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Balkan Report: November 30, 2005

30 November 2005, Volume 9, Number 30

WILL BOSNIA TURN OVER A NEW LEAF? The international community is putting pressure on politicians in Bosnia-Herzegovina for a thorough constitutional reform. It remains to be seen whether the deeply entrenched power structures will prove sufficiently pliant.

The 10th anniversary of the conclusion of the Dayton agreements that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict fell on 21 November. That peace deal, backed by NATO-led troops, has been a success in that the guns have remained silent and the constitution included in it has remained in force.

But the Dayton system has its critics, both at home and abroad. They charge that some of the structures set in place 10 years ago have proven dysfunctional and led to the consolidation of gains by the Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian nationalists who have effectively ruled their respective ethnic groups since the first postcommunist elections that took place in November and December 1990.

Critics note that Dayton set up two parastates, or entities, namely the Republika Srpska and the Croat-Muslim Federation. The Serbs in particular have been adamant defenders of the entity system, arguing that Dayton confirmed the sovereignty of the Republika Srpska. Those who consider Dayton dysfunctional stress that the entities prevent the proper functioning of the central state, which must become the locus of real power if Bosnia is to achieve the long-sought aim of Euro-Atlantic integration and membership in the EU and NATO.

Support for the central state within Bosnia-Herzegovina is confined chiefly among the Muslims and some small nonnationalist parties. The Muslims are the largest single ethnic group and, unlike the Serbs and Croats, have no nation-state outside Bosnia that they might aspire to join or look to for protection. Exact population statistics will emerge only with a new census, but many observers feel that the breakdown among the three main ethnic groups would be something like 44 percent Muslim, 38 percent Serbian, and 18 percent Croatian.

Starting with the 1990 elections, most voters returned to the precommunist pattern of supporting parties associated with their own ethnic group, with notable exceptions in places like Sarajevo and Tuzla, where nonnationalist parties have been strong. Muslims have tended to favor the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) founded by late President Alija Izetbegovic. The SDA seeks to assert Muslim primacy within the federation and Bosnia as a whole and contains both secular and clerical currents.

Serbian voters have generally gravitated to the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) set up by Radovan Karadzic, who is now a leading fugitive war crimes indictee. The SDS stresses the sovereignty of the Bosnian Serb entity and has long fought the police reform demanded by the EU because this would create new police structures and administrative units that would cross the interentity boundaries. It should be recalled that former Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic convinced Serbs to accept Dayton in 1995-96 precisely because it affirmed the sovereignty of that entity. Bosnian Serb sentiment remains strong in favor of joining Serbia rather than accept a centralized Bosnian state. It might be noted that the ideological basis for the Serbian revolts in Croatia and Bosnia at the beginning of the 1990s was the desire to "remain in Yugoslavia," meaning under the rule of Belgrade, rather than become a minority in a state dominated by others.

Ethnic Croats, particularly those in western Herzegovina, tend to support the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which was closely linked to the Croatian party of the same name, particularly during the rule of President Franjo Tudjman in the 1990s. The Croats' main concern is not to become a powerless minority in a state dominated by Muslims and Serbs. Croatian sentiment has accordingly been strong either for a wholesale reorganization of the internal boundaries on a multiethnic basis, or for the creation of a third, Croatian entity based on but not limited to Croat-majority cantons within the federation, despite the vigorous opposition of the Muslims and the international community to this proposal. The Croats of central Bosnia and Sarajevo are used to living in ethnically mixed areas, but the temptation for the Herzegovinians in the southwest and the Posavina Croats in the north has always been to turn their backs on Bosnia and join Croatia, which their homelands border.

The legacy of the war and nationalist rule goes far beyond voting patterns, however. Critics of Dayton charge that the borders of the Republika Srpska in particular have served only to set in stone the results of ethnic-cleansing campaigns during the war. In fact, members of all three ethnic groups lost their homes in the course of the conflict and have little hope of going back to an area now controlled by another nationality, to the extent that they have not begun new lives elsewhere. Many who do return do so simply to sell their property and leave again, even though statistics might record them as returnees.

Moreover, the SDA, SDS, and HDZ are all linked to power structures that emerged during the war and encompass the interlocking worlds of politics, business, the security forces, and, in the last analysis, organized crime. These structures are the real beneficiaries of Dayton, which in practice largely left each ethnic group to manage its own affairs.

The central state remains weak and is best epitomized by the three-member Presidency, which consists of one member from each main ethnic group, each of whom has a veto. This is but the latest manifestation of the "nationality key" principle associated with the last decades of communist rule in former Yugoslavia to ensure that no one ethnic group can lord it over the others, but in practice it has meant the paralysis of Bosnia as a state. Dayton Bosnia, in fact, is an impoverished country of just over 4 million people that supports 14 governments: the central body, two entities, 10 cantons, and the special UN-administered Brcko district.

The only way in which decisions ranging from the issuing of uniform Bosnian license plates to the firing of top nationalist officials for corruption have been made was that Dayton established the post of high representative, who is a European foreigner appointed by the international community. The Office of the High Representative (OHR) has virtually unlimited powers and is not subject to any control by elected Bosnian officials. More than once the high representative has found himself in the position of overruling or sacking elected officials -- who happen to be nationalists -- in the name of promoting democratic values.

This paradoxical situation of imposing democracy by fiat has led to a lively debate in recent years about reforming the Dayton system, in the course of which four models emerged (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 July and 14 October 2005). One calls for strengthening the OHR on the grounds that it is the only institution that is capable of breaking the structures that emerged in wartime. The second advocates phasing out the OHR in the name of promoting democracy. The third approach would throw out Dayton and call a new constitutional convention, even if it would be dominated by the nationalists. The fourth model is the most radical, in that it calls for declaring the Bosnian state a failure and partitioning it between Serbia and Croatia, with the Muslims left with a rump mini-state or the option of joining one of the neighbors.

In recent months, the discussion has begun moving in other directions, namely in favor of setting up a functioning centralized state. The idea is to have a new constitutional system agreed to by the Bosnian politicians themselves, albeit under great foreign pressure. What has made the centralized state a realistic option at the end of 2005 is that the Bosnians now have the clear assurance that the road to EU and NATO membership is open to them following the agreement on military reform that was a prerequisite to joining NATO's Partnership for Peace program and similar progress on police reform that the EU demanded before agreeing to launch talks aimed at securing a Stabilization and Association Agreement, possibly in the very near future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 November 2005). The argument runs that Euro-Atlantic integration will come all the faster if the dysfunctional, entity-based state is scrapped for one in which effective power lies in a single cabinet headed by a prime minister. In addition, one directly elected individual would act as a largely ceremonial president. The state would have a unicameral, popularly elected legislature, in which the veto rights of the three ethnic groups would be limited. Any reform that would speed the prospect of full EU membership would, moreover, have great appeal to the voters, who associate Brussels with aid money, job-creating investments, and the visa-free travel that all former Yugoslavs remember from the last decades of communist rule.

The international community's initial attempt at bringing leaders of Bosnia's eight main political parties to accept a new state model designed primarily by U.S. diplomats took place in Brussels from 12 to 14 November. The meeting did not produce even a final declaration, but U.S. representative Donald Hays said nonetheless that he hopes an agreement can still be reached by the spring of 2006 so that constitutional changes could take effect in time for elections due in October of that year. A second round of talks is slated for 19-20 November in Washington, right on the eve of Dayton's 10th anniversary.

Although the EU, and the European Community before it, have sought to play a dominant role in the Balkans, the circumstances leading to the 1995 Dayton agreement -- which was concluded on a U.S. Air Force base -- and to the end of Serbian atrocities in Kosova about four years later have shown that the U.S. military and diplomatic role has been crucial in regional affairs. And in 2005, even with the prospect of EU membership as the main "carrot" being offered to Bosnian politicians and their voters, the United States still appears to be the necessary catalyst if real change is to have a chance of taking place.

A recent broadcast of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service noted, however, that the international community bears a good deal of the responsibility for the present dysfunctional constitutional system and the continuation of ethnically based politics in Bosnia. The commentators argued that it will ultimately be the task of the Bosnians themselves, with foreign assistance of course, to bring about a society based on the civic principle through elections in which civic-based parties triumph over the nationalist ones. This will be a tall order, indeed. (Patrick Moore)

SCHWARZ-SCHILLING TALKS TO RFE/RL. Christian Schwarz-Schilling served as an international mediator in Bosnia-Herzegovina for nearly a decade and is now Germany's candidate to succeed Britain's Paddy Ashdown as the international community's and EU's high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina before the end of the year. He spoke on 3 November with RFE/RL correspondent Mehmed Agovic. Schwarz-Schilling, a former Christian Democratic government minister, knows Bosnia well from having made more than 180 visits to more than 50 communities there, and reportedly enjoys broad respect among the three main ethnic groups as an impartial arbitrator. He is generally considered the front-runner to replace Ashdown, with whom he has often differed.

RFE/RL: Even 10 years after the Dayton agreement, due to its solutions, Bosnia is still a nationally divided and unsustainable state. Mr. Schwarz-Schilling, how do you see this problem today? Did you expect it?

Christian Schwarz-Schilling: Well, nobody could know how the development after Dayton is going on, but I think Dayton was a very important milestone because it brought peace and terminated the war. Then, it reflected the situation of those times we had 10 years ago. Many things are achieved. Institutions are built and so on. But, of course, we have to make further development and, perhaps, a creative possibility to go on in the framework of Dayton. But we must develop to new milestones, otherwise the goal that B-H will be quite a normal state as an integrated part of Europe would not be reached.

RFE/RL: As the international mediator for Bosnia-Herzegovina, you witnessed difficulties in the process of the implementation of peace in that country. In your opinion, what were the main problems and difficulties in implementing the solutions from the Dayton peace plan?

Schwarz-Schilling: Well, one main problem is the difficulty of a very complicated constitutional framework in Bosnia-Herzegovina with many administration levels and, also, a high burden on the budget just only for governments and ministers and so on. And with ethnic blockade, they are possible because the constitution is [such that] the ethnic [groups] have great power by themselves and can block developments they don't like. So, the majority principle of a democracy is very much relative and also the human rights of the person, of the citizen, is not fully existing because of the importance of who is belonging to what ethnic group. So those developments, of course, have to be gotten rid of to [achieve] a normal citizenship in a normal state with normal rights of humanity, of legal status, for everybody in the country regardless of what entity he is living in or what ethnic [group] he is belonging to.

[The] second point is that there must be another push for the economical development. I think that the complicated regulations in this state are making fears for many investors inside and outside, foreign investors, to come to Bosnia. But that must be done very, very quick and soon because otherwise economic development [will not proceed] in the way that is necessary and the prospectives for the citizens will be not in the way that they would really like to be there, like to live there, like to work there.

And the third point would be that the institutions are not for the paper and the agreement. They must be full of life and they must respect the decisions that [other] institutions are doing in their responsibilities. So, the role of the high representative to be a government above the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina should be reduced step by step, but in a strict way so that the responsibility of the state is really in the hands of the political leaders of Bosnia, and that means in the hands of the Bosnian people.

RFE/RL: Do you agree with the numerous initiatives about the necessity of revising the Dayton constitution and the organization of Bosnia according to criteria which are not national?

Schwarz-Schilling: If this is only on paper, it is also useless. It must be full of life and this must be done by Bosnian politicians on all levels. So, the constitution is one thing, but to respect the rules and to respect the constitution is another thing and this is an educational and psychological process for each politician in this country. So, I think it is not just a theoretical world -- it is a world of the daily attitude of how to solve problems for the people and for the men and women in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- to overcome their problems in their daily life. That is the important point.

RFE/RL: Mr. Schwarz-Schilling, the German government has proposed you as the new high representative in Bosnia. If you take up this duty, what should your mandate look like? To what extent will it be different from the present role of the high representative?

Schwarz-Schilling: Well, this I can only judge if I really see what is to be done, what is there. I think everybody has his own style. I will follow my style, but I think in our goals, we [have much in] common.

RFE/RL: What will be your style?

Schwarz-Schilling: Well, I will listen to the people, I will listen to the Bosnian politicians. Then I will try to convince them to come to a decision by themselves and then everybody has to follow up that.

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

Schwarz-Schilling: The local authorities...they have to give their opinions in a democratic process and the politicians on a higher level have to listen to that. I think that is essential, the principle of all democracies, and that has to be exercised in a higher degree. That is true.

RFE/RL: Do you think that the current Bosnian authorities are able to act alone and to govern the country without the presence of the high representative?

Schwarz-Schilling: This I will not judge at the moment. I will see; I have optimism that they see that the fate of their country, if they don't act in line with their constitution and with human rights and with the legal state -- then there will be a very bad fate for Bosnia that comes totally on the end of the integration process to Europe. And that would be a tragedy because Bosnia has suffered so much, the people have suffered so much. There are so many people with good will, so I think that we have to do anything to bring Bosnia very quickly on the way to Europe and to be a normal state.

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Trouble in the Balkans is almost always the product of false expectations." -- U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. Quoted in "The Washington Times" on 9 November.

"Without stability in the Balkans, we will never see a united, peaceful Europe that can be a true partner of the U.S. in promoting democracy throughout the world. It is now time to finish the job." -- U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns in Washington at an unspecified recent date. Quoted by the "International Herald Tribune" on 21 November.

"At a time when Serbia seeks to become a member of the European Union, do not think that we will alter our stance towards Russia as a pillar of our foreign policy." -- Serbian President Boris Tadic. Quoted by dpa in Moscow on 15 November.

"I recall when 30,000 people from the Albanian population were forced to leave their homes [in Kosovo], the whole world talked about a humanitarian catastrophe. Now, 200,000 Serbs are forced to leave their homes and everyone keeps silent." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin. Quoted in ibid.