bosnia report
New Series No. 2 January - February 1998
Reading the Runes

Listening to the self-congratulatory speeches of US and European politicians, or their representatives in the field, on all that they have achieved in Bosnia since Dayton, one can easily lose sight of reality: the reality of a country with half its population still displaced and unable to return home; a country with three quarters of its territory still controlled, beneath the SFOR umbrella, by hostile armed forces created for the very purpose of destroying it, by corrupt politicians loyal to Belgrade or Zagreb, and by criminal local bosses fighting to defend their privileges and fiefdoms; a country without effective external borders, but with a highly effective internal 'zone of separation' between its two 'entities': a country with minimal existing production (20% of prewar levels) or investment prospects, vast unemployment and poverty, massive physical, environmental, cultural and psychological devastation; a country without functioning state institutions, but with a superfluity of imposed dysfunctional bureaucratic instances perpetuating 'ethnic' division; a country un- der a de facto protectorate exercised by international bodies and foreign governments that are virtually unaccountable (with the partial exception of the US administration, obliged to take account of a concerned Congress and media less insularly indifferent than, say, their British counterparts), and whose policies often have little to do either with their own rhetoric or with the real interests of Bosnia and its population.

To discover the underlying aim underpinning those policies is an exercise in reading the runes. Thus in Bonn last autumn the High Representative was given enhanced powers to impose solutions, where the central bodies ordained by Dayton were not functioning; but he has used these powers, for example, to impose not one currency design but two, not one common passport but two entity variants. A great fuss was made about the importance of free and fair elections for Bosnia's future, then elections were held that could not be and were not free or fair and these were proclaimed a great success. OSCE spokesmen stressed repeatedly before last September's municipal elections that they would be speedily implemented and that a plan of action had been prepared to ensure this: nothing of the kind has occurred. Much is currently being made of the establishment in Brcko of a multi-ethnic town council and police force, but the reality is that not a single non-Serb refugee has returned to this town where Serbs formed only 20% of the prewar population. 1998 is proclaimed the 'year of return', but when Izetbegovic called for the international powers to put the same pressure on the RS authorities as on Sarajevo to facilitate this, his demand was denounced as 'unreasonable', given the vulnerability of the new Dodik government.

So how will the contradictions of Dayton be resolved: iÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ n favour of a progressive reintegration of Bosnia or a consolidation of its de facto partition? This will depend in large part on the powers now holding military, financial and political sway over the country, and it is hard indeed to gauge their true intentions. But the coming year should reveal these one way or the other. Will the international representatives opt, when they can, to strengthen the central institu- tions: most immediately by making Brcko a district of B-H as such, outside either entity, and thereafter by ensuring that such essential functions of any state as, say, statistical services or official archives are integrated? Will they begin to move, as many have suggested over the past year, towards an eventual integration of the army of RS with the Federation forces? Will they create a more muscular international police force to provide security for returning refugees and arrest war criminals? Will they facilitate in practice the constiries), which they have welcomed in words? Will they encourage decentralization of RS, thus harmonizing its structures with those of the Federation? Above all, will they come to understand that reliance on Milosevic and Tudjman to 'implement Dayton' is the surest way to ensure that its positive elements will never be implemented? Will they come to understand too that the precondition for creating a democratic Bosnia-Herzegovina, as a factor of stability in the region, is mobilization of the country's population behind common goals - of social, economic, political and cultural reconstruction - that alone could reunite it.


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