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Don't Envy The Next High Representative In Bosnia

Miroslav Lajcak, like the other high representatives before him, will leave the job without being able to deliver improvements in the lives of the country's people.
Miroslav Lajcak, like the other high representatives before him, will leave the job without being able to deliver improvements in the lives of the country's people.
The soon-to-be-appointed international high representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina is not much more likely to be successful than his worthy predecessors. The new envoy will certainly take office on a wave of positive rhetoric and verbal commitments, but that wave will soon crash against the hard realities on the ground in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In order to deliver results in Bosnia, the high representative needs at least three things: the unwavering commitment of the international community, the goodwill of local political leaders in the country and the region; and the support of the Bosnian population for change. He or she will find none of these.

Consider the touching term "international community." That sounds almost like a happy little family. In reality, what we refer to as the international community is really a hodge-podge of differing -- and sometimes directly conflicting -- interests and values. Constantly shifting interests and values, at that. These conflicting interests time and again result in compromises that do nothing more than maintain an uneasy status quo in Bosnia. The EU has allocated 8 billion euros ($10 billion) in support for the western Balkans for the period 2007-10. And most of that just ends up covering EU expenses or lining private pockets.

Theoretically, the high representative has almost unlimited power in Bosnia. But one after another they have all left, frustrated by their inability to move the country forward. Carl Bildt (1995-97), Carlos Westendorp (1997-99), Wolfgang Petritsch (1999-2002), Paddy Ashdown (2002-06), Christian Schwarz-Schilling (2006-07), and Miroslav Lajcak (2007-09) -- all of them could have used the power of their position much more actively, but because of the international community's lack of clear goals, they were stymied.

Local leaders in Bosnia were quick to identify and exploit this weakness. While the high representative has failed time and again to deliver on promises, they have been coming through with pledges designed to keep the country divided along ethnic lines -- and to keep themselves in power. These efforts have been stepped up in recent weeks since High Representative Lajcak announced he would be resigning. Reasoning correctly that he wouldn't begin laying down the law in his last weeks in Bosnia, local leaders used the power vacuum to put forward a proposal to carve the country up into four separate, ethnically based enclaves. That is, they are exactly where they were when the war ended in 1995: drawing maps and reinforcing divisions instead of building a unified country.

They have no time for reducing Bosnia's 40 percent unemployment rate or raising the country's average salary, which remains about $600 a month. They haven't even been bothered to comply with one of the basic demands of the 1995 Dayton peace accord -- that they sit down together and hammer out a constitution for the country. In the last few days, representatives of the Republika Srpska, Bosnia's ethnic-Serbian entity, threatened to leave all national institutions, while representatives of all sides accused one another of arming themselves for a possible future conflict. A "threat assessment report" by the CIA says starkly that ethnic tensions in Bosnia are "perhaps at the highest level in years" and that Bosnia is the biggest threat to stability in Europe.

Forcing Hard Decisions

And what about average Bosnians? A Gallup poll conducted last year found that less than half of Bosnians are enthusiastic about eventually joining the European Union. "No politician will dare to speak against the EU," Lajcak said in October. "But the people should become aware that nationalist politicians are an obstacle to EU membership...and send them packing. But such a change of mind has not yet been reflected in elections."

RFE/RL reported recently that remittances from abroad in Bosnia are 70 percent higher than direct foreign investment. A friend of mine who regularly sends money to her parents in Bosnia told me that real change will come to the country only "when we stop sending money to our relatives and friends." Only then, she argues, will Bosnians be forced to work together and accept change in order to survive. Now, it is as if Bosnians in the West are paying them to maintain their endless animosities, subsidizing the collapse of their homeland.

The result of this situation is an uneasy and unsustainable status quo, a situation where no one has to take responsibility and no hard choices have to be made. And this situation was perhaps an inevitable result of the Dayton process. How could the same ideologies that tore the country apart and threw it into war now be expected to bring it together and lead it to peace? Those who were responsible for the collapse of the country can hardly be made responsible for rebuilding it.

The new high representative's problems will be further complicated by the global economic crisis and recession in Bosnia. EU member states are so preoccupied with their own problems that they will have little time or energy for Bosnia. Rather than redoubling their commitment to Bosnian unity, they will likely take a second look at the resources they have already pledged. Likewise, the new administration in the United States can be expected to have little time to spare for far-off Bosnia. The EU will most likely be able to do nothing more than stave off collapse, rather than promoting progress.

Since December 1995, the international community has sent six of its most talented and prominent diplomats to Bosnia. The new high representative will be the seventh. Most likely, he or she will be in office to mark the 15th anniversary of the creation of the post of high representative with the task of supervising postwar normalization and the transition to stable democracy. But after 15 years of trying, Bosnia is neither stable nor democratic. Rather than serving as midwife to a new democracy, the EU high representative is just a nanny to a sickly patient who refuses to take his medicine.

Nenad Pejic is associate director of broadcasting for RFE/RL. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL