easier to find a compromise after last Sunday's elections.

First reactions from West about results were badly mistaken. After elections in West has estimated that in FBiH disputes among and between Bosniak and Bosnian Croat leaders and a dysfunctional administrative system will continue as well paralyzed decision making; the entity is on the verge of bankruptcy and all this can trigger social unrest. Same time in RS Serb officials will try to undermine federal structures. BiH itself is already nearly “failed state" not only due to political divisions, but also because of rampant corruption and organized crime.

In EU's fears the realized final results reflecting the status quo will set the stage for another four years of drift, diminishing the possibility of a path to the EU. Economic hardship and political uncertainty will continue and the country or at least FBiH could develop more as a potential jump-off point for Islamic radicalism.

However in democracy and e.g. now in Bosnia people may want different aims, conflicting views and they elect their representatives accordingly despite EU's wishes.

Strange minority rights

One peculiar aspect in BiH administration is discriminatory election process based to Dayton scribble. Bosnia's constitution allows only the members of the Constituent Peoples - ethnic Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (Muslims) - to stand for election to either the three-member Presidency or the House of Peoples. Non-constituent peoples - defined in the Constitution as 'Others' like Jewish and Roma people - can only stand for election to the lower house, being denied their right to full participation in the political process.

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) helped to bring situation before the European Court of Human Rights, which in December 2009 ruled that the country's current constitution violates the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court ordered the abolition of discriminatory restrictions against the Jewish and Roma people.

The tripartite Presidency, as well as positions in the upper house, are equally distributed among the three Constituent Peoples, among Bosniaks and Croats from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbs from Republika Srpska. Although the case did not specifically address this issue, Croats and Bosniaks in the Republika Srpska and Serbs in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina are also excluded from standing for office.

Defeat of EU strategy, win for local democracy

"stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities; the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union; and the ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union." (EU membership criteria)

Outcome of Bosnian elections was crushing defeat for EU's efforts to strengthen BiH central government, EU's stick and carrot strategy failed and now international community should revise its earlier aims. EU attempts to draw power from the entities to the center have been unsuccessful and now rejected at the elections by Serbs and Croats.

From my point of view there is no reason for defeatism in Bosnia, totally opposite I see now possibilities to create a new “lighter” administrative system, election results may give a boost to more decentralized outcome which also can be kept more democratic. Indeed this could serve fullfilling EU membership criteria even better than implementing the used EU-led strategy.

Relatively moderate winners may find pragmatic solutions inside FBiH. The ten Cantons of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina are already serving as the second-level units of local autonomy. Five of the cantons or counties (Una-Sana, Tuzla, Zenica-Doboj, Bosnian Podrinje, and Sarajevo) have a Bosniak majority, three (Posavina, West Herzegovina, and West Bosnia) have Bosnian Croat majority, and two (Central Bosnia and Herzegovina-Neretva) are 'ethnically mixed', meaning there are special legislative procedures for protection of the constituent ethnic groups. The Bosnian Croats might well see enforcement of cantons on cost of centralized governmental structure, they might also see creating a third entity possible.

As earlier noted the other political entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republika Srpska, has a great autonomy, it has a centralized government and is divided directly into 63 municipalities so the “extra” second-level administration is already missing.

Possible solutions

"(Bosnia's government) is the most complicated, most absurd system I know as a political science professor," (Jacques Rupnik from the Paris-based CERI Centre for International Research and Study)

EU and Bosniak population had wishes for the state to be centralized, eliminating the Federation, as well as the Republika Srpska. Officials in the Republika Srpska naturally resist this idea. Many Serbs assume that if Kosovo achieves independence, Republika Srpska will separate from Bosnia and Herzegovina, eventually joining Serbia.

A new middle way could be found from decentralization at local level. Instead of strong federalist state the new state level solution could be a confederation made up from newly formulated and more autonomous entities – from RS and to Bosniak and Croat entities splitted FBiH.

A confederation union of sovereign states or in Bosnia's case entities or common action in relation to other states. If compared to today's federation a confederation would have lighter administrative structure, it has very limited direct power as decisions are externalized by member-state legislation and changes of the constitution or a treaty, require unanimity. Confederations are "looser" structures than federations and based more on co-operation than coercion.

(My) conclusion

The BiH elections show a heavily divided non-state: Srpska wants out, the US-imposed federation of Croats and Bosniaks is divided with the voters voting largely for their own kind. And that is what it is all about: they want to be governed by their own kind, and outside forces deny them even the right of self-determination in a referendum.” (Johan Galtung)

EU's solution for Bosnia has so far been to force people to accept a form of governance that they don't want and be part of a state that they don't want. Now it is time for rethinking in international community; forced centralization should be replaced with more pragmatic ways, such as decentralization and ethnic self-determination. Confederation might be one solution. One true example of a confederation was a very loose political union called the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro (2003-2006). This union peacefully came to an end after Montenegro's formal declaration of independence , and Serbia's formal declaration of independence on June 2006 .

I conclude my viewpoint with words of Henry Kissinger, one of the most important politicians in the U.S. international politics from 1969 to 1977 and respected analyst since then. In a recent interview Kissinger stated that Bosnia must be split into three parts and then those parts be annexed to the neighboring countries. “There is no such thing as a Bosnian language. No such thing as Bosnian Culture. Bosnia itself is an administrative country which has three groups of people: Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks artificially created in the former Yugoslavia who the western diplomats stupidly recognized as a ‘country’.” Kissinger believes the Muslims in Bosnia should be given a piece of land they would call a ‘country’ while the majority Serbs and Croats in Bosnia would either create their own states or would join Serbia and Croatia respectively. According to Kissinger, this sort of solution would work best and will satisfy the three groups in Bosnia. I do not oppose these thoughts, indeed I see quite big wisdom with them.

Some sources:

Bosnian elections: The Central Election Commission and their webmodule

and my earlier post Bosnia on the road to the EU, sorry to Dissolution

Analysis: History invites itself to Bosnia elections and EU-Bosnia and Herzegovina relations