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Envoy Hails Bosnia's Election Results, Agrees New Constitution Needed

Valentin Inzko speaks to the press in Mostar on June 17.
Valentin Inzko speaks to the press in Mostar on June 17.

Valentin Inzko, the high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, has hailed the results of the local elections that saw the opposition win the Balkan country's two major cities earlier this month, dealing a blow to long-ruling nationalists.

Moderates took power in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, and in Banja Luka, the administrative center of Bosnia's predominantly Serbian entity, Republika Srpska, as well as in other bigger cities across the country, in the November 16 election.

In Sarajevo, the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) of Bakir Izetbegovic lost mayoral races in three out of four municipalities that were won by candidates of a coalition of moderate parties.

In Banja Luka, the opposition Party of Democratic Progress won the job of mayor that was previously held by the Serbian-led Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) party of Milorad Dodik.

Inzko told RFE/RL in an interview on November 25 that when he walked the streets of Sarajevo now, "it certainly feels good" after the results of the local polls.

Nationalist Bosnian Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian parties have held power for most of the period since the end of the 1992-95 Bosnian War.

But criticism of the handling of the coronavirus pandemic and scandals surrounding the purchase of medical equipment have strengthened support for moderate opposition parties.

Speaking just days after the 25th anniversary of the Dayton accords that put an end to the civil war, Inzko said that a lot had been achieved under the agreement, that also doubles as a constitution for Bosnia, but the time had come for it to be changed.

The peace agreement, initialed at a U.S. Air Force base outside Dayton, Ohio, on November 21, 1995, and formally signed in Paris a few weeks later, ended the war in which Bosnia's main ethnic factions -- Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs -- fought for control after the break-up of Yugoslavia.

More than 100,000 people were killed, most of them Bosnian Muslims. The conflict left Bosnia divided into two autonomous regions -- the Muslim-Croat Federation and the mainly ethnic Serb Republika Srpska -- united under a weak central government.

Under the agreement signed on December 14, 1995, nearly 60,000 international troops were deployed to Bosnia as part of a NATO-led mission to maintain peace.

Inzko told RFE/RL that although the agreement had come under criticism over the years, it had achieved "huge success" in its role as a constitution.

"Just take a look at the first 10-12 years of [the implementation of the] Dayton peace accords and you'll see that with the same constitution, with an unchanged Dayton, really huge successes were possible."

Inzko who has been in his post since 2009 and previously served as Austria's ambassador to Sarajevo in 1996-99, told RFE/RL that when he first came to the country border police didn't exist, there was no common flag or anthem, and Bosnia's currency was very weak.

"Now we have one of the most stable currencies in Europe, and before we had three of everything -- three types of license plates, three flags, three anthems. Dayton has changed all that, of course with the good will and of a strong international community. I think that those first 10 years with this [Dayton] constitution were extremely successful."

However, over the past 15 years there has been mounting criticism of the Dayton agreement's role as a constitution, with many saying that the country needs a new fundamental law that would allow Bosnia to press for reform.

Inzko agreed that, despite its early success, the Dayton agreement should be replaced by a proper constitution.

"I think that's normal. We were younger 25 years ago. Take the example of Spain, and there was a civil war there. When Spain was preparing for membership in the European Union, they did not change the existing constitution, they wrote a completely new one," Inzko said.

"In Bosnia-Herzegovina, it is somewhat more difficult, as some think that will lead to a more centralized Bosnia-Herzegovina. We know that the Republika Srpska is completely centralized, but Bosnia-Herzegovina is not and will never be centralized -- it must be functional. Functional to make some things just work."