bosnia report
New Series No. 15/16 March - June 2000
Constituent status and cantonization

will be posed once the Constitutional Court rules on the constituent status of B-H's peoples The issue of constituent status has been present on the Bosnian political scene for six years. A detailed debate has been held on the subject, especially during the last year. But the issue still remains open before the Constitutional Court of B-H1. In the same way the question of cantonization has been current since 6 February 1994, when it was presented at the first assembly of the Croat National Council (CNC)- also six years ago. And it was reopened during the third session of the CNC on 19 February this year.

In a previous issue Ljiljan wrote about what Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs would gain, and what they would `lose', if they were constituent peoples throughout territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina (at present they are constituent only within the entity where they live, but not on the whole territory of their state). They would lose nothing in a political and legal sense, for they would retain what they had before, i.e. the right to constituent status within the entity where they live, and gain something, since their constituent status would now extend into the other entity and to the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They would be not only the constituent peoples of entities, but also of the state. Thus Serbs would not be a `national minority' in Sarajevo; Bosniaks and Croats in Banja Luka would feel as though in their own state, they would not be living `clandestinely'; and Bosniaks would walk the streets of West Mostar just as they walk the streets of Sarajevo. Is there anything more natural than that Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats should feel that they are constituent citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina in each of its parts? Indeed citizens who are not constituent in every part of their state can be only second-class citizens, because they cannot vote with equal rights, be voted for, take part in major privatizations or practice their religion. When all this is summed up, it would not be wrong to say that constituent status is the strongest factor integrating the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It can be argued that the issue of constituent status is linked with cantonization of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as was recently pointed out at the Croat National Council, where a different internal structure for B-H, and also for the Federation, was presented, according to natural (geographical) regions, but also taking into account historical factors, economic resources and the ethnic composition of the population. According to this proposition, Bosnia-Herzegovina would be a state comprising seventeen cantons, formed according to such criteria. Let uÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ s remember that this CNC project was presented in Geneva, and then in Washington, after which the Washington Agreement was signed. Ljiljan is treating this subject just as it did the issue of constituent status. So what would B-H be gaining and what would it be losing, with regionalization as proposed in the CNC concept? And how good is this cantonization concept, in the light of the experience of modern democratic countries? We put some of these questions to Brother Luka Markesic, keynote speaker at the third CNC assembly; to Mirko Pejanovic, President of the Serb Civic Council; and to Atif Purivatra, Chairman of the Council of Bosniak Intellectuals.

Markesic: within the canton in Eastern Bosnia, Bosniaks would be a majority

Even more radically than he did for the Council, Brother Luka Markesic has openly set out his opinions as follows: `One of the most important things about implementation of the Dayton Agreement is the issue of cantonization. We are linking two issues. One is the constituent status of peoples on the whole territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, an issue which is still in the hands of the Constitutional Court. You see, constituent status should precede cantonization, because the citizens of B-H will not be able to return to their homes before acquiring constituent status. The practical realization of constituent status, with citizens enjoying their rights, can be implemented by means of local self-government. There is a European convention on local self-government. It is a constituent part of the Dayton Agreement. That is why we are in favour of cantonization on the whole territory of B-H, which includes the territory of Republika Srpska as well as that of the Federation. We are not satisfied with the current system of cantonization within the Federation, because most of the cantons have not been formed in accordance with natural measures. I do not think the cantons in the Federation are sustainable, which is why clashes occur as they do. For example, within the `Livanjsko-herzegbosanski' canton you have Livno, Glamoc, Grahovo and Drvar, which have nothing to do with Herzegovina.

We have a plan for cantonization. One criterion is geographical, whereby cantons would be formed along regional lines. The second criterion is historical: particular groups of people have lived on certain territories so that they are historically linked. Then there are economic resources which bind territories together. And a fourth criterion is national - the question of peoples. Sustainable cantons could be formed only according to these criteria. Our proposed Posavski canton covers territory in Western Bosnia. If a canton is formed in Posavina, then Croats and Bosniaks will return there. The Serbs are going to stay there anyway. Then Bosniaks were a majority in Eastern Bosnia; cantons must first be formed there, so that their return will be made possible. In this way the sustainability of the cantons will be made possible and the issue of B-H as a single state, in which both the diversity and the unity of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be respected, will be solved. There can be no people without unity and diversity. The state should serve the interests of all peoples.

The Dayton Agreement should be respected, but it should also be built upon. Through the implementation of constituent status and cantonization, the entities will be marginalized. They will become a formality, representing no barrier to the building of a single state, which is a precondition for the return of refugees.

This idea should be implemented gradually. Without too much hurry, so as to avoid any conflicts that might hinder it. For the time being, the political actors in B-H, as well as the international community, have to show more resolve in implementing the Dayton Agreement. However, building upon it and perfecting it actually means changing it. We should not shut our eyes to that. After all, the Dayton Agreement is open to the future. As you know, the B-H Constitution itself is unfinished.

Purivatra and PÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ejanovic: the entities would be marginalized

According to Atif Purivatra, the idea of cantonization should be supported absolutely, for it is an absurdity for one part of the state to be cantonized while the other is not. The question is how the Federation can be decentralized into cantons, while the political representatives of Republika Srpska are asking for a decentralized Bosnia-Herzegovina and at the same time opposing the cantonization of their own entity. Mr Purivatra thinks that the B-H cantons should then be given even greater authority than they now have, as in Switzerland, but that the state institutions should also have adequate authority. He is of the opinion that all citizens support this idea, as do a significant number of politicians in both entities, as well as the representatives of the international community; but he also thinks that the current political time is not ripe for this idea and it should not be forced, in order not to cause political discord in both entities. In the end Mr Purivatra says that cantonization of the whole state is the only way out for Bosnia-Herzergovina, so there is no reason for the representatives of the international community not to support it. He also adds that the geography and history of B-H have created well-formed natural regions, so there is no reason for politics to interfere.

Mirko Pejanovic speaks of the development of European countries whose internal organization has been based on the development of their regions - regionalization - adding that there is no state which is not improving its development. `In practice it is called the regional organization of society. With Switzerland, we have an example of successful cantonization, as a multi-national, multi-lingual country. As such, it has been organized into twenty-three cantons. This is a form of social management where a high degree of autonomy exists in the form of executive power within the cantons.

`In this respect, the state of B-H, during its historical development, also had well-formed historical regions, not just geographical or communicational ones. Roughly speaking, the process lasted for a few centuries. These are regions formed on the territories of large economic and cultural centres such as Bihac, Sarajevo, Mostar, for a while Travnik, Zenica, Doboj. So far as B-H itself is concerned, the country was offered a form of regional cantonization via provinces in the first peace plan prepared during the years 1992-3, during the Geneva negotiations. This was the plan which had ten provinces - the proposal of the state delegation was thirteen provinces, but Vance and Owen decided on ten. Later on, the Washington peace agreement of 1994 came about, and the Federation was cantonized accordingly. That is to say, half the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Cantonization has shown its results in practice, despite being done unevenly in relation to some more or less developed centres, so that development is harder to achieve. In theory and practice there is a regional organization of society, in the shape of economic organisation but also as a regional organization of power. It is something familiar to modern democracy and it serves democracy and development in the administration of states.

`I think that one day cantonal organization will be an optimal structure for B-H, and that the Council of Peoples will be a kind of guarantee for the realization of national interests. The entities would be marginalized and legally replaced by the cultural communities of the B-H peoples.'

The will and pressure of the international community

Certainly any idea about our internal organization, about changes to the constitutional system outlined in the Dayton Agreement, will meet with different reactions. In this case, the idea of cantonizing the whole territory of B-H, as developed and reformulated by the Croatian National Council at its third assembly, is something which prompts the question of whether to accept such an idea, or indeed to seek a consensus around it. It is certainÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ that this kind of asymmetric internal organization - the Federation with cantons, Republika Srpska without any regional organization - does not lead to integration of the state. Such an organization cannot survive without having consequences for the integration of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In this sense, in the search for a better solution, the idea is completely legitimate, because it leads in the direction of developing the constitutional solutions and internal organization, developing the Dayton Peace Agreement - first implementing it and then developing it. It is necessary for acceptance of the constituent status of all peoples and others living in B-H to become a fait accompli; if this is resolved, then realistic premises will be created for implementing the project of cantonization throughout the territory

of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Republika Srpska will not be able to survive if it is hermetically sealed off from the Federation. It will not be able to maintain its development without internal regionalization. And such regionalization will complete the regionalization of Bosnia-Herzegovina on the whole of its territory.

Something of this kind requires the will of the political powers in B-H, which does not exist as of now, just as it does not exist with respect to the electoral law or any other law significant for the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a project requires the will of the international community, its influence and pressure, so that something of this kind may be accepted as part of the international project of building peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina. And of developing democracy. So: constituent status, then regionalization.

This article has been translated from Ljiljan (Sarajevo), 28 February - 6 March 2000

1 See Bosnia Report (original series) 19, June-August 1997 for the onstitutional amendments on constituent status put forward by the Serb Civic Council


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