bosnia report
New Series No:32-34 December - July 2003
Who actually governs Bosnia-Herzegovina
by Ivan Lovrenovic

‘The whole system appears designed to prevent Bosnia-Herzegovina’s political bodies from developing in the direction of full independence. It is designed to keep domestic political forces in a state of permanent immaturity, but not to the extent that the all-powerful international complex is forced to assume open responsibility for running the country.’

Stagnation is the best word for describing the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina eight years after the end of the war. All the years since the signing of the Dayton Accords, all the trumpeted projects, all the efforts of the international community and the local authorities, have led in one and the same direction: return to the starting position, upholding of the status quo. This depressing immobility, this existence in a closed circle, embraces all aspects of the country’s life. This constant tendency towards entropy has now been reinforced by the return to power in the autumn of 2002 of the three nationalist parties, motivated solely by the desire to maintain the status quo as the only sure way of retaining power.

Two essential aspects of the Dayton design of Bosnia-Herzegovina make it function as the barrier to any qualitative reform: the political-territorial division of the country and the relationship between the international and domestic administrative institutions.

The formula of one state, one ‘district’, two entities and three 'constituent peoples' was the product of a one-off pragmatic attempt, determined by a particular conjuncture, to end the war. Dayton's peculiar combination of disparate elements and compromises involved all sides making concessions, so that none would feel it had lost the war; but it meant also placing the country under international tutelage by introducing a foreign presence into the civil administration, the police and the army.

An irreducible and discriminatory difference was built into the constitution of the two entities. The Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (a product of the Washington Agreement, which was also meant to end the war between Izetbegović's Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the HVO controlled by Tuđman) is divided into ten cantons, i.e. ten self-contained administrative entities, leaving it quite unclear whether it is a federation of the cantons or of the Bosniak and Croat ethnic groups. This has permitted the ruling ethnic parties, the SDA and the HDZ, to establish a consistent ethno-party parallelism in all bodies of the Federation and, under the mask of parliamentary democracy, to impose two one-party systems run by their oligarchies.

The Dayton constitution has made this process infinitely easier in the case of Republika Srpska, which was from the start constituted as a mono-ethnic and mono-confessional state. This organizing principle was then affirmed in all spheres of public life, at the expense of non-Serb and generally civic collectivities. The international legitimation of this essentially racial concept of state, realized through a brutal war and mass crimes, cannot fail to influence also the political life of the Federation, stimulating secret and publicly declared aspirations to apply this racist model also to the Federation. In the Croat case, additionally encouraged by a sense of being an endangered minority, this appears as a demand for the creation of a Croat entity, while in the Bosniak case, grounded in the security of being a dominant majority, it leads to practical disregard of the interests of the Croat component. Taken all together, this asymmetry is conducive to permanent instability, the intensification of inter-ethnic tensions, and the marginalization of all civic or non-ethnic parties and programmes.

During the short-lived government of the Alliance for Democratic Change (2001-2) and Wolfgang Petritsch's mandate, there was an attempt to loosen the Dayton ethnic straightjacket by way of constitutional amendments that would allow national equality throughout the land. This half-hearted initiative soon fell victim, however, to a rotten compromise. There followed a major change with the arrival of Paddy Ashdown to head the OHR, and with the victory in the elections of autumn of 2002 of the nationalist parties. The stage was set for a return of the ancien regime. The restoration was ably aided by the 'new style' of international management practised by the new high representative, who quickly expressed his conviction that the nationalist parties could equally well conduct reform and prepare the country for integration into EU.

It is possible that the international bureaucrats and Ashdown himself do not understand - maybe prefer not to understand - the fact that the root of Bosnia-Herzegovina's permanent crisis lies in the organic symbiosis between the institutions run by the nationalists and the criminal and corrupt system that prevails in the country. These two vitally depend on each other, indeed so much so that one can safely say that nationalism, corruption and crime are synonymous terms in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is perfectly logical, therefore, that the present setup, which to boot enjoys a four-year mandate, is most unlikely to engage in the reforms publicly endorsed by Paddy Ashdown, such as independent judiciary, state-building, tackling the horrifically high unemployment, taking the 'European road', etc., because to do so would endanger their own existence. They are bound, therefore, to obstruct all attempts at reform, while loudly expressing their full commitment to it. It can be expected, in other words, that they will pick from the reform agenda only a few minor and for them benign titbits, as a demonstration of their alleged good will.

The power of the Bosnia-Herzegovina presidency is prettified by the magic formula that its members are elected ‘from the ranks of such and such a people’. This barbarous invention suggests that citizens have no political individuality outside their particular ethnic group, and that their main purpose in life is to legitimize the existing system and politicians. The propensity towards perversion on the part of the international community is testified to, indeed, by this racially based system in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which rests on documents that they have drafted and certified, and which the various functionaries who in their different institutional guises govern this country ardently propagate.

The other element of the Dayton Agreement that keep Bosnia-Herzegovina in the firm grip of permanent stagnation is the relationship that exists between the international and domestic administrations. Here we have an example of a special and maybe unique case of dual power, whose persistence is increasingly forcing us in Bosnia to ask who is actually running Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Anyone who wishes to answer this question in a rational and consistent manner is faced with an impossible task. After having listed all the (innumerable) institutions and levels of the domestic governing system, and added to the list all the institutions and functions of the international government, when one tries to analyse the whole thing in its mutual interconnectedness in order to establish its meaning and purpose, and especially any potential it may have for taking society forward, one is left with the impression of a monstrous and hypertrophied structure that has escaped its initial meaning if it ever had one, and that - unproductive and parasitic - has continued to multiply almost organically, guided solely by the desire to keep itself in existence. The whole purpose of the model, so far as one can see, is to prevent Bosnia’s own political structures from developing in the direction of full independence, with a concomitant awareness of their responsibility for and duty towards their country. It is designed to keep domestic political forces in a state of permanent immaturity, but not to the extent that the all-powerful international complex is forced to assume open responsibility for running the country. This labyrinthine structure, because devoid of any real and transparent responsibility, is also left without any clear task - a state of affairs that maximizes its capacity to act in an voluntaristic and ad hoc manner whenever it feels the need.

This inter-relationship between domestic and foreign administrators adds up to a great formula for nurturing and maintaining the status quo. In the absence of other clearly spelled out alternatives, the Bosnian population has become convinced that the long-standing condition of uncertainty and stagnation is nothing but a international 'plot' against Bosnia-Herzegovina. This state of mind inevitably generates forms of collective paranoia which, though often trivial in nature, are nevertheless highly dangerous.

During the time of Wolfgang Petritsch's governorship and the short-lived Alliance adminstration, there was an attempt at partnership, which encouraged the expectation that the international community actually wished to empower the country to run itself. The half-baked constitutional reform of the spring 2002 showed, however, that the promise was more declaratory than real. Petritsch's replacement by Ashdown's commando-style government, and the return of the nationalist parties - those contemporary caricatures of the old Ottoman millet system - have returned the whole story back to its starting point.

Caught up in the defeatist and reactionary belief that this caricatural millet system that is Dayton Bosnia is the only way to protect 'national interests', the Bosniak, Croat and Serb nationalist leaders are doing a great job of degrading their country and postponing into an ever distant future its political emancipation from the clearly counter-productive international tutorship.

This article has been translated from Feral Tribune (Split), 10 May 2003


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