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Balkans: Transforming Bosnia-Herzegovina Into A Modern, Multiethnic State


http://gdb.rferl.org/603CDA0F-31A7-4018-8EB3-4ED57D6BFCCB_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/603CDA0F-31A7-4018-8EB3-4ED57D6BFCCB_mw800_mh600.jpg Wolfgang Petritsch (file photo) (epa) Wolfgang Petritsch was the international community's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1999-2002. In a region where locals often take a cynical view of international officials, Petritsch, a Balkan-affairs specialist who speaks the regional languages, earned the respect of his former Yugoslav colleagues. A member of Austria's Slovenian minority, Petritsch began his political career in Austria's Socialist Party (SPO), working closely with the late Chancellor Bruno Kreisky. He has served as Austrian ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva since leaving his post in Bosnia. He spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Mehmed Agovic on 17 November. What follows is an edited transcript. (To hear RFE/RL's interview with Mr. Petritsch, click here --> rtsp://realaudio.rferl.org/Online/OL1711/Petritsch.rm for Real Audio or here --> mms://realaudio.rferl.org/Online/OL1711/Petritsch.wma for Windows Media.)

RFE/RL: As the high representative in Bosnia, you witnessed the difficulties in the implementation of peace in that country. If we exclude the military aspect, was the Dayton Agreement an adequate solution for establishing a self-sufficient and indivisible Bosnian state -- a normal state, by European standards?

Wolfgang Petritsch: Well, there is a clear "no" now, 10 years after Dayton, it is necessary to say. But this does not take away from the historic achievement of Dayton. It stopped the war. It brought the almost four years of carnage to an end. This is the historical achievement of the Dayton accords. But it is not a blueprint for a viable, modern, multiethnic European state. That is what we need to realize.

RFE/RL: Can Bosnia-Herzegovina survive as a state under a years-long national and territorial division?

Petritsch: Already, about three years into the Dayton accords -- into the implementation -- the international community realized that things needed to change, that Dayton needed to be improved. And, under my leadership beginning in 1999, we did a lot in order to strengthen the state-level institutions. For example, I doubled the number of ministers at the state level and made many other improvements in order to make this a more viable model for the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But I should say that this needs to be continued, as was done under my successor, Paddy Ashdown. But this needs to be continued well into the next couple of years. Bosnia needs to become more and more organized along the basic European principles of a modern state.

RFE/RL: Do you agree with numerous initiatives -- the last one offered by Donald Hayes from the American Institute of Peace -- about the necessity of revising the Dayton constitution and the organization of Bosnia according to criteria that are not national?

Petritsch: Well, definitely the ethnic or national criteria cannot be the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina. It was part of the immediate post-conflict situation, where the ethnic component played such a role. But this is not a building block for a modern European state. So, in this way, there is broad agreement and Ambassador Hayes, who used to be my deputy in my time, had the very good idea of giving this new impetus.

However, on the other hand, I am convinced that it is necessary to produce a reform which is homegrown, which is owned and defended by the local politicians and, above all, the civil society. I see more chances and a greater opportunity to activate the civil society, many of the nongovernmental organizations, academia -- the young generation, in particular -- to contribute to this reform process.

When it comes to this idea of a kind of totally new constitution, I am kind of skeptical -- because we have been talking about "Dayton II" now for many, many years and what is the outcome? Nothing.

In the meantime, during my [tenure], but now also under my successor, many, many incremental steps toward a more functional Bosnia-Herzegovina have been taken -- usually the international community has been in the lead. Now the leadership, so to speak, has to change. We need to see local forces in the lead in the reform process.

And the third point which I would like to make in this context is that we now have a very clear European Union perspective for Bosnia-Herzegovina. The neighborhood all around Bosnia-Herzegovina is moving pretty fast closer to the European Union. Within a couple of days, the stabilization and association process with Bosnia-Herzegovina -- as the last country from the region -- will begin. So I believe this is now the perspective, and we should put the emphasis on European integration and then ask the next important question: What are the instruments, what are the functions that a state which wants to successfully negotiate with the European Union -- what should such a state, institutions, [and] government look like?

RFE/RL: What exactly do you suggest? What should a new constitutional arrangement of Bosnia look like so as to be in accordance with European and democratic standards?

Petritsch: I think the key word is "functional." You need a functional model of governance for Bosnia-Herzegovina. That means, in practical terms, the executive -- and this is the government -- needs to be strengthened. I think that, right now, the [three-member] presidency has too many powers. That needs to be devolved to the level of the state government -- an effective and also efficient state government which is capable of negotiating an agreement with the European Union. This is essential; everything else is secondary.
You need a functional model of governance for Bosnia-Herzegovina. That means, in practical terms, the executive -- and this is the government -- needs to be strengthened. I think that, right now, the [three-member] presidency has too many powers. That needs to be devolved to the level of the state government -- an effective and also efficient state government which is capable of negotiating an agreement with the European Union. This is essential; everything else is secondary.


RFE/RL: In your opinion, is it necessary to abolish the current Bosnian entities?

Petritsch: As you know, you have the local level, you have the canton level, you have the federation level. I think Bosnians in particular need to think about whether they can afford this highly complex system. My suggestion would be to look into how one could reduce the levels of government -- whether you really need a federation if you have cantons, whether the Republika Srbska can remain with a name but in fact turn into a sort of cantonal government. These are, I believe, the questions that need to be asked. So what needs to be done is [that] you need to strengthen first and foremost the state level and then devolve all the other necessary rights and regulations that are important for the people on the local level down to the local level.

RFE/RL: Do you think that the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina should be allowed to vote for one person to be the head of state, so that in the future Bosnia could have one president instead of the current tripartite, nationally divided, presidency?

Petritsch: I think that -- in a way, of course -- the symbolism of three presidents is in a multiethnic state something that I would not immediately discredit. However, if these three presidents have too much power -- as is the case right now -- then I believe that needs to be changed. It is not so much about whether you have three or one, it is more about whether these three -- or the one -- have too much power concentrated at the presidential level. Usually the European system is such that the prime minister and his government, as the executive of the state, have the real powers. That is what should happen in the first place, and then one can decide whether it makes a lot of sense to have three presidents. I would, of course, also prefer to have one who has a largely ceremonial function as the head -- maybe elected by a representative parliament. That would probably be the most likely system.

But I have to quickly add, these are questions that Bosnians themselves need to answer. The international community can support and help and assist, but the political will for changes and for reform has to emanate from the Bosnians themselves. They have to get organized, they have to get their act together, and we -- the international community, in particular the European Union -- will help. The European Union, by the way, is becoming more and more the prime player and the prime respondent also to the problems and challenges in Bosnia-Herzegovina. So, to establish a good, excellent, close relationship between Brussels and Bosnia-Herzegovina will be the task of the immediate future.

RFE/RL: Do you think the current Bosnian authorities with the present inside political relationships are able to make sufficient compromises and to start building an acceptable state for integration into the European Union?
What is urgently needed now is to have a more forceful transfer of responsibility, political and economic responsibility, to the local authorities. And to get civil society -- and this is the second, extremely important, point -- to get civil society, the young generation, to get actively involved in forging a modern state of Bosnia-Herzegovina.


Petritsch: Sometimes when I am pessimistic, I feel that this will never happen. But there are also optimistic moments. I still remember when, under my guidance, Bosnian politicians were negotiating this big constitutional reform -- the so-called Mrakovica-Sarajevo agreement [in March 2002]. And they managed -- I know, I'm very aware of the fact that we were pushing very hard -- but it was they who brought about this agreement. Bosnian politicians negotiating. Not everyone was included -- the SDA [Party of Democratic Action] leader, Mr. [Sulejman] Tihic, left the negotiations -- but others, like Zlatko Lagumdzija or many others, they really forged a compromise across ethnic lines. And I believe this is a prime example of how even in Bosnia a compromise can be hammered out by the local authorities.

RFE/RL: What do you see as the main task of the new international high representative in Bosnia? Is it time to establish some kind of a partner relationship with the local authorities?

Petritsch: Definitely, what will be urgently needed now is to have a more forceful transfer of responsibility, political and economic responsibility, to the local authorities. And to get civil society -- and this is the second, extremely important, point -- to get civil society, the young generation, to get actively involved in forging a modern state of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
RFE/RL Balkan Report


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