Paddy Ashdown wants, and expects, to be the last holder of his post as the international community’s High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina. As of now his powers are virtually unfettered and he issues more executive decrees than did any of his predecessors. But the aim tirelessly proclaimed is to see a progressive transfer of powers from his office to duly constituted democratic local bodies, so that by the time he leaves the country will have become once again the property of its citizens. And yet, and yet...
Eight years after Dayton Bosnia remains without a unified army, police, intelligence service, judicial system, government (in other than a formal sense), interior or defence ministries, customs regime, state budget, VAT, privatization policy, education programme. Its electoral system and hypertrophic administrative structures are based on ethnic apartheid, or at best grotesque ethnic quotas. On his recent visit to Banja Luka, the Pope was told by the local Catholic bishop that only 3% of his pre-war congregation have returned to their homes - and how many Bosniaks have been able to go back to Bijeljina, Zvornik, Višegrad, Foca, Trebinje, Stolac, or Serbs to Drvar or Mostar? Karadžic and Mladic are still at large, while their party rules RS. In short, the great powers vested in the High Representative have only occasionally been used in ways not negotiated with the country’s enemies, or in ways that seriously reduce rather than cementing its division and weakness.
The war against Bosnia thus continues, albeit now by other means, under the auspices of the EU. The Serbian finance minister boasted recently to a Sarajevo journalist that he had been instrumental in preventing a unified VAT system being established in B-H (see page 37 below). Serbian political parties continue to recognize Bosnian integrity only conditionally. Serbian designs on parts of B-H (made explicit whenever the status of Kosova is mentioned) go unchallenged. Miloševic and his accomplices may be on trial, but the EU treats his main achievement - Bosnia’s ethnic partition - as sacrosanct. While it exerts every kind of underhand pressure to force Montenegro into Belgrade’s centralizing grasp, it shows no similar devotion to the cause of Bosnia’s unity. And a new generation of Bosnians are being brought up, denied any sense of belonging to their homeland.
America’s distraction over the past year has left B-H and the region increasingly at the mercy of European lowest common denominator policies favouring the status quo. The international administration of Bosnia lacks accountability, and is by definition undemocratic. The question is whether, as Ivan Lovrenovic argues, it has become counter-productive, something from which the country needs to emancipate itself. For Bosnia as it is now is unviable, and its instability destabilizes the whole region. Is it not high time for Europe to extract from Bosnia’s neighbours unconditional recognition of the country’s full political unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity? And to charge its last High Representative with the task of ensuring that these become reality? Surely, it has nothing to lose and everything to gain by abandoning its current policy of playing what is in effect the geo-political game begun by Miloševic.