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Bosnia To Mark Embarrassing Anniversary

Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik (left) with EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, in May.

Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik (left) with EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, in May.

Just days before the first anniversary of a general election on October 3, leaders of Bosnia's main political parties failed on September 26 in their latest attempt to reconcile views on how the country should function, and left it without any agreement on a new central government.

This puts Bosnia near the top of a global list, second only to a European Union founding member, but this will be no cause for celebration, unless perhaps for those working to bring about the country's demise.

Bosnia wants to join Europe one day but it will not get very far if it emulates the example of Belgium, which has been without a government for more than 470 days because of bickering between Flemish and Walloon ethnic groups.

One immediate victim of yet another fiasco from Bosnia's Muslim, Serb and Croat politicians is financial aid to the tune of 96 million euros from the European Union.

The EU had given Bosnians an extra week to work out how this money would be divided between the state and two autonomous regions, or lose it all.

This is all but certain to happen now.

Playing Into The Hands Of Serb Nationalists

But what is perhaps of greater import than losing financial aid is the fact that the failure plays right into the hands of Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik and those who back him in his efforts to prove that Bosnia, as designed under the 1995 U.S.-led Dayton peace agreement, is not viable.

To the dismay of Western peace overseers, who impotently watch from the sidelines, Bosnia has become bogged down on its road to Europe since signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union three years ago, which was supposed to serve as a staging post for western Balkan countries en route to EU membership.

"A dangerous political standstill continues," said a press release from the embassy of the United States, which is the main sponsor of Bosnia's 16-year-old peace process along with the EU. "Party leaders must overcome their narrow individual political interests and form the Council of Ministers in order to open up possibilities for economic and social development."

Local media reported in the run-up to the meeting in the northern city of Brcko that Dodik and Zlatko Lagumdzija, the leader of the biggest multiethnic party, which actually enjoys mostly Muslim support, were close to striking an agreement on how to distribute ten ministerial posts in the central government and break the deadlock

It all fell through, however, on the recurring issue of the representation of Croats, the smallest ethnic group and the partners to Muslims in their Federation.

Croat leaders Dragan Covic (left) and Bozo Ljubic have played a role in hindering the latest round of negotiations.
Dodik, a onetime-Western-darling-turned-hardcore-nationalist who is the absolute master of Republika Srpska, the Serb Republic advocating separation from Bosnia, said Lagumdzija's Social Democrats (SDP), who govern in the Federation with the support of the main Muslim and two fringe Croat parties, cannot nominate three Croats to the state's Council of Ministers.

Dodik insists Lagumdzija can only nominate Muslims, while the two main Croat parties, HDZ and HDZ 1990, should nominate Croats. The support of Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats and the two HDZ parties is crucial for the approval of the cabinet in the state parliament.

Exacerbating Ethnic Divisions

Croat leaders Dragan Covic (HDZ) and Bozo Ljubic (HDZ 1990) say Lagumdzija is interpreting the Constitution incorrectly. They argue that officials from one ethnic group cannot just be members of that group; they need to legitimately represent it.

Covic and Ljubic had earlier threatened to form a third entity, which would revive the wartime self-proclaimed statelet of Herzeg-Bosna, after the Croat member of the country's three-man presidency was elected with mostly Muslim backing a year ago and they were left out of the federal government after the vote.

Conversely, together with some Serb and Croat politicians and intellectuals, as well as many Western officials and Balkan watchers, Muslims share the view that this would further cement ethnic divisions and pave the way for future disintegration.

"It would be like a return to the 17th or 18th century, to the pre-political phase," said Slavo Kukic, an ethnic Croat university professor in the southern town of Mostar, who in June didn't get support from the main Serb and Croat parties in the parliament as the SDP's candidate for prime minister.

The EU, whose foreign minister Catherine Ashton managed in May to persuade Dodik not to hold a potentially far-reaching referendum on rejecting decisions by the international envoy and rulings by the state court for war crimes, has said it wants to get more actively involved in sorting out the mess.

It picked Danish career diplomat Peter Sorensen as the new head of its mission, but also as its special representative, the post which has so far been twinned with that of the international High Representative, currently Valentin Inzko of Austria.

The EU hopes that persuading Bosnians to work together in beefed-up joint institutions would increase the state's functionality and boost their credibility, thereby prompting the United States and the other main peace sponsors to abolish the executive-power-wielding post of High Representative.

But at an introductory meeting with Sorensen earlier this month, Dodik indicated that this is not the road he plans to travel down, saying that Bosnia needed less joint institutions and better interethnic co-ordination, much like two independent countries.

-- Nedim Dervisbegovic

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