bosnia report
New Series No: 35 August - September 2003
Rather make war than lose a vote
by Zlatko Hadžidedic

At the height of the Sarajevo Film Festival, it may be difficult to concentrate on the public polemic between two members of the Bosnian presidency: Tihić (SDA) and Paravac (SDS). It is hard because the human psyche prefers to look forward and outward - to the world at large, where one would like to think the Sarajevo Film Festival is taking us - rather than backward in the direction of our ceaseless preoccupation with the past. Yet it is important to reflect on the arguments used in this polemic, and on the facts from the recent past with which they deal, since they contain the key to the situation in which our common country - a country that is supposed to be represented both singly and jointly by Paravac and Tihić - finds itself, and which prevents its citizens from seriously concerning themselves with the issue of how they and their country might begin to move forward and advance.

At the heart of the polemic, let us recall, lies the issue of the legal foundations on which Republika Srpska was established: i.e. that of the legitimacy of its birth, hence also of its present-day existence and future survival. For regardless of the fact that the Dayton peace agreement has legalized the existence of Republika Srpska, this legalization - and thereby also the political fate of this state-legal formation, identified in the Dayton constitution as an 'entity' (a category without precedent in political and legal theory) - could be legally disputed if one could show in a definitive and evident manner that the very mode of its genesis was in contradiction with the accepted norms and principles of political democracy and international law.

For Tihić, the illegitimacy of RS is based on the fact that the territory now embraced by this 'entity' was carved out through an armed conquest accompanied by the execution and/or deportation of the non-Serb population on a scale unknown in Europe since the Second World War. For Paravac, according to a statement issued by his office, the legitimacy of Republika Srpska is based on the fact that it was proclaimed before the outbreak of the armed conflict, in January 1992, and that the declaration of its existence expressed the will of the 'elected representatives of the Serb people, seeking to protect the people from being outvoted in the Bosnia-Herzegovina of that time'. While Tihić reproduces the well-known argument regarding the illegitimacy of political-legal and territorial formations created by the use of force (a view endorsed by international law, which in principle Paravac's declaration does not deny either), Paravac produces an interesting yet highly problematic argument that Republika Srpska was created by the will of 'elected representatives of the Serb people' in order to 'protect the people from being outvoted in the Bosnia-Herzegovina of that time'. This is an interesting argument since it clearly states, probably for the first time since 1992, the reason why the Serb Democratic Party and Radical Party deputies elected to the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina parliament should in January 1992 have proclaimed 'Republika Srpska - Bosnia-Herzegovina' (as it was called then), which soon afterwards acquired its present-day form through ethnic cleansing of the territories which at the time of its proclamation were supposed to be included within it. The reason, as stated, was to protect the Serb people from being 'outvoted' - and in order to prevent its 'being outvoted' the SDS and RS decided to create their own para-state in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with all the consequences that such a decision entailed.

The dubious nature of this argument derives in part from the fact that the SDS and RS deputies in the parliament had not in reality been elected as 'representatives of the Serb people', but like all other deputies as representatives of Bosnia-Herzegovina's citizens, since the pre-war Bosnian constitution did not know or recognize the category of ethnic representation, i.e. of separate representation of the ethnic groups present within the body of Bosnian citizens. This means that, constitutionally speaking, the SDS and RS deputies were not elected as - but simply appointed themselves to be - 'representatives of the Serb people'; so that one can speak only of these two political parties, and not of the Serb people, being potentially outvoted in the Bosnian parliament at that time. Even more problematic is Paravac's argument that fear of losing a vote in the Bosnian parliament was necessary and sufficient to legitimize the proclamation by those two parties of a new para-state on Bosnian soil. This would imply that all acts committed with the aim of creating an ethnically pure territory for this para-state - subsequently legitimized at Dayton as an 'entity' within the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina - are made legitimate by the desire of those two parties not to be outvoted in parliament. The absurdity of this kind of 'legitimacy' is emphasized by the fact that losing votes in parliament is inherent in the functioning of all democratic systems in the world. All theories of democratically achieved legitimacy are clear on this: that the only source of legitimacy is the political will that prevails in the course of democratic decision-making. What Paravac - member of a political party which (what irony!) has 'democratic' in its name - calls 'being outvoted', and against which we are told his party was ready to wage war, is nothing but a mechanism for ascertaining the will of the majority. And it is the case that in all democratic political systems the will of the majority binds both the majority and the minority, and that the obligation to respect this will is what every party accepts as the condition of its participation in the process of political decision-making. Refusal to be 'outvoted' means refusal to accept the principle of democratic decision-making and of democratic social organization. Hence, the attempt to legitimize Republika Srpska as a 'defence' against being outvoted permanently de-legitimizes Republika Srpska as a mechanism by which the parties claiming to represent the 'Serb people' tried to protect themselves from democracy. This fact alone ought to de-legitimize Republika Srpska in the eyes of those forces in the world which claim to represent democratic values.


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