The Out of Bosnia Festival and the elections
For ten days at the end of September Bosnia-Herzegovina came to London, in the shape of a triumphantly successful arts festival organized jointly by The Bosnian Institute and Riverside Studios. Plays, films, visual works, literature and debate evoked a country with rich cultural traditions and a vibrant contemporary cultural production. Theatre companies, artists and writers came from throughout B-H, invited on merit and without reference to the misshapen, imprisoning structures superimposed on the country by Dayton; and they mingled and worked together in the most natural, unproblematic way. Bosnians in London - who themselves came from all parts of their country, sometimes in the most tragic circumstances - flocked enthusiastically to the festival and gave the visiting artists the warmest of receptions.
Four weeks later, the B-H electorate (or just over half of it) went to the polls in a procedure suffused with the ‘ethnic’ politics of Daytonland. Western officials appealed vainly to the voters to reject ‘nationalism’, while shutting their eyes firmly to the role of Dayton itself as a constant generator of nationalism: the voters unsurprisingly continued in the main to divide along national lines.
Despite this setback, inertial EU and US administrations (so committed to the status quo that they scarcely blinked when the embargo-busting ‘Arms for Iraq’ affair broke in RS and Serbia) have resumed their never-ending quest for ‘moderates’. These it seems might this time - following Plavsic, Krajisnik and Ivanic - have to include even local RS clones of the parties of Milosevic and Seselj! Yet even if explicit repudiation of Dayton or the ‘entities’ is still ruled out, an enormous amount can be done within these constraints to provide Bosnia with a ‘normal’ future, by strengthening key institutions of the state. Former high representative Petritsch introduced central control (at least formal) of the borders. If his successor Ashdown brings in a centrally collected value-added tax, a single judiciary and army, unified B-H defence and interior ministries, he might even realize his proclaimed hope of being the last to hold his post.